A Story of Pricing Validation

by Autumn Boutcher.
(United States)

Hi everyone! I did a show this weekend and having another one coming up. I’ve been brushing up on my JMJ posts, and have a story to tell.

Jems and  semi-precious stones in tha market Shop

Two women walked over during the show. I greeted them before leaving them alone to browse. One of the women played with a necklace letting it go and making a face.

I’m sure you’ve seen that expression. The “Are you SERIOUS?!” face, which is a combination of haughty disgust and self-righteous indignation. She flicked her eyes to me and then commented to her friend “not for $106!” Then she scoffed and gave me another horrible look.

I smiled and reminded her that tax was included in the price. I also commented that everything on the table was handcrafted by me, and if she considered the cost of time, the price made more sense. She gave me a third haughty expression before flouncing away.

I tried to be understanding and accept her attitude for what it was. But it really got to me.

Then a couple walked over and started browsing. The wife said “Finally, someone with decent prices.” She and her husband explained they had done the same show before, but had skipped it this year in favor of the state fair. We talked about pricing, value and ignorant customers for a little while before they left.

I mentioned during this conversation that I’d started out underpricing, but eventually realized the error. As I commented on my frustration, she said “You don’t have to explain anything to me. I understand perfectly what you’re talking about.

My husband makes wooden spoons and bowls. One woman said she wouldn’t buy a $20 spoon after we’d sold everything else we’d brought with us. He was busy making whistles to keep us stocked and was frustrated. He told her that he’d sold out of everything except those few spoons, and made all of it by hand.

“She later sent her friend to buy the spoon for her. We saw her point to us from a few booths down.”

You’re going to have people who demean the value of your work. And you’re going to have people who understand it. Two different vendors validated my prices and defense of them, something I desperately needed to hear. The woman who stormed away didn’t appreciate quality. That’s not the sort of customer I want owning my jewelry.

Autumn Boutcher
Caring Crystals
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  • Thank you for sharing this story, Autumn! Very true that some people understand the value of handmade artistry, and some people don’t – and that the former are the ones we want to have as customers.

    I think the first customer’s rudeness is partly jealousy. Some people feel better about themselves if they cut down what other people are doing – when they really should just get involved in activities they love as much as you love making jewelry!

    Remaining professional (as you did) is always the best way to react to customer rudeness. Anyone who overhears will be impressed with your professionalism, and the rude customer’s actions reflect only on them – not on you, your art, or your pricing.

    I’m glad that after she stormed out, you talked with the couple and the other vendors who validated the value of your work and the accuracy of your pricing! Their reactions are what you need to take away with you from the event.

  • Your first customer sounds to me like she buys at the local department stores, and gets mass produced jewelry from overseas. She has no idea what goes into handmade pieces. Also, there are people who go to festivals and have a flea market mentality; you’re never going to sell anything to them! I just mentally brush those people off, and don’t let their comments get to me. The comment that gets to me the most is ‘Oh, I could make that’! Fine – go ahead! Source the materials, buy them, put it together, and then see what you’d charge for it. 🙂

    The greatest validation I ever got was at one of my first shows, when two other jewelry artists came over to introduce themselves, look at my offerings, and promptly tell me I wasn’t charging enough!

  • I completely agree with Jackie! If people’s idea of jewelry is stuff that’s mass produced in China, they really don’t get unique, handmade items.) I wonder why they even go to craft shows.) That’s one reason I never do vendor fairs – The manufactured stuff might be right next to my handmade items.

  • Right now I worry about some of the terribly low prices of real handmade components, Autumn. I’m afraid our artisan suppliers will throw in the towel and we won’t be able to buy them anymore 🙁

  • It used to bother me terribly when someone behaved that way at a show. Now, I just laugh at them, or rather smile & nod…that kind of response to prices comes from either ignorance (and whether it’s worth it to try & educate people or not depends on the situation) or, it’s a calculated attempt to play on the artisans (assumed) insecurities & get a better price. Stand your ground, don’t let it get under your skin & don’t ever feel like you have to go on the defensive about your own work & your pricing!

    Also, I think that one of the most damaging things to artisans trying to make a living with their work at shows, or online, is not so much Chinese, etc. mass-produced, factory-made schlock (‘cuz folks are rapidly learning the difference between that & single maker, hand-crafted pieces), but “hobbyists”, the people who’s attitude is “oh, I just do this for fun/therapy/to keep from joining a gang, etc. and don’t really care about the price, I just want to cover the cost of the materials, la, la!” When people like that sell at shows or online, I think that’s what often has customers (even those who know the difference between ooak handmade & mass-produced resale) thinking “huh, this looks similar to what that person next to them is selling for twice the price, what a thief!”, when the “thief” is pricing fairly, considering all their costs (which a real artisan/business owner has to do) and trying to make a reasonable profit.
    Hobbyist-folk, please; do the rest of us who are working artisans a favor & just give your work away…or maybe donate it to your favorite charity for fund-raising….or better yet, price professionally…we thank you!

