Saturday, June 22, 2019

how high is too high?

I've been in the zone with pottery making lately. I'm getting ready for the Clay and Glass Festival in July, and every year it's a big push in May and June to get enough work made for the show. Every year I have the same goal: sell $10,000 worth of work. And every year I sell about $5,000.

There seems to be a ceiling, and part of that is because I don't even bring enough work to sell $10,000. By Sunday morning, my booth still has plenty of work, but the discerning eye can see the holes. I'm a master merchandiser, if I do say so myself, but even I can't hide the fact that every small and medium bowl is gone or there are only giant vases left.  This year, I'm not fucking around. I'm cranking out work. There will be enough to sell $10,000 worth. I think.

Or, maybe I don't make my magical $10,000 goal because my prices are not high enough. This thought has been an annoying buzz in my brain lately.

I had a very uncomfortable moment with pricing a couple of weeks ago. A request came in for a custom item, an item I don't normally make, with a specific design on it. I wrote the person back, telling them I can make this thing, but giving them a heads up that it's going to be expensive. They came to the studio and we worked out what they wanted, and even though I had told myself ahead of time that I would not give them a quote at the studio, but give myself time to think about it so I could come up with the appropriately outrageous number, I ended up dropping a number right then and there. I don't know why, which is a question I will be exploring with my internal therapist.

The customer was fine with that number, and then said that they thought it would be twice that. And they had been prepared for twice that. What I would like to know is why I was not prepared for twice that.

That incident coupled with the upcoming show and the question of my prices has me pondering a couple of things. First, what is the ceiling on pottery pricing for me personally and is influencing that cap? I wonder if I were a man, and asking for 15% more, would I get it? The answer to that question is "yes".  Then I start wondering if I need to present myself in a slightly different way to get higher prices. Because it's not just about the work. It never is.

And I have never been one to under price my work. From the start I've always asked for more, and part of that came from working for Sandi Dihl, and seeing how she priced her work. She always pushed prices higher. But I have been doing this for 20 years now--whaaaaat?!-- and I feel like I have plateaued on price. There are a host of reasons for that, including competition, the global economy, patriarchy, capitalism, blah blah blah, but I wonder about minute personal factors that are influencing my prices, and what I can do to change that up. These are not questions I enjoy pondering. But I think I would be a fool not to.

Back to the customer in my studio who is feeling relieved and surprised that they just saved $500. We talked about the price more, and we came to a price that would split the difference between what I just quoted and what they expected. I was transparent and honest in telling them that I don't always value my own work, which I hate admitting. It makes me mad at myself. But I realized in that moment that if we didn't balance the price between us, I was going to resent the hell out of that order, which would mean I would end up having to make it several times because the first one cracked in half, and the second one exploded in the kiln. That's how pottery works. It often expresses my internal conflicts, which forces me to reckon with myself. And that's why I'm an ARTIST! *confetti falls from the heavens, god smiles*

Here is a picture of some of what I made last week. I had to move work-in-progress onto my studio display shelves, because my ware carts were all filled up.


  1. I think it's important to shoot high. I always have in my head minimum figures (this is how much I have spent just to do the show and we're not even going to talk about my time and effort invested in being there and my work and and and) median figures (I will be truly happy and satisfied if I at least make this) and dream figures (if I make this I'm going to Bermuda with my family for a week). I find that I somehow have an instinct for how much I'm actually going to make at any given show which I don't fully understand since I do perhaps two in-person shows per year.

    After the first couple I ever did I could already see a pattern. I sell 1/3-1/4 of the work I have on display no matter how many people come through. Some items are best sellers of course so I'm always trying to make more and more of those each show to have back stock put aside so I can refill the holes. But I've come to the realization that if, for example, I want to make $5,000 at a specific show I need to have $20,000 worth of work out on my tables. I've also found that making small tchotchkes that I don't personally use makes great add-on purchases. I had shot glasses and ring dishes in my most popular design and 2/3 of my customers left with one. At the end of the show I only had one left. At $20-$25/each, that was a big bump up in my sales totals. I figured at the end of the show that 1/4 of my total sales had been from those little impulse items. My yearly Open Studio is in October and I am already starting to build up my stock of shot glasses and ring dishes.

    I'm not presuming to tell you what to do as your experience far outweighs mine, I just thought I'd share what information and insight I have, since you so generously share yours.

    Oh, and the pricing issue ... it's such a difficult subject. I'm so grateful for my friend Christine who is an amazing businesswoman and mentor and, from the beginning, has bluntly informed me "This price is too low. What shall I change it to?" when helping me price work for shows. I may undervalue myself but she doesn't.

    1. Thank you for your insight in this Giselle. I agree that you have to bring about 3 times as much work as you actually want to sell at a show. For someone like me who doesn't do a lot of shows anymore, this can be a high bar! And those little add-on items... I'm always at a loss at coming up with those, though I see people around me selling them, and it seems so clever. For me, the price margins on those small items are so tight they don't feel worth it to me, but then I may be missing out on hooking a customer who can start small.

    2. I started using a time clock app with codes for what kind of work I was doing and I would "clock" in and out with different tasks, like throwing, trimming, etc. along with keeping track of how many items I worked on in that time. Then I was able to average out how long each piece really took, start to finish. I discovered that regardless of size my mugs all take the same amount of time within a margin of ten minutes. Therefore my smallest and least expensive mugs were simply not worth making.

      I could see your designs transferring beautifully to earrings/pendants, ornaments, and small ring dishes. It's not worth it if they're not fast so I do a simplified design and a simpler glaze job than usual. Last year I slab built them so they were not as quick, but this year I have started throwing them off the hump and quickly trimming a little foot ring into them so they will be much faster to glaze. I'm adding in half as many tiny items in my other designs as well to see how they sell this year.

      There's a potter on Instagram who has posted shots of this big basket she has at her shows absolutely filled to the brim with tiny shot glasses, vases, and dishes thrown off the hump. They're decorated in a simple quick dip glaze and very inexpensive but she said people spend a lot of time looking through that basket and she sells tons of them as add=ons. She was my inspiration for trying the little things.

    3. Tell me the name of that app! I have considered doing this before but it had not occurred to me to assign codes to different tasks. I have come to the realization without the app that mugs are not worth making, even at $72 a pop. They really need to be $110 to be worth it.

  2. You’re a “name” in the Bay Area Whitney and your prices should reflect that. Happy to be a guinea pig and give u a pottery consumer’s reaction to your prices ;-)

    1. I may take you up on that! Thanks. :)

    2. I have often wished for a sort of "pottery focus group" where I could present a group of other artists with: this mug, this size, this price, and get their thoughts. It's not so easy working alone.