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Something your customers don't understand, but you must price your bowls accordingly.

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What I've come to believe is most people who don't turn on a lathe, have no concept of what size means to the effort required to produce a bowl. When they look at finished bowls, they automatically assume an 12" bowl takes much more effort than an 8" bowl. From my experience, and POV, the difference size makes in the total effort required is very minimal.....but, I consider the selling price of my bowls according to how I have concluded the average person will think.

Of course, size is only one element of of the total equation, but it's something people who don't know what the process involves, consider in a major way. This imprint on their psyche has to be addressed from their POV...and not from mine!

Most new turners will think: Hourly wage x hours, plus cost of materials = selling price......but, I've totally abandoned this concept.

One of the most important parts of the selling price equation is what I consider "artistic value". This, along with cost of materials. Size is a minor element, but most assuredly it is an element that most people consider in a major way......so, it must be included in the overall equation.

Also, the cost of certain woods will vary, depending on the current availability and desirability. There are times where these (mostly exotic) woods are more expensive, depending on the availability. Sometimes, it doesn't matter what you paid for your wood. It's more appropriate to consider the current rate, rather than what you paid years ago for it for an equivalent piece.

Your thoughts considered...

-----odie-----
 
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I agree. I will say a small 3-4” bowl goes quite a bit faster, but not much difference in 8” vs 12”. And I agree the general buying public doesn’t understand the size aspect. I think they have some comprehension that exotic material costs more.

In the end, a piece is worth what it can be sold for, and is very dependent on the specific buyer.
 
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Odie, I agree with that assessment. I cringe when someone asks me 'how long it took to make that?' One, I don't have an accurate count, particularly with the art pieces. I never work on one piece from beginning to end, but have well over 25 pieces in various stages of completion.

It's impossible to keep track when I'm working on 4-6 different ones every day. Second, and this is the one that is aggravating as heck, they want to know if the price I'm charging is accurately reflected in how many hours that it took to make. In other words, am I trying to rip my customers off - and these people are rarely ever my customer. When they hear xx hours for a piece that has a low 4-figure price tag, their calculations are based on what an employee is paid working for a business, not that I need to recover all my materials costs, equipment/machinery and building, insurance, and travel expenses as well as my labor in that price.
 
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I have been training myself in the "art of pricing" and had a good friend suggest an approach. He suggested trying to decide how much I value of the bowl. Would I let it go for $20, $40, $100? Depending on my analysis, I then adjust the actual price to either the higher end or lower end of the price range for that particular size.
Then of course you get people who pass by and want to buy what I consider a "junk bowl" being used for holding cards or candy. Astounds me every time!
 
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Odie,
That's a fancy way of saying to charge what the traffic will bear. I agree that's the way to go.
I hated running my (consumer electronics repair) business that way but it proved to be the only way to survive.
 
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Good discussion Odie. There are a few other variables to consider too.. One of them being, Branding (Name Recognition) Take as an example, a hypothetical bowl 8 inch Turned by , say, David Ellsworth.. It might sell for several hundred (even thousands) dollars, but take an identical bowl in an identical shape/form/thickness/design, perhaps even more beautiful / exotic wood, turned by a no-name 5th year turner of a quality to match or even exceed the Ellsworth bowl.. but because they have no "name" or reputation for their work, they might be lucky to get a couple hundred bucks out of the same bowl.

Myself, when I first started selling my turnings (first year results) I tried to go by a "formula" (one mentioned by Sam Angelo) so I took the diameter, multiply by depth, and then multiply by 2.5 or so, to arrive at a price. I met with limited success at that.
So, I just started pricing by "seat of the pants" and have sold bowls for wildly varying prices, and my experiences this past year at farmers markets and craft shows, absorbing the feedback (One person actually accused me of "cheating" because the bowl was "turned on a machine" - I.E. a lathe! LOL! Im guessing they thought bowls had to be hand carved in order to be "handmade", or something..?) and comments on my pricing (I don't charge enough, or "that's way too much", etc etc).

Soon enough, I simply came to the realization that, JUST LIKE in my small engine repair shop that I used to own, I simply just had to stick to my guns and say "My Price is My Price" - Period.

