Deals and Steals

“What is the sale price?”

Often potential customers ask me for a discount or want to know when I will be running a sale. As a small business owner who does every single aspect of the business myself, I have come to realize that I am cheating myself when I give discounts to buyers. Even though my handmade pottery seems expensive and appears as if I would be making a small fortune, it just isn’t so. There are so many details that take time and so many hidden expenses that go into the making of my work that one might not realize. Each of my pottery pieces is made slowly and with care, and I handle each and every item countless times. Everything I purchase including supplies and shipping labels keeps going up in price significantly, and no supplier or the postal service ever gives me a volume discount.

“What if I buy a lot?”

Often people think a multiple-piece order deserves a discount. After all, the potential buyer would be making a big investment, and I am making a chunk of money, right? Though I so very much appreciate a large order and am honored and thrilled to make items that I know will become a part of a home, it actually takes me more time and attention to make a large order, not less. For example, if someone places an order for 8 plates, I will make at least 10 and will send the best of the bunch. With ceramics and pottery there are many many things that can go wrong during the many stages of the process, and I can end up with a bunch of duds or “seconds”. Pieces warp or crack. Glazes drip or craze. There is so much alchemy involved in the process. It is what makes handmade pottery so exciting and completely elusive and challenging.

Under-pricing is common for artisans.

When I was just starting to sell my craft, I went to a workshop and learned something very important; when a hobbyist artist (which I was at the time) undersells their work, it is unfair to all of the other artists who are trying to make a living off of their art. I immediately saw that in myself, but at the time, I was just so happy to sell anything and support my expensive hobby, I really didn’t account for all of my time or expenses. Now that I am spending much of my time creating pottery and am trying to make a sustainable income from it, I have had to take a hard look at what I charge.

“But it is so expensive!”  What goes into pricing.  

I think many people don’t understand all that goes into creating handmade work. It is understandable, because even I, the maker, had to come to terms with this. It is an evolution of learning for me, and it is more recently that I am realizing the multitude of factors that go into my pricing.

This post is to help others, makers and buyers alike, to understand both the costs for materials and the costs of time that go into creating. For me this is related to making pottery, but I imagine it would be much the same for any artist or crafter. My lists are long, but I am sure I have also forgotten to list numerous details.

What goes into the piece you receive: Time and Energy

  1. driving an hour each way to the clay store to purchase supplies which I purchase in bulk to minimize trips and to pass savings onto customers
  2. sourcing and ordering supplies on-line which I also order in bulk to pass savings on to customers
  3. organization and storage of supplies
  4. designing my work
  5. prepping work spaces and covering work tables with canvas cloth
  6. forming the pieces out of wet clay
  7. washing all of the tools used in the making process
  8. washing work table cloths and cloth hand rags
  9. returning to each piece to do “next steps” when pieces when pieces are leather hard- often this is several visits and handlings of each piece
  10. sanding bone dry pieces to remove rough spots (the worst job of all)
  11. loading the kiln for the bisque firing
  12. unloading the kiln and rinsing pieces of clay dust, then laying them out to dry
  13. managing, cleaning and organizing the studio
  14. recycling dry clay into usable clay
  15. putting screens on the windows in the summer and putting storms up on windows in the colder months
  16. moving out of the studio and into my basement for the depths of winter because in Vermont, no amount of heat is going to keep my little red barn warm enough
  17. making glazes- a long and messy process with lots of clean-up
  18. glazing- I hand brush each piece which takes a long time but gives lovely results
  19. wiping the bottoms of every piece to remove any excess glaze or the piece will stick to the kiln shelf and be ruined
  20. washing brushes
  21. reloading kiln for the glaze firing
  22. getting up in the middle of the night to check on the kiln when it is firing and baby sitting the kiln during its 13-22 hour cycle
  23. refraining from using any high powered appliances such as toaster, coffee maker, washer, dryer, microwave, and even running the water pump
  24. unloading kiln and carrying everything from the studio into the house
  25. adding details such as tags to botanical prints or wax in the holes of incense burners
  26. photographing the finished pieces
  27. editing photos
  28. creating new listings for new work
  29. updating listings for restock
  30. storing ready to ship pieces in a safe and accessible location
  31. carefully wrapping, boxing, writing a personal note, printing a shipping label to package orders
  32. cutting rolls of bubble wrap to appropriate size pieces to have ready
  33. driving to the post office with packages and standing in line to drop them off
  34. communicating with customers
  35. trying to maintain a website and social media presence
  36. collecting packing materials from local businesses that would otherwise go into the landfill. I do this both for ecological reasons and to save my customer money.

My costs for making pottery; Dollars and Cents:

  1. clay
  2. glazes, raw earth materials for making glazes
  3. kiln and maintenance of it
  4. replacement kiln shelves
  5. tools -some break, some wear down with use
  6. the studio building -taxes, heat, new roof, general repairs and maintenance
  7. electrical costs for running the kiln
  8. shipping materials, boxes, packing tape, scissors, bubblewrap
  9. computer, printer, printing ink, paper
  10. cost of USPS shipping label to mail items
  11. business insurance
  12. income tax
  13. fees to Etsy
  14. fees to the credit card company that allows people to pay me