The Price is right

This article is about selling your pottery at Art and Craft fairs and markets.                

So what should you sell your work for?  The shortest, most accurate answer is: what the market will allow.  Or in other words, what will someone pay for your work.  It does not matter how much the materials cost, how much time you put into it etc (these are important things to know for a different reason, which we will cover later in the article).  You may have made your cup from gold, but if the most someone will pay for your cup is 5 euros/dollars, then if you want to sell that cup that is what you have to price it for.  

Some of you are saying, yes but there is not just ONE PRICE.   When something is cheaper people buy more and when something is expensive people buy less.  This is represented by the blue line below.  Nevertheless, in my experience the price where people will start to buy a product is not so different from the price where even if you go cheaper you will not sell more

Chart, line chart

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Graph explanation:  The Y axis is the quantity (#) sold.  The x axis is the price for each item.  Typically the cheaper something is the more people will buy.  My experience is that window where people actually start to buy more as the price decreases is narrow. 

Nevertheless there is a window, and you have to decide if want to sell one bowl for 40 euros/dollars or 9 bowls for $20. 

Now lets think about the typical person at an Art & Craft fair.

I think 80% of the people coming to an art fair, are coming for something to do.  They are not planning on buying anything.  The fair goer not only has to like your product or think that it is worth that price; they have to like it so much that they are afraid that if they don’t buy it, they might never get the chance again. 

Discretionary and Impulse buying

This is what we want to maximize, so with today’s economy, I want very few items over $30, and I want most of my work between $10 to $20. 

Let’s look at cups

I estimate the typical range for handmade ceramic cups would be between $5- $30 euros.  I think the average price a professional potter asks for a trimmed cup is approx. 17euros. 

If I price my cups at $4, let`s say I will sell 30 cups,  If I price them at $8, I will sell 12 cups and if I price them at $12, I will sell 2 cups.   My biggest expense for my pottery is electricity.  I estimate it costs me $1 per cup for electricity.  It takes me ~20min to make a cup with a handle.

At $4 /cup:  4 X 30 cups = $120.  Minus $30 for electricity = $90.  The time it took me to make these cups: 30cups X 20min = 600min or 10 hours.  $90 / 10 hours = $9 per hour

At $8/cup:  $8 X 12 = $96.  Minus $12 for electricity = $84.  The time it took me to make these cups: 12 cups x 20 min = 240min or 4 hours.  $84/4hours = $21/hour

At $12/cup:  $12 x 2 = $24.  Minus $2 for electricity = $22.  Time to make cups= 2 X 20 min=40 min. or .66 hours.  $22/.66= $33/hour

Time ain’t money when all you got is time

So what are you going to price your cups at?  Well if you go for the highest profit, you would pick $4 per cup.  At $4 /cup you would make $90 (as compared to $84 at $8/cup and $22 at $12/cup).

If you are going for the highest wage you would sell your cups at $12/cup where you would make $33/hour.

You may think, well I want to sell my cups where I make the highest wage.  However, you don’t pay bills with a wage.  As one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Greg Brown, says in one of his songs: Time ain’t money when all you got is time.  You also need to think about how much profit you are making.

I sell my cups for $8 – $9 each.

Loss Leader Strategy

Based on what I said above, why would anyone ever sell a cup for less than the price where they would make the most money?

 One of the interesting things I noticed at markets, is that when one person comes to your stand and is looking at things or especially when they are buying something…  other people will swarm to your stand like buzzards to road kill.  

It is weird.   I have had friends stop by my stand to talk.  As soon as we are talking, my stand will get really busy.  My friends will say, I need to let you take care of business.  I will say, no stay, you are what is drawing the people in.

So you can line up friends to come by your stand, or you can also price something at a very good price.  A price where people know they are getting a good deal, and so will buy this item.  This will also draw people in, and many people will buy other items as well.  This is called the “Loss leader Strategy”. (to be accurate, in the loss leader strategy, the price is below the cost of item, but I think it fits what I am describing here.)

There is a big caveat with this strategy, people need to know that this is a very good price.   If I spend a couple hours painting a large platter, most people won’t know how long it took me, or what that platter would normally sell for.  If I offer it at a low price, most people will assume that is what it is worth.  

Cups on the other hand, most people have an idea of what they sell for.  Cups are something people can always use one more of.  Cups are small, the price is not much… perfect for that impulse buy.

I used cups as my “lost leader” for a while.  I have found that small bowls also work well with this strategy.  Small bowls take me 10 min to make (half the time of cups).  Plus, I enjoy time spent on the wheel more than time attaching handles.  (I don’t dislike attaching handles, I just enjoy wheel work more).

Not selling

It is certainly disheartening to go to a market and not sell well and when you are first starting out it is hard to discern why you are not selling well.  There are several explanations other than that your prices are to high.

Not a good market for you:

  1.  Not many people at the market.  This can be due to the weather.  Unfortunately the weather is unpredictable, and will have a huge impact on an outdoor market.
  2. People are not buying.  Some markets are notorious for having people come to look and are not planning on buying anything.
  3. Flea markets and/or markets where many of the vendors are selling mass produced items from China:  Most of the people at these markets are looking for things to buy extremely cheap. 
  4. Your work does not fit the crowd.  For example you are making large heavy items and people are having to walk a long way before they get to their cars.

I have had only one market where I did not make more money than it cost me to participate at the market.  This was a market in a University town.  The market took place in conjunction with a festival of live music with fairly well known bands.   Most of the people that came to the market came to listen to music.  They did not want to tote around something breakable and fairly heavy.  The music was good, and I met some neat people selling things at the stands next to me.  So I still had fun.

Have Fun

 Try to remember why you are doing this.  Have fun!  I often see artists who seem very bitter and angry at markets.  I understand that they put all this time and effort into their work, and it is disheartening not to sell well.  But being bitter does not help, and it keeps people from wanting to get close to your work.

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