Monday, December 5, 2011

Profit is Not a Four Letter Word

Writing about being in the business of designing, making and selling hand woven textiles has brought up many memories as I wander down memory lane, and not all of them are pleasant.  Let's face it, in order to be a person who sells their own designs in a field as competitive as that of textiles requires a huge amount of ego - and humility.

What has been a recurring theme over the years is that of making a profit.  So many people think that 'profit' is a four letter word.  For some reason, because we enjoy what we do, we aren't supposed to make any money (i.e. a profit on what we sell).  We are supposed to be content to get our materials cost back and a little extra to buy more materials.  We somehow don't deserve to make a profit because we are supposed to be satisfied with the enjoyment we have experienced during the making of our cloth.

This attitude was challenged at a meeting I attended of a craft co-op.  Why were we not supposed to earn a respectable income, the questioner asked.  Do lawyers and doctors not enjoy what they do?  And yet everyone knows they have to earn a respectable wage.

But the myth of the starving artist persists, and often it is the artist (or artisan) who promotes this myth by not asking enough for their products.  They discount their time.  They ignore the overhead expenses involved in being in business.  They wave these things away with the comment that they just do it because they enjoy it.

If we don't respect ourselves, why should anyone else respect what we do?

At one craft fair a man came by and leaning on my booth (never a good idea - a booth is not meant to be leaned on!) rather presumptuously told me that he was going to buy 14 placemats and only pay $90.  I looked at him and said "I don't think so."  (At the time my mats were retailing for $8.50 a piece)

His jaw dropped and he sputtered "But I'm going to buy fourteen mats!"

"Well" I replied, "fourteen mats doesn't equal $90."

"But, but, I'm going to buy FOURTEEN of them!"

"You know" I said "a lady came in yesterday and bought 14 mats and 14 napkins and she didn't get a discount.  I don't think it would be fair to her to give you one."

"Well, I can't afford to pay full price for your mats!"

I don't remember what I said in return, probably something along the lines of "I'm sorry" but today my response to this sort of interaction is a smile and "I do understand about restricted budgets."

My ego was offended at the manner in which he approached me and the attitude that I would consider giving a perfect stranger a discount just because he assumed he'd get one.  I also knew that my mats would sell elsewhere for full price so why should I give my time away to him?

But another part of me also knows that no show is guaranteed to be successful.  The public will vote on the quality of your designs and craftsmanship with their dollars so I try very hard to not have expectations of sell out shows but to be grateful for whatever sales I have.

My ego also appreciates the positive comments that the public proffer, but ultimately there are no calories in compliments so I don't let them go to my head.  If I'm at a show where all I hear is "oh you have such nice scarves" but the sales are few I try very hard to not let myself get depressed - if my work is so nice why isn't anyone buying it? - because it is precisely the answer to that question that I need to find.  Doing a show where the sales are not good keeps me humble and keeps me looking for newer, better designs. 

And I try not to brag when I've had a good sale because the next one could be a bust.


Sandra Rude said...

Hear, hear!

Anne Niles Davenport said...

Thanks for bringing this topic out in the open. I too struggle with the challenges of pricing/sales/no sales/humility/pride. I get hit on occasion with the assumption that if the item is purchased directly from me rather than from my gallery the price will be lower. My answer is always no.

Ian Bowers said...

When a plumber charges £100 (in the UK) for just turning up at your door ... !

Anonymous said...

'If I'm at a show where all I hear is "oh you have such nice scarves" but the sales are few I try very hard to not let myself get depressed - if my work is so nice why isn't anyone buying it? - because it is precisely the answer to that question that I need to find.' I totally understand your view. I used to do craft shows many years ago. Person after person would tell me how beautiful my things were and how they had never seen anything like it. My prices for these items was in the $30 - $40 range...and no one would buy them. I resolved after that to not tell crafters how beautiful their things were unless I was going to buy. I don't think this is a perfect solution, but I couldn't think of anything else. I hope you continue to value your work and put appropriate prices on your pieces...I will never forget my dad telling me "you know, if you sell yourself cheap, someone will buy you".

Carol Rajala Johnson said...

Thanks for standing up for yourself, and for all weavers by proxy. The line I keep putting out there is that weaving is NOT a minimum wage skill. Here's to finding those customers/clients who appreciate that.