So I started getting the same sorts of reactions that I used to get in my shop - One person buying a single spark plug , when he saw the price I was charging, bought 2 more for spares.. the next day, another person buying the same spark plug complained at the price with "I can buy them at Wal-Mart for half that!"

My reply?

"So, go drive 30 miles one way to the nearest wal-mart and buy yourself a spark plug. - I don't care what others are pricing their stuff at - My stuff is priced so that I can stay in business and hopefully earn enough to stay above poverty level" (Yes, small engine shop was not a very profitable venture in a small town like mine. I could have made more working for someone else.)

So, to sum up, seems to me that no matter where you set your pricing, it all comes down to "perceived value" of the potential buyer.. There's just no way to please everyone, so my advice (granted, nowhere near as expert as many others here) would have to be, figure out if you want to actually make a profit or if it is just "hobby money" to help "support the habit" and price accordingly. (either decide what you want for the item, or figure your costs and profit margin into the price), and then simply stand firm. There'll always be someone that sees your items and thinks "Wow, that guy is awful proud of those pieces of wood" , and others that look at the same stuff at the same price and think "Gosh, that's a steal! Lemme see how many I can buy all at once!" and most folks will be somewhere in between, I think.

If you already have developed some "name recognition" (repeat buyers and commissions, etc) - or even as you DEVELOP it - you can always "adjust up" your pricing as you go.
 
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I think we often mistake the meaning in that question "how long did it take you to make that". Most people really don't have any idea how we make our work let alone how long it takes us to make it. So as they look it over, pick it up and basically just check it out, that's just one of the more common questions that comes to mind. They're obviously already attracted to something about it and in their head they're trying to decide if they can afford it, do they have a place to put it, etc. Those that will openly tell you that it's not worth the price based on how long it took to make it were probably never going to buy it anyway. But I don't think turned art is sold or bought based on the value of materials and labor. If it the maker thinks they've really created something special they price it as such. And if the buyer agrees, they pay it.
 
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Over the years I’ve made a dozen or so small boats (canoes, kayaks, adirondack guide boats, sailboats and paddle boards) and sold about five or six of them. I didn’t make them intending to sell, but have run out of space for storage. “How long did it take to make that?” is a common question, whether someone is just admiring or thinking of buying. I usually answer in terms of months or years and say “I really don’t keep track of hours.” I’ve learned to give a similar answer about bowls, spinning it depending on my sense of the reason or tone of the question. I’ll describe cutting the tree, getting out the blank, rough turning, drying, etc, etc. That usually gets the point across that it isn’t simply a quick and done process. That being said, I tend to price based on how much I like the piece, but truth be told, I’m not seriously in it to sell. I mostly sell for the satisfaction it gives me that others value what I’m creating, and to create space for more bowls!
 

Dave Landers

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I’ve learned to give a similar answer about bowls, spinning it depending on my sense of the reason or tone of the question. I’ll describe cutting the tree, getting out the blank, rough turning, drying, etc, etc. That usually gets the point across that it isn’t simply a quick and done process.
Yep. Depending on my sense of the question (and what they're holding), I often will start with how it takes anywhere between half- to a few hours of just getting the right shape. Then I add hours for sanding and finishing. If they're really interested I'll describe the twice-turned process (including the about-a-year between turnings). And the hunting, harvesting, storing, etc of trees.

Sometimes, I just reply "about 35 years of experience"
 
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I mostly sell for the satisfaction it gives me that others value what I’m creating, and to create space for more bowls!
For a production turner, whether utilitarian or artistic, the transaction paradigm is different. It is rightfully a business model with costs and profit margins. But for me, the sales price of a piece is akin to applause. What a piece sells for (mine or someone elses) is a measure of how much the marketplace will clap for what I've done.
 
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Many do not know the difference between a 15 dollar walnut bowl from India, and a 200 dollar bowl from a local artisan. If you are not know (and I never will be), You are competing with a million others selling online. Local markets seem to have a better customer base, as some folks like to shop local. I have even heard "didn't you get that wood for free?"
 
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Many do not know the difference between a 15 dollar walnut bowl from India, and a 200 dollar bowl from a local artisan. If you are not know (and I never will be), You are competing with a million others selling online. Local markets seem to have a better customer base, as some folks like to shop local. I have even heard "didn't you get that wood for free?"

