Musings on pricing one’s work

Yesterday I drove about an hour south of where I live, to buy some supplies from a reasonably-local business (I call it “reasonably local” because it’s only about an hour drive, tops, and it’s another woman-owned ceramic supply company that started off small and is not corporate/big-box owned). Anyway. While I was there, I had a press mold in my pile of goodies that another customer saw while she was at the counter, and came back to where I was standing to ask where I had found it and had I seen another one as it was exactly what she was looking for (there wasn’t another, but it wasn’t something I needed, only wanted – so I let her buy it).

While we were chatting, she said what she was making was nature-themed trays for a fund-raiser. She described what she was making, and then casually dropped that she was hoping to get five or ten dollars for each one.

Five or ten dollars.

Five or ten dollars for her years of experience, for hours of work, for supplies and kiln firing time, for a beautiful, one-of-a-kind piece.

I cried a little, inside.

Here’s where, as a Maker, there’s always such a precarious mental balancing act… how to price my work. There are a lot of articles out there on Etsy and on small-business/craft blogs, about how to take your time plus your materials and that equals your wholesale, and then double that for retail. But… but, but, but. When I read those, there’s always a tiny voice in the back of my head whispering… “really?”

First coat, in progress. #ceramics #slipcast #painting #figurinesSometimes, to me, that equation isn’t so easy. For instance, right now, I’m making some little figurines. I’m making 12 of them at one time (and there’s a long story about these little girls, but that’s a post for another time). Let’s say it takes half an hour to pour all six molds (there’s two to a mold). Then I wait eight hours to open them (do I count those eight hours in my time?). Then it takes me about an hour to put them all together (some of the dolls are in two parts, some in three). Then it takes three days to dry (I definitely don’t take that into account as “my time”). Then I need to clean the greenware, filing the seam lines down and recarving any lost detail (the molds are rather old and losing fine details). That would take, for those 12 dolls, about two hours. One or two dolls may break in the process (do I put the time I already spent on those into the remaining dolls? Or is that lost time?).

Firing them takes about 24 hours (eight hours to fire, 16 to cool – how do I add that time in? Do I just add the price it costs to fire the kiln, divided by how many pieces were in it? Because more than these dolls would be in the kiln.). Then I have to paint them… that’s about five hours for all twelve, per coat, and there are two coats of paint. Not to mention drying time between each coat (about a day). Then there’s glazing, an easy clear glaze since I’m painting them in detail, and that would take about an hour per coat, of which there are two. After that there’s another firing, which again, is 24 hours.

After that I need to photograph each one, and write the listing. That’s about an hour per item, when you factor in editing any photos and making sure I’ve written a compelling listing.

So by the time I’m done making these, not counting “waiting” time of greenware drying, firing, and time between coats of paint and glaze… I’ve spent approximately 28 hours of active work (and another, maybe, 72 hours here and there for waiting periods) on these 12 dolls. At $10/hour for my time, that’s breaks down to $23.50 per doll, just for my active working time. That’s not even trying to figure out how much slip I used (the cost of the slip per gallon, but there’s no way I used even half a gallon for these itsy things) and how much paint from each bottle…. that’s a number that’s really, really tough for me to pin down (it might be easy for someone else, but for some reason I have a really hard time saying “OK, so her skirt was blue, and her’s is brown, but I used more of the brown because blah blah blah” and then my mind sort of trails off and starts to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher).  Then you also have to factor the electricity cost of the kiln, the cost of the packaging that you’re going to use to mail the piece if it’s sold online… you see what a spiral this is? This is why it’s so hard, sometimes, to follow that seemingly easy formula of time + materials = wholesale! Even if I went with a conservative guess of $10/materials per doll (counting slip, glaze, paint, paint brushes, glaze brushes, kiln wash, any new kiln stilts, shelves, or posts, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, box, label, and printer ink)… if I added time plus materials that would be $33.50 for my wholesale price on a single figurine… meaning it would retail for $67. Now, they’re cute little girls, but even I have doubts that they’re $67 worth of cute – and I’m the one making them!

Sometime’s it’s just as hard to be the one pricing the object as the one trying to decide if the object is priced at what we’d pay for it.

So by now you’re probably wondering, how have I managed to ever price anything?! Etsy has actually been pretty invaluable with this (regardless of whether I’m selling the piece on my Etsy shop or my main shop). When I’m bringing in a new product (especially when I was first starting, or if I’m bringing in something totally new) I will often pour through Etsy for hours researching any similar products, what they are being charged for, reading up on the artist and seeing how long they’ve been Making and how I feel I compare to their work. I don’t want to undervalue another artist (lowballing makes all of us look bad), I don’t want to undervalue myself (only by paying myself a living wage can I continue to bring you quality products), but I also don’t want to overcharge to the point where I’ve priced myself out of selling (if I’m not selling anything, that’s almost as bad as selling too many things for too low a price, but in a different way).

It just so happens that I don’t see anyone on Etsy making anything like these figurines. I’ve seen other figurines, lots of Santas, a bunch of angels and fairies… but nothing exactly like these. Some of the figures I saw were comparable in size and number of colors used, but they were stained, not painted, which cuts out the work of one kiln firing (and means that you spray-seal the paint instead of glazing, so different supplies used). I have a number in my head for these figurines, and that number is $35/each. None of the figurines I’m seeing on Etsy are even near that price, not for the size/number of colors used comparison. Which means I’m thinking far above what other people are charging for somewhat similar items. But if you look at the time + materials = wholesale formula… $35 is just barely above what I “should” charge wholesale. I don’t do a lot of wholesale – in fact, wholesale is an entire ‘nuther animal that deserves it’s own post – so now I have to ask myself, “am I OK with $35?” Do I think that’s a fair price for my time and work? Do I think that’s a fair price to pay? Would I pay $35 for something like this? When you factor in that these are from vintage molds my grandmother purchased new in the 1950s, and that Duncan no longer makes these molds, and you factor in that I’ve been making ceramics since I was four years old (so, 40 years now, for those playing along)… the time spent making them and the love that goes into it, and how special I want these figurines to be for the person to whom they eventually go… yes. I’m OK with $35/each. I admit I probably won’t sell a lot of them… but the ones I sell are going to be very, very appreciated and well-loved, and probably passed down to children or grandchildren. And that’s something that’s even harder to put a price on.

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