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The rantings and ramblings of Kimberly Allison

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

OK.  I will do it.  I will break the promise that I made to myself about NEVER posting about this subject.  I have always read these kinds of posts over the years and thought:  "Wow.  How whiny is this person.  It can't possibly be that bad."  But over the past few years I have had to confess it really isn't that bad.  Nope.  It's actually worse.

Another day:  another lady.  This one was well up in her years.  A shopping bag firmly clasped in one hand, her fingers of the other deftly examining one of my creations in another.  In a "Just-Say-It-Quickly" voice, she asked me the price on a tiny Dia di los Muertos ornament.  I smiled and said "It's $10".  Faster than a sonic boom, her lips pursed and pouted, and her disgust and disdain shot across my meager 10 x 10 foot space.  She gave me a little huff, then stomped away.

I took a deep breath.  Took a sip of water.  Outward, I seemed calm.  But inside I started swearing like the daughter of a sailor that I am.

 I blame this mentality of the "99 Cents Store Effect".  Once upon a time, not so long ago, all goods were handmade.  Craftsmanship was expected, and those that excelled could expect fair price for their labor.  But now, cheap overseas labor and manufactured goods have over-ran our markets like so many cockroaches in a garbage dump.  With reduced quality and the prices to match, it seems that we calmly accept a poorer quality of work in exchange for a cheaper price.  I get it.  Times are tough and it makes perfect sense to cut corners here and there, in order to save a few shillings.

But, this comes at a price to artists and craftspeople like myself.   Suddenly, it's the cheaper goods that are on the pedestal.  It's us who has to reach the benchmark of higher expectations of a lower price.  With that in mind, let's clear the air a bit.

I am a business:   There are a lot of craftspeople who do one or two shows a year, with the thought of "Let's try selling a few things.  It could be fun".  You will often find these crafters at a church bazaars or a school function.  Their work will often be very simple and priced inexpensively.  Truthfully, they are only charging, sometimes even partially, for the supplies it cost to make that item.  But, they are not a true business.  A couple of shows might be all they wish to do before they decide it's just "too much work".

But true art businesses will charge a fair price.  Like any other business.   You may be surprised to know we have to pay for licensing and fees.  Taxes and insurance.  Booth space and show fees.  And this is before we calculate the cost of the supplies we use.  It doesn't matter if you walk away with a piece of my work or not.  I still have expenses to pay and bills to settle. 

It's fun... but it is still work:   Several times a day, someone will walk into my booth and take down a soft sculpture.  It's obvious that they like what they see and then comes the inevitable question:  "How much is it?"   My heart always skips a beat before I answer.  Because sometimes,  they will not like the answer I give them.

"$100 for THIS?!!!"  They yelp.  And they slap it back onto the shelf.  As I calmly explain that this particular piece took me a painstaking 12 hours to finish, it seems to fall on deaf ears.   Perhaps I could best explain it to them in this way

"Image going to work.  Your boss calls you into his office and sits you down.  He is wearing a broad grin.  'Congratulations!' he says.  ' My superiors and I have discussed your work and have decided that we are so happy with your performance that we have decided to give you an advancement.   From now on, you are taking a PAY CUT.   You will now work for $1 dollar an hour...  maybe $2.  Isn't that wonderful news?  But, it gets better!   We have decided that you will now fully support this company out of your own pocket!  You and you alone are now responsible for all business expenses.  You will pay for all supplies, taxes, fees and payroll.  All expenses, both big and small are now in your capable hands!   Ummmm.... excuse me.  Why are you balled up into a fetal position and sobbing?  You have earned this promotion!  We are thrilled with you!"   

Ok.  I have never said that, but it frequently plays out in my daydreams.

There is a fine line between offers and insults.   I find it difficult to watch some of these "flea market hunter" type shows.  The stars wheel, deal, beg and plead, trying to get the best deal possible.  I cringe every time I see this.  When you bargain with an artist, you are not merely trying to get a deal on an object, you are putting a price on someone's work.  In effect, you are deciding if someone is the difference between a skilled artisan or a sweat shop laborer.  It's hard not to be offended when someone grabs some of my newest work and 'generously' offers me 25% of my asking price.  (It's actually happened!)  No matter how fair I am with my pricing, there is always someone hoping to "pull a fast one on me".  So, now a secret.  Many, if not most, artists are now pricing their work higher simply because it gives us wiggle room when someone tries to chew down our price.  So, maybe you aren't getting away with a deal after all.

The Tax-Man commeth... and good luck stopping him.    Yep.  Death and taxes are inevitable.  To us as well.  So, it doesn't pay to get all huffy when we add that percentage to your purchase.   You see, almost all shows require us to have a reseller's number on file.  The Tax Man knows we are there and is going to demand his fair share.  As artists, we have 2 choices:  we can consult our city sales tax schedule for the correct percentage OR we can add the tax to our asking price and round that figure up to the next dollar and "not" charge you tax.  (See how that works?).  Either way, the customer is footing the bill.  But, it's amazing that some people think that any purchase at a craft show, market or festival is somehow immune to the Tax Man's grasp.  It's not.  So please be gracious and understanding, as neither you or I have control over this fact of life.  And please... don't wink at me and whisper conspiratorially "But I don't pay sales tax."  Because you must... and a twitchy eyelid doesn't stop it.

Small businesses do not operate like large retailers.  Ooohhh... and here is where some people, especially negligent parents, hate me.  Large stores buy in bulk.  And, they understand that, somewhere in that shipment of 5,000 mass produced teddy bears, some will meet a painful (albeit loving) end.   A sudden dismemberment perhaps.  Or a candy-covered hug by a quick child.  A large box retailer knows that there will be losses and damage, and these often end up in a clearance bin... or worse, the back-room incinerator.  But, hey!  It's a couple or three teddies out of THOUSANDS.  We artists don't get that luxury.  A damaged piece not only means lost revenue... it's also time lovingly spent that I can never get back.  So, I do have to (regretfully) charge you for damage done.  Don't hate on me because it's nothing personal.  But when you have  a "one-of-a-kind" piece, there aren't thousands of identical copies to offset a loss.  So parents:  suck it up, apologize, pay for the piece and chalk it up to a lesson learned.  Then use it for potential blackmail to your kid when they are parents themselves.

Thank you for the vent, my dear readers.

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