The Artisan’s Dilemma – part 2

The dilemma occurs when your wares finally begin to sell and you haven’t priced them at a level which allows you to continue selling them at that price. You feel wonderful that people like your work and are willing to pay for it, but you don’t know whether you can raise the price to give you enough profit to continue.

As an artisan, you have probably been concentrating on mastering
your skill and have put more attention on getting the finished product
right than figuring out a pricing strategy for selling your wares.

If you are making cups, for example, you have a fairly good idea of
what other artisans charge for cups showing comparable complexity and
skill. Before you start selling your cups, you had better figure out
how to be very efficient so you can sell your cups for the going rate
and make a profit. If you start selling cups and the profit isn’t great
enough, you need to improve your efficiency and lower your costs,
because you have little chance to increase your prices.

On the other hand, you may be making art objects that have no local
equivalent, so your pricing may be low in order to attract initial
buyers. Once people discover your work, you may be able to increase
your prices so that you are making enough profit to continue.

In the first example, the cups are almost a commodity. Unless your
cups are dramatically different and better than everyone else’s cups,
you have to meet the prices asked for other cups in the local

When you make products that are unique, you have a little more
flexibility in determining the selling price because there is less for
the buyer to compare your product with. On the other hand, the sales
volume of these unique pieces is often far lower than the sales volume
of more prosaic pieces used for everyday purposes like cups, bowls,
pitchers, etc.

One strategy used by successful crafts people is to customize
everyday items, so that the item fills a recognizable need, but each
piece is unique. One woman I knew did beautiful hand-painted T-shirts.
She did a marvelous business until she tried to improve her
profitability by switching to silk-screened designs.

Some potters customize their work by carving or incising their
pieces before glazing. Others press lace or textured materials into the
clay to create unique patterns for every piece. The successful ones
keep changing their techniques to stay ahead of the inevitable copycat
artisans who recognize a good thing when they see it.

Another successful technique is to raise the price on the items that
are flying off the shelf until they are high enough to provide a
healthy profit, meanwhile turning out lower priced items that people
will buy when they cannot afford the price of the premium product.

There is another solution to the Artisan’s Dilemma and that is to
change to a different marketplace. I will attempt to address that in a
future post.

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