Ha,ha..... :D

John, this is a reminder of some of the things we've heard from others.

I guess this is as good a place and time as any......so, let's hear of some of the comments you've heard from others...

It was last century since I've been face to face with prospective customers, but I've heard the following:

"Why would anyone want to buy one of your bowls, when there is Tupperware?"

"I used a lathe in a high school shop class, and that's easy!"


OK.....so, what are some of the comments you've heard? Post 'em here.

-----odie-----
 
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Ha,ha..... :D

John, this is a reminder of some of the things we've heard from others.

I guess this is as good a place and time as any......so, let's hear of some of the comments you've heard from others...

It was last century since I've been face to face with prospective customers, but I've heard the following:

"Why would anyone want to buy one of your bowls, when there is Tupperware?"

"I used a lathe in a high school shop class, and that's easy!"


OK.....so, what are some of the comments you've heard? Post 'em here.

-----odie-----
Odie, even as a woodturner that first question often crosses my mind. Maybe not why would you want to buy, but more why would you want to "use" a wood bowl when there's Tupperware. But then again, have you priced Tupperware recently?
 
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Odie, even as a woodturner that first question often crosses my mind. Maybe not why would you want to buy, but more why would you want to "use" a wood bowl when there's Tupperware. But then again, have you priced Tupperware recently?

None of my bowls can be realistically compared to a simple utilitarian piece, so there is no comparison to Tupperware. Some people are not capable of distinguishing between a strictly utilitarian piece and an artistic bowl, and that's the irony of the comparison. An attempt to make the comparison exposes the mindset of those who make it. Tupperware is a utilitarian item, and not intended to be anything but a utilitarian item. As I see it, it's like comparing a bowl you use to serve popcorn to the kids while watching a movie, to the bowl you have in the parlor that is mostly for artistic décor.

No, I haven't been aware of Tupperware for quite a long time. When I was a kid, I was aware of "Tupperware parties" a few of the ladies had. Are you saying that Tupperware is now comparable to those things you might see in art galleries?

-----odie-----
 
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How long did it take you to make that? Well, when I first started, a bowl like this would take me 45 minutes to an hour. Now, just turning time is about 5 minutes...... What really bothered me is people looking at my solid wood furniture, Shaker styles, and tell me it was way too expensive. Look, I am not Ikea! I was a terrible sales man.

Loved it when people would come up and comment, 'you couldn't have done that on a lathe because it ain't round' and then I would explain green wood turning....

robo hippy
 
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Odie,
Back in the days when bypass surgery was brand new, at a very inopportune time, I asked a heart surgeon why he charged so much. After he'd finished sewing on the graft with thread like frog hair, he turned to me and said, "Because I can't make a mistake."

Your work, in particular, is very detailed, precise, and demanding. Even though you know a lot of strategies for fixing boo-boos, it's stressful to do. There's no way that time and materials can capture the value of your work. Some people will like it, value it, and buy it. Others won't appreciate it and won't. Charge what you want and be a duck--let the negative comments about price roll off. The folks that don't appreciate it, don't appreciate it, and won't pay a fair price. The heck with them.

That being said, most of us are not as committed to one particular style of work as you, and those who are in a position where they need to make sales to put food on the table are going to have to make a lot of scoops, or baby rattles, or, {shiver} pens, or other stuff that they don't personally find challenging but which will sell in the markets where they sell. They will need to include local pricing scales in their decision.

If you find you're not moving pieces, triple the price and sell them at the Big Sky Farmer's Market. Those folks at the Yellowstone Club will think it's wonderful. But only if the price is steep.
 
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That being said, most of us are not as committed to one particular style of work as you, and those who are in a position where they need to make sales to put food on the table are going to have to make a lot of scoops, or baby rattles, or, {shiver} pens, or other stuff that they don't personally find challenging but which will sell in the markets where they sell. They will need to include local pricing scales in their decision.
Hiya Dean...

Yes, I am in a position where I don't need to rely on my sales to put food on the table. This isn't a profession, or a hobby......it's really more of an obsession, than anything else. On top of that, and as with many other turners, I am evolving. I used to do a lot of crazy different shapes, but at some point along the way, I started focusing on the process(es), and how those processes can be applied....instead of the unique individual shape of the moment.

