Pricing Pottery = Conundrum

Pricing is a doosey.   How on earth do you factor in cost of material and labor (trimmings get recycled so do I factor beginning poundage or weigh the trimmings to factor clay used?; how much glaze goes on that mug, anyway?; do I need to hire a kid to time my every move that goes into it – wedging, throwing, trimming, adding handles, decorating, etc. – how about recycling of all those trimmings?; what is the overhead on utilities for that mug – should I factor the cubic inches of the mug to determine it’s use of kiln electricity?; how much do I charge for sitting at the PC or in the pottery shop trying to market that mug?; do I factor in years of experience, schooling costs, all those glaze test failures before finding a perfect fit?; etc.; then there is the time into research and development for new forms and glazes; the list goes on….)

At a recent visit to my local farmer’s market, I noticed several farmers selling similar goods – eggs, cauliflower, shiitaki mushrooms. Each had a different price, which was not necessarily more than what I would pay in a grocery store, surprisingly.

Firstly, I expect a grocery store that sells commercial produce to pay less for their mass-produced cauliflower and therefore sell it less than a local farmer who claims to use no pesticides or herbacides and pick everything by his/her hand rather than picked by immigrant labor. That cauliflower, however, is at least $2 more at my local grocer than at the farmers market! Actually, that’s not 100% true. That $2 difference was comparing one of the two farmers at the market that morning. The other’s cauliflower was about the same as the grocery store’s. So why the difference in price? Eggs from one farmer – $2 per dozen. Eggs from the other – $3.50 per dozen. What gives?

Turns out, pricing is difficult for farmers as well as potters. How does one price the labor involved in growing a plant from seed, transplanting it, keeping it weed and pest free, picking and finding a market?

At closer inspection, I did learn about the egg price difference. The $3.50 farmer spoke of the high cost from buying organic feed that supplements the chicken’s diets. He also spoke about the large range his hens peck versus another local farmer whose coop is maybe 8×10 and hosts more hens per square inch than people in S. Florida! (this is a bit of an exaggeration). More land, higher priced feed that is better for the chicks, the environment and for me = higher priced eggs. Did it say that on his signage, on the eggs, etc? Nope. I had to ask.

This brings me to selling pottery. At a few local galleries there are numerous potters’ works including mine. I have priced my work based on numerous factors, including comparisons to other work I think is similar in craftsmanship, my idea of the value of the object and my idea of how much it takes to produce that object without getting into the nitty gritty of actually calculating all the factors that went into the making of the object. Yes, that’s right – I used my ideas/feelings for pricing, not hard evidence.  I could expand on this, but that is for a different post.  Today I am more interested in what the customer sees. S/he walks into that gallery and sees two mugs. One for, lets say $18 and one, mine, for $25. This customer wants a handmade mug but doesn’t know about the process of pottery and doesn’t have a trained eye in craftsmanship – just as I see one egg and then another and see no difference. So which does the customer choose? Without any information, if I were that person I might probably purchase the $18 mug. What’s the difference other than I save a few bucks, right? Many people shop to save a few bucks. Many people wouldn’t ask why those eggs are cheaper or more expensive.  They see the price and say, “Hey, I can save a buck!”. What’s a farmer/potter to do?  Another possibility for a price discrepancy – hobby vs profession.  Farming and potting could be either and if its a hobby, the price may reflect just a bit more than actual costs of materials – seed pack & fertilizer = $3.50; clay and glaze materials = $10.

I must confess, I am bitter about pricing. I read blogs about pricing work and marketing craft, like Crafting an MBA, Art Biz Blog and Meylah and they just don’t help me get over the crazy discrepancies on price, like the eggs and cauliflower at the market, and the fact that most consumers are looking for a deal, not learning about products to understand the value (higher price may be better value if the product is much better – and how do you tell someone one mug is better value than another?!)

When I opened my shop, Pincu Pottery, recently, I asked some friends about my prices – one of the blogs I read suggested I do this. They looked blankly at me and then in unison said they are just fine.  But really, one of my friends would only spend money if she absolutely had to – she raises her own food, bakes her own bread, etc. Another loves to eat out and doesn’t bat an eye to spend $100 on a nice meal out. Would they look at my mug and both agree the price is right?