Saturday, July 9, 2011

"I'd never pay that much"

It seems that the universe is telling me that the blog post I've been putting off for a while needs to be written today. This has been floating around my head for a little while and after reading the excellent "A Buyer's Guide To Handmade" article I posted earlier today, talking to a friend about pricing earlier this week, seeing an exchange on Facebook about an article in the Wall Street Journal about $300 jeans, and a comment made to Joey about a pair of our earrings, I guess it's time for me to finally get my fingers in gear and get typing.

This may anger some of you. It may offend you. You might not want to know what a seller is truly thinking when you make comments such as the ones I'm going to describe below. (and please know that when I say "you" I don't mean anyone in particular. It's just a way to make the narrative flow along)

"I'd never pay that much for [insert item here]." I know I've said it before. You probably have too. It's a judgement on the person who *did* pay that much for that item, and a negative one. You're smarter than that person because you didn't waste your money on whatever that thing was. Well, maybe yes and maybe no. Maybe that person knew something about that item that you didn't. Maybe they knew that by spending that money on that item, they were supporting someone in their community make money to feed their family. Maybe they just wanted the cachet of a prestige brand, and it was worth that amount of money for them to get that feeling. Whatever their reasons, they decided that the cost versus benefit analysis had more benefit than cost.

"I'd never pay that much" is heard at shows too. As a seller, it goes through me like a blade. I may be smiling at you and making pleasant conversation, but what you've just done is tell me - the person sitting in front of you, probably working on another handmade item - that you don't consider my time, effort, skills, and materials worth paying my asking price because you think the item you can buy at the local big box store is "just as good."

You have no idea how badly I want to ask you to kindly step away from my table and not come back. I would rather have one person for an entire day come to my table who appreciates my work even if they can't afford to purchase it then than a hundred people who think what I do is on the same level as the cheap goods you find in a big box store.

Sellers of things do what they do for different reasons, but the fact of the matter is that we have to make profit if we're going to continue selling things. Profit doesn't mean just getting back the materials cost used to make the item. It's what's left over after you've paid for your materials, the website hosting/listing fees, credit card processing fees, postage fees, booth rent fees, packaging costs, marketing/branding costs and finally, your time as the creator. And yet, the "I'd never pay that much" mentality basically states that you don't want there to be a profit, or sometimes even be paid for their time. After all, if the crafter wanted to make money, he or she should just go out and do what everyone else does and get a job!

Well, most crafters and creators already have full time job. Their handmade business is their second full time job. Joey and I each have full time day jobs. We couldn't afford health insurance, or our household costs otherwise. Etsy is our second full time job that starts the minute we get home at night. Don't get me wrong, we love doing it, but it's not always an easy balance to maintain, especially when Joey's in school full time too.

"I'd never pay that much" applies to sales too. Let me state for the record that as a business owner, I enjoy holding sales. As a shopper, I love taking advantage of sales. Who doesn't? I think we are all very well aware of the state of the economy, and sales make it possible for you to enjoy the little luxuries in life while still keeping a close eye on your budget. Sales also make it possible for a small business like mine to raise much-needed operating funds quickly. And, being that I'm not just a Purchasing Officer but a Staff Accountant in my day job, I've done the number crunching to know that holding a short term online sale in my business is better use of my money and time than going to an in-person show in my area has been. Sales are a win-win.

BUT - if I could afford to always offer my items at the sale price, that's the price I would have set originally. For a business like mine, especially operating in the very saturated market of jewelry sellers on Etsy, the sales mix has to have a certain amount of full-price sales, otherwise, I'll quickly be out of business. It's not really fair to expect a seller to give you a sales price all the time, and if you really want the business to thrive and continue to sell you items you love, you shouldn't expect it.

It's a sad fact that with so many businesses trying to keep some cash flow - ANY cash flow coming in, expecting a constant sale price has become the new normal. If Store Chain can offer luxury items on one-day deep discount, why can't Little Etsy Seller? Why should I pay that price? the thinking goes. Well, because Store Chain has deeper pockets, basically. Store Chain can afford to budget in losses on what's known as "Loss Leader" items to get you in the store in the hopes you'll purchase something else too. If you don't, well, they've gotten a little cash from you anyway, and written off the Loss Leader item's cost as an advertising expense.

Store Chain can also purchase items at a far greater discount than Little Etsy Seller. Even Established Business Etsy Seller, with a formal business plan, an operating capital fund and positive cash flow doesn't have the kind of purchasing clout that Store Chain does. Yes, most sellers who have been around a while buy in bulk, at the best wholesale rates they can get. But depending on the item and base costs of the supplies, it can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to stock just one item at a price break quantity. That's hard to take out of an operating budget, and many sellers are dependent on loans and credit cards to fund their activities, just like you may be.

By only wanting to purchase goods when someone is holding a sale, you're telling the creator of those goods that you don't really value their time, materials costs, or efforts. If you want the business to succeed and continue being able to provide you with items you love (and we sellers hope you love our products, we really do!), then please be willing to consider what it really takes to create something, and what it's worth to you that the seller continue to stay in business.

I'm not saying that you should be willing to pay the most expensive price for everything you buy. But be willing to entertain the thought of what goes on behind the creation of that item, the people involved, and whether or not you want to support the idea of livable wages in your community and beyond. It may cost more money, but the benefits are priceless.


  1. Well stated, Kelly!

  2. Above  all else, people should still remember... "If you have nothing NICE to say, say NOTHING at all."

    Even if I go to a show and think someone's prices are above what I would ever pay, I never say it out loud. I always smile and compliment people on their work, because I understand they work hard at what they do.

  3. Orrr.... they'd never pay that much for an item because they literally can't afford it? It's not... actually that much of a stretch...

  4. I think there is a difference between saying "I'd like to purchase this item, but I can't afford it so I won't" and "It's stupid of someone to pay that price for this item, regardless of its quality." The latter is where the statement "I'll never pay that much" comes into play for the purposes of my post, not the former.

    As I said, I'd rather have one person who appreciates the work, the time and the effort, regardless of whether or not they can, do, or will purchase a piece of mine than one hundred people who can purchase it, but want it done at an unsustainable price.

  5. That's fair. My personal experience has mostly involved hearing folks complain about wealthier people's purchase of "luxury" items beyond their own means; doubtless a maker has a much different set of experiences.


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