Steel Manzanita Tree

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Stand By Your Product/Art

SCENARIO:   Can you just "tone down" your work and leave off some of the details?"  Wow!

The other day, I was speaking with a potential client regarding a fairly large copper repousse piece they were considering.  To represent my capabilities, I brought along my current portfolio in order to show them some of the larger scale work I had completed in the past.  I went over everything in detail, including the technique, as well as touching on the hours each piece or section took to complete.  The response was "Wow, that sounds expensive."  This further resulted in a conversation about other artists they had spoken too with regard to some other big projects in this new home they were building.  The gist of the conversation was that while they wanted something nice, it didn't appear that they were willing to pay what they might anticipate the final fee to be.  Their solution to that was to suggest that the artists "tone down" the quality - not do as detailed of a job that they normally do because they were thinking "cheap."   Yes, they actually used the word "cheap" many times during this conversation.  

My response to her was that my prices were fair given the quality of work but that I would not be able to give her a ball park price until I had time to better evaluate the scope of the project. (At this point, the details were was just a brief conversation).  Obviously, if this person calls to more seriously discuss this particular commission, I have no intention of "toning down" the normal quality of my work to cheapen the project for them. 

I can't believe someone would even suggest that.  Its insulting!  I think that my portfolio represents a certain quality of work and is representative of many careful hours put into each piece.  What makes it is the details!  It is hard to get your name out there in the art world.  I always thought that one should put 100 percent into each piece and make it as perfect as possible, taking as many required hours as necessary to do just that.  I don't think that they would ask the carpenters building their house to "tone down" the quality of their carpentry.  Why do they think that it would be appropriate to suggest that to someone they approach on making a large wall hanging that will be the focal point of their living room?  My guess is that they may have contacted the artist who did a similar piece (the work was featured in a high end log home magazine) and that his price was more than they could afford so they think that a hungry local artist would be easier to persuade?  I am just speculating here, of course.  Uh- No.

First, all of the artists out there, like any other small business - in order to be truly competitive, you need to set your prices that are comparable with your competition within the scope of the quality of the work that is produced in that category.  You should take the mind set that first, as in any business, you ARE allowed to make a profit.  That is not an unreasonable expectation. Second, there is the cost of the actual hours and material put into the piece and after that, there should be an "asthetic" value for your work.  

Obviously as you gain skill,  popularity and notoriety within the art community, collectors, etc., your "asthetic" worth may rise, but to start -  maybe do some research and see what is going on in your specialty.  You can likely come up with a reasonable asthetic value for your work by seeing what current selling prices are for similar pieces.  Its a place to start anyway. 

I have learned from being in small business in fields other than art, you don't do yourself or anyone else any good by undercutting the industry norms when it comes to pricing.  Typically the people who do that are not the best in the business and are just trying to drum up work.  What happens is that they get in over their head and end up ultimately blowing the job anyway, but in the process, have potentially brought the price down for everyone and created a negative association with the industry. 

An example of this in our metal fabrication world was we were called out to bid a copper job.  We were referred to these people only for the copper work.  There was another blacksmith on site working on the iron railings on this house.  The home owner expressed some frustration with this person because they were taking way to long and wanted to know if we did railings.  We told them we did, but that we knew this other shop and were not interested in coming in on their job.  So, we bid the copper part.  Turns out later, this shop found out that we were bidding the copper, and even though they had NO experience with copper whatsoever, (as a matter of fact, they were referring copper work to us earlier in the years) - they  undercut our price by $1,000, which resulted in us losing that job.  Later we found out they were not able to figure out how to do the copper work required, ultimately failed and could not produce the copper like they said they could.  And.....they ultimately got kicked off the job completely because they never got the iron work finished.   So not only did they screw it up for themselves, they screwed it up for everyone involved.  We all lost.   Neither of us got the copper or the iron.   This is an example of what happens when you undercut your market.  And we have never heard from that contractor again!   Thanks guys! 

Lowering your prices to accommodate a cheapskate customer or contractor doesn't help you any more than "toning down" the quality of your work in order to "make it cheaper" in the eyes of these types of customers. 

Well, I got off track a little bit - but my point is  - do your homework.  Make sure you have a justifiable price on your art work.  After that, stand by your price and stand by the quality of your work that will back up that price.  If a customer says they can go to Joe Schmoe to get it cheaper, let 'em go!  My guess is that it will turn out quite like the story I mentioned above.  There is a reason why they are so cheap. And personally, I do not have a problem mentioning that to the customer either. 

Bring your portfolio of your work and qualifications, get all the information you need to accurately bid the job and bid it like the professional that you are.   After that, stand by your price and the quality of your work.  If they don't want to work with you on those terms, they you are better off moving on. 

All this time spent building your portfolio and reputation based on your hard work, developing a reputation and signature style can quickly be unraveled if you start decreasing the quality to accommodate a cheapskate. 

If we all work together, rather than against each other - it will help keep the whole industry strong!


  1. With regard to my ranting above, I do want to say that in NO WAY am I saying that the shop working on the railing job mentioned above is bad at what they do - quite the contrary. But they handled this wrong.

  2. This is brilliant - would love to see you sell an article to Craft Report about this. We don't over charge and when people are cheaper, I just tell the client (I am a jeweler) that "I guess they know what their work is worth" if the client pushes.

    By the way - I really love your work.

  3. I like your riposte! I will have to remember that - :D I will look into the Craft Report. I really want other artisans to be able to get fair prices for their work. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for complimenting my work! Do you have a website or anything?