You noted That I'm "committed" to a particular style, and that may seem so to someone on the outside looking in. As I see it, I am committed to a particular set of processes, rather than a style. I have maybe a dozen different unique separate formulas, or maxims that make up "my style", and it's a combination of those things that make up the individuality of any one particular bowl. I keep refining all the processes, so that it results in more appealing overall results. Because of this, I keep getting slower, whereas most would think I should be getting faster. For what I do, that just isn't how it works! Since it's never been about the money, I can accept the process getting slower, because acquiring the results, and not the results in itself, is the most important thing to me.

-----odie-----
 
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Hiya Dean...

Yes, I am in a position where I don't need to rely on my sales to put food on the table. This isn't a profession, or a hobby......it's really more of an obsession, than anything else. On top of that, and as with many other turners, I am evolving. I used to do a lot of crazy different shapes, but at some point along the way, I started focusing on the process(es), instead of the unique individual shape of the moment.

You noted That I'm "committed" to a particular style, and that may seem so to someone on the outside looking in. As I see it, I am committed to a particular set of processes, rather than a style. I have maybe a dozen different unique separate formulas, or maxims that make up "my style", and it's a combination of those things that make up the individuality of any one particular bowl. I keep refining all the processes, so that it results in more appealing overall results. Because of this, I keep getting slower, whereas most would think I should be getting faster. For what I do, that just isn't how it works! Since it's never been about the money, I can accept the process getting slower, because acquiring the results, and not the results in itself, is the most important thing to me.

-----odie-----
It’s the journey that counts, end results just happen to show up!
 
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Whenever I am asked how long it took to make a bowl (usually a large salad bowl), I always answer 200 years. After a puzzled look, I elaborate that the piece came from a tree that took 200 years to grow!
 
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Q: How long does it take you to turn a bowl?
A: Half of the time is to get the blank ready to put on the lathe (harvest, glue-up, whatever); half of the time is to finish the bowl after it's turned; and the last half is the fun part making shavings on the lathe :)
 
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Q: How long does it take you to turn a bowl?
A: Half of the time is to get the blank ready to put on the lathe (harvest, glue-up, whatever); half of the time is to finish the bowl after it's turned; and the last half is the fun part making shavings on the lathe :)
3 halves…..I guess it takes overtime?
 

Randy Anderson

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For my market, rural TN craft shows and market events, I price at what the market supports. At first it bothered me to sell a nice small natural edge bowl for $40 or a large walnut for $175 but then I examined "why" I make bowls and things like them. It made all the difference. I really like the work, making unique items from gnarly old logs and the satisfaction of the process and end product. Whether they sell or not I'm going to do the work. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing one of my bowls will be on someones mantle, coffee table or kitchen table full of salad many years after I'm gone. I give stuff away to family and friends and like many of you I have a lot of the nicer pieces in my own house but watching a local housewife spend $60 for a small natural edge bowl that she really loves and wants for her table to put fruit in is great. I get asked how long all the time but never feel it's to analyze the price/value of the item. They just want know. Is my stuff priced too low - of course it is. Could I raise my prices and still sell it - likely/maybe. Do I need the money as income - no. As long as I feel there's a reasonable balance where my enjoyable hobby funds supplies, new tools from time to time and a wee bit of my talent I'm a happy camper.
 
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A person needs to account for all of the time, tools, equipment and resources involved in the process from start to finish.
The logs may be free but you still expend a lot of time and energy harvesting, loading, transporting, processing and curing the blanks.
The yearly maintenance cost on trucks, trailers, chainsaws, bandsaws, lathes, hand tools needs to be accounted for.
The consumables used for the entire process also adds up to big dollars and needs to be accounted for in the final price.
If you require dried cured wood for your projects the cost to inventory and age this wood also needs to be accounted for.
The larger the shop, the larger the overhead, if your shop burned down could you replace all of your equipment and the building?
Insurance cost is part of the final cost if you are looking at the big picture.
Utilities, Heating, Air Conditioning, Compressed Air, Sewer and Water costs also need to be considered in the final cost.
Advertising, Marketing, Packaging, Shipping and