This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...."You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
I’m lucky. When a customer asks me this question, I have a great general answer. The techniques I use to create my jewelry and fiber art pieces are complex and time-consuming.
My favorite example is the time a young kid came in my booth, which was packed with browsers. He looked at my work, saw a price tag and said in a very loud voice, “WOW! THIS STUFF SURE IS EXPENSIVE!”
The other customers in my booth, including the child’s parents, collectively gasped and held their breath. All eyes were upon me—how would I react??
What an opportunity! I swiftly picked up the necklace he was looking at and placed it in his hand. I told him the story behind the artifact, and told him all the steps it took to make it look ancient and worn. I explained how it was finished to feel smooth and warm to the touch. I’ve gotten very good at telling this story, in a quiet, intimate voice, encouraging the person to look more closely at the piece. I also keep it pretty short, considering.
When I was finished, he said in an equally loud voice, “WOW, THAT’S A LOT OF WORK. IT’S NOT EXPENSIVE AT ALL! AND IT’S BEAUTIFUL!”
I achieved several things in this little conversation. First, the child was my newest fan! His parents were grateful I’d handled the question with grace.
And I got to tell a booth full of people what a value my work was for the price.
There are many reasons why someone would ask us about our prices. Some are unsure if the price really reflects the value. For example, how many times do we see newly emerging artists price their work by what they see more established artists charge? Some people really don’t understand the work that’s involved bringing a work of art all the way from idea to fruition. Sometimes (but not usually), it’s a deliberate challenge. And sometimes, it simply reflects their dismay that they can’t afford to buy the piece they’ve fallen in love with.
But you don’t always have to respond to this question as I did. Maybe it really doesn’t take you all that long to make it. Maybe you really have over-priced your work. You are the only person who knows if your pricing is fair, or at least based on supply-and-demand. Maybe it really doesn’t matter how long it takes you to make something. After all, I’m not going to pay someone by the hour to cut my grass with a pair of cuticle scissors, no matter how great it looks when he’s done.
In any case, it helps to think ahead of time on where you want to go with this question.
A ‘Good Response’—Educating the person on the time spent learning and perfecting your techniques, the time spent producing, the expensive materials you use, etc. This was the approach I used with the young child.
A ‘Better Response’—Ask them questions. Which piece are they referring to? Show a similar piece that’s more affordable, perhaps smaller in size, or unframed, or less labor-intensive. Maybe there are factors not easily recognized that makes one piece more expensive that another.
The ‘Best Response’—What is the REAL objection? Address it, then make it (the sale) happen.
If the objection really is about the price, there are ways around that. I personally don’t like to discount my work (though I’ve done it once or twice.) I don’t mind adding something to sweeten the pot. (I think we discussed this. Such incentives could be a private invitation to your studio, or a copy of the exhibition catalog your work appeared in, or a copy of your book, etc. Anything with perceived value to the customer, that doesn’t set you back too much.)
My favorite response to the “I can’t afford it” situation is a unique layaway plan a fellow craftsperson shared with me years ago.
Ask the customer what they feel they can afford to pay. They may say something like, “I only have $400 of discretional income a month.” Great! What you can do is set up a payment plan for…oh, let’s say $200 a month, so they can still go out to dinner and a movie. Decide how many months of $200 payments will get them the artwork. You can even offer to take payments every two months or whatever. Add in a shipping charge for when the final balance is paid off.
Now for the brilliant part. Rather than them sending you a check every month, have them make out the checks, or the credit card slips, right then and there. They can determine when the checks are to be deposited, or the charge slip run, by dating and signing each one.
If they need to go slower, they can simply call you and ask you to hold a payment for an extra week or a month. If they decide they want it sooner, they call and tell you to deposit the checks or run the slips sooner.
When the final payment is made, you wrap the piece and ship it to them.
I have sold several large pieces this way. I keep the checks/slips in an envelope on my bulletin board, with the dates I need to process each one.
I’ve purchased major pieces for myself this way. It makes collecting big pieces affordable and manageable.
The beauty of this system? About half the time, partway through writing out the checks or charge slips, the person realizes they can just put the full amount on their credit card, take the artwork home with them NOW—and make their own monthly payments.
It’s important to determine if price really is the major obstacle for your potential collector. Once woman agonized over buying a big piece from me. I referred her to a smaller piece, and I offered to do the layaway plan. She demurred. I didn’t know what to do next. I knew it wasn’t about the price, but I was stuck.
We stood together in front of the piece. In desperation, I asked her, quietly and gently, “What’s holding you back?”
It was the color.
She loved it, absolutely loved it. But the room she wanted to hang it in was dominated by an antique oriental rug. She was afraid the colors would clash.
I pointed out that the colors in my work were aged and softened and would probably blend well. But it wasn’t enough.
Then I offered to let her take it home. For free.
I simply told her if it didn’t work, to bring it back before the end of the show (a week later.)
This is a huge risk for most of us, I know. In this case, it was someone who’d been following my work for years, at a fair with a longstanding, loyal audience. I did secure the loan with her credit card, although I know some artists who even forego that.
But it’s a powerful move. People are often gob-smacked that you would trust them with your beautiful work. That kind of trust totally offsets any doubts about your pricing, your authenticity, your integrity.
As I wrapped the piece for her to carry home, she leaned towards me smiling shyly and whispered, “I don’t think it will be coming back!”
And it didn’t.