  • Cat says:

    Autumn…I think we’ve ALL been there! If it makes you feel any better, I’ve had people actually throw, and I mean throw!, a piece back down on the table. Like you said, they’re not the people you want shopping with you. No class, no sense of the unique quality of handmade…let them go to KMart and buy stuff from Taiwan. It’ll suit them better! Keep your chin up. And try not to drop someone where they stand when you get more like her…it’s certainly a temptation..lol.

  • Zuzu says:

    Autumn, I’m so glad your experience turned so positive in the end. It’s not easy to shake that feeling of pricing insecurity that most of us carry around when confronted by people who don’t realise the value of your craftsmanship. Well done for being so professional about it.

    I find it interesting when people who are wearing jewellery from the big, expensive brands (the mass made charm stuff, etc., that would be so cheap without the logo) look at my ooak, handmade, unique designs and find my prices too high. Of course, these are not people that actually want anything that makes them stand out from the crowd, so they’d never be customers anyway, but it seems ironic, somehow.

    Cherie, I absolutely agree with you. Whether online or at fairs, etc., the hobbyists really manage to undercut those of us that try to make a living from our jewellery making. I think it’s hard to avoid the comparison at certain venues and on many websites, but one thing that stands in our favour is that we have more dedication and time to practice our craft; so ultimately, workmanship, quality of materials and unique designs (is it just me or do many of the ‘hobby designs’ look like they came straight out of the major jewellery making magazines?) are the things that will stand in our favour.
    I also find that my repair services generate a fair few sales and word-of-mouth recommendations. I tend to advertise them wherever I’m selling in person and when people get their cheap jewellery back in better condition than when they first bought it (it happens), they tend to get a notion that there might be a reason some people’s jewellery costs more. Perhaps an idea for some?

  • Carol says:

    I’ve told customers that my jewelry isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t “get” my designs, but those who do are likely to return!

  • cebette says:

    Cherie, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that is what has been the problem on etsy and other similar sites- you have full-time professionals side by side with hobbyists who underprice their work. They also tend to sometimes “borrow” designs from others on the same sites without even realizing (I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here) that it isn’t cool to do so.

  • Autumn says:

    Thanks for the positive feedback everyone! I agree that the “hobbyist” can undercut the hand-made market. But at the same time, we all started out as “hobbyists”, didn’t we? The shows I’m doing this month are both hand-made artists only. You had to submit photographs (or URLs), and they WILL kick you out if you aren’t genuine. I will never again do a “craft show” without these sort of guidelines. The shows I did in my old state were mostly mass-produced, consignment-based sellers. We few artists were lost in the crowd! It was very aggravation and disheartening to have someone selling Paparazzi jewelry (dollar store price and quality, I looked), those scented melting waxes and other items. I don’t think it’s fair to call something a “craft show” if it’s not.

    Depending on how I do at the second show, I may start trying to attend one a month. Despite being by the door in the lower lobby (in the 40s, when it was drizzling), I did pretty good. I sold mostly stocking stuffers (de-stashing at its best!), but that still counts! Plus I had people advertising for me. They had to pay to do it! I find that funny.

    There was a lot of lessons learned at this show. Now if only I could learn how to SELL, I’d be even better!

  • Susan says:

    I am one of those “hobbiests”, but have done a number of shows. I used to underprice my items because I didn’t think they were “professional” enough. My husband finally told me to price them like an artisan and to value my creativity and worth. Following that I raised my prices by 30% and ever since I have sold more and more. It was so strange to me that people seem to see price as a measure of quality, even though sometimes the price is arbitrarily set by the artist. So now, every time I start to go back to my low pricing, I remember his words. We put ourselves as part of the value of the item and should never underprice ourselves. In life, there will be people who love your work, people who hate your work, and people who are only so-so about it. That gives us two categories to impress because there is nothing you can do to sell to the haters. Be proud of all you do.

  • Kathy L says:

    The hobbyists really get to me, too. My (for now) day job is medical transcription. This is a very difficult career, and it takes many years to become proficient. Several years ago, most of the jobs shifted to work-from-home positions rather than hospital jobs. Lots of people jumped at the opportunity to work at home, even if it meant taking a huge cut in pay. Now, since the companies know that there are people out there who will work for essentially less than minimum wage, the career is in its death throes. I have only a few clients left who take only about 15 hours a week of my time. So I decided to ramp up my jewelry design business (another career that takes years to become proficient) and started doing more shows and working on my website. When I do the small shows, I see lots of other jewelry makers selling items with fairly comparable materials for so much less than mine, either because they are using things that were donated to them or because they just want to make their money back without any thought about making a profit. It’s almost like watching the transcription business dying again! How can I even explain reasonable pricing to someone with a mindset like that? If they’re happy with their prices, who am I to tell them to do it differently, even if does undercut my prices? It’s a real problem, but I certainly don’t have an answer.

    On the up side, I have customers who follow my work and are willing to pay my asking price, which makes me very happy! I did a show a few months ago at a lady’s home and sold more there than at any other show I’d done. I mentioned to her afterward that it was so refreshing not to hear anyone say, “It costs too much!” She said that her friends recognized quality when they saw it and were willing to pay for it. That was very encouraging.

  • Suzanne Hines says:

    Autumn, you made the comment. “Now if only I could learn how to SELL, I’d be even better!” After many years in a corporate environment, I embarked on my second career in sales. It’s not the easiest job to have, but if you smile and listen to people, you’re more than halfway there. The biggest gripe I have when going to art fairs is that artists are their own worst enemies. How many times do you see the artist hiding behind a table, playing on their phone or reading a book? It seems like they do everything possible NOT to interact with people who browse their booth. It’s so refreshing when the artist is out front, with a smile on her face. All you have to do is smile, say hello, and engage your public. If a particular piece has a story behind it and a browser seems really interested in it, by all means tell a little of the story. It may be the difference that turns that browser into a repeat customer.
    I hope to graduate from the ranks of the hobbyist to artisan craftsperson soon!

  • Kathy L says:

    After re-reading my comment, it sounds harsher than I meant for it to sound. Of course, most of us started as hobbyists, and I certainly didn’t know how to price my jewelry then. It is only after years of encouragement by some very nice customers and lots of research into the subject that I am confident in the prices that I charge now. I would like to be able to approach other jewelry makers who are underpricing their work but am not sure how to go about doing that.

    Thanks to Suzanne Hines for her comments about selling. She has some very interesting observations, and I will certainly take them to heart!

  • Autumn says:

    Suzanne, i spent my first couple expos sitting behind the table and working on items. Now I’ll still sit behind the table working, but I’m off to the side and angled so people can see me properly. They can tell I’m working on something, and I put the project down with someone approaches. I tend to be a quiet person, and I’ll greet people or make small talk…but I’m not comfortable actually *selling* my items. If a browser asks about them, or we fall into genuine conversation rather than small talk, it’s easier. I work in retail, and no matter what store I work at there’s always some pressure to sell something. And likewise, we’re meant to pressure (upsell, same thing) the customer into buying. The big-box retail experience has really turned me me “off” of selling. I suppose I haven’t learned “my” way of selling yet.

  • Biljana says:

    I’m curious if you have experience similar to mine. In the beginning while I was still in hobbyist stage, I started to sell simple things that I was making for a very low price through the facebook. It was not good stuff, closer to mass produced jewelry than to any kind of art, but I was learning and stuff was piling up at home.
    I was selling, for example, earrings for $2. Material cost me almost nothing and I it used to take me 10 minutes to make them, so I thought that price was OK. Nobody bothered with my simple jewelry. Than once friend told me that my prices are ridiculous, and I should charge more. I made experiment, tripled the price, and suddenly, people got interested. Over night, my earrings became “magical”, “amazing” etc…
    Did ever happened to you that you’ve sold item, not because it’s beautiful, but because it’s expensive?

  • Marlies says:

    Cherie, I agree with you on the whole Etsy thing!! I do Native- inspired beadwork and know what goes into a beaded project. To find something similar for 1/3 of the price it should be is not fair to them or those of us making a living doing the same pieces. Most people do not realize that time is important when designing jewelry. If I have a piece that took hours to make then the price will reflect that.

  • I’ve been following the comments on this post, many interesting perspectives.

    One point I’d like to make: there’s a difference between a “hobbyist” and a “beginner”. Everyone of us was a beginner, who, perhaps spent some time also thinking as themselves as a hobbyist, because they did not see themselves as professionals.
    When I referred to the damaging effect of being under-priced by hobbyists, I wasn’t really referring to beginners. Of course, a beginner is going to have neither the confidence in their abilities (or product) nor the know how to price their items well. What I was really referring to, is folks who have been making their creations long enough to know what they’re doing, who are turning out a respectably professional looking product and yet still, for various reasons, not pricing realistically.
    I almost linked an Etsy forum discussion in this post a few days ago; tho the OP of the Etsy post was not a jewelry artisan, it would have paralleled this discussion, I think. She created very nice looking crocheted items and was complaining that people kept telling her to raise her prices. Part of the discussion had to do with the fact that the suggestion to raise prices had been made, by some, as a solution to her being overwhelmed by orders. She mentioned feeling uncomfortable with the idea, believing she would be “ripping off” her customers if she raised her prices, which I thought to be quite low.
    I didn’t respond to that post, but what I wanted to say was something like, “what if this was all you did for a living, (instead of having the full-time day job she mentioned in her bio) what would your thoughts be about the time & skill you’re putting into your art then?”
    And that brings me to what I see as one of the main problems with hobbyists, especially those who are proficient & skilled at what they do….I believe most of them don’t have to make a living with their art (full time job, spouse’s job, retired comfortably, etc.), so they really just don’t care about pricing. And how in the world do you argue or reason with that, without sounding like a whiny shrew?

    So, as I said before, IMO these folks really need to not be selling their work in the same venues (online or real life) that we working-for-a-living artisans do, they should give it away, donate it to charity, etc.
    Beginners, keep working, practice & hone your skill, push your boundaries…and learn good pricing formulas! 🙂

  • Kristina says:

    I love these comments. I recently did a show where I sold nothing. Luckily, my sister sold some things which covered our table cost. It was their first time doing a show, so they weren’t really advertised properly, but it made me frustrated that we were placed right across from someone who had two full tables of jewelry. There was no way I could compete with the prices.

    I understand that people undervalue their work and that pricing is hard, but people need to think about all the costs that go into making their jewelry, even if they’ve been gifted the materials. That way, people who have to buy every piece and have overhead to think of can be in the same market and not be thought of as overpriced.

  • Autumn says:

    Kristina, you aren’t only one enjoying the comments. It’s nice to hear everyone’s stories and get some advice!

    Now for a minor rant.

    The second show…ooohhh! I’m still upset, and I’m sure the other vendors are too. The hosts decided to have a raffle. That’s common enough. But they gave people “passports” that vendors had to sign. The papers had to have every vendor’s initials to qualify for the raffle. It was meant to encourage people to see every booth, and ended up rushing all the customers and driving us vendors up a wall. I was in the back room with some other vendors, and we were ready to scream! People were literally throwing these papers at us, and it got so crowded (lines formed around this tiny room!) we couldn’t pay any attention to the interested customers. Then when it finally slowed down, it…literally slowed down. We would go long stretches without anyone coming to the room.

    I had a lot of people sniff at my prices, even other vendors! I will not be doing THAT show again! I sold one item, not even enough to break even. But the raffle thing is what sealed the deal. Who knows how many customers I could have had if people hadn’t been shoving and tripping over one another to get those blasted papers signed. And what most of them didn’t realize is that our names were on there–they could have just written the initials themselves!

    I was difficult to remain professional in front of the customers though. The constant “sign this!” followed by “what are we winning?” (my own raffle) on top of the sniff/scoff/horrified look at my prices got old quickly. There was only one other vendor I saw who used gems, and that was in her earrings only. Everyone else was using glass and plastic.

    I even had one vendor (who said she liked a pendant and might come back for it) brush me off. We were breaking down, and I went to ask if she wanted it since she’d said she might. She just gave me that “you’re pathetic” look uppity people get and said “I was admiring it, it’s beautiful. But I don’t want to buy it”. So frustrating! She could have been honest with me to begin with. As a vendor, I’d THOUGHT she would understand those sort of games and how annoying they are.

  • I was never a hobbyist. I started in a metal program hang never been able to properly close a jump ring.

    My work is expense. It’s all completely fabricated from copper and silver sheet or wire. Each finding is made.

    I find it’s really helpful to have a spool or coil of wire and a piece of sheet on my table so when people say things I can show them how it all started out. So many people need think about that. I also have a somewhat portable (if my husband is with me) tree stump that has been converted into a mini workstation. I bring that with me. It creates interest, I can work if a show is slow and it kind of legitimizes that I make this stuff by hand.

    The shows that I do are mostly juried so it helps that I am not next to someone selling cheap assembled stuff.

    People just don’t think about what goes into it. The tent cost money, the tables did, the draping. You might have had to travel to show them you beautiful work. That could mean a hotel room and meals out. Let’s not forget the cost to just be IN the show and then we have all those lovely little things like the fee for taking credit cards, that box you are putting your jewelry in was bought from somewhere.

    Sigh….like I lot of you I realize that if they do not value what I do, they don’t need to buy my work.

    I really do agree that juried shows are soooooo much better than non juried shows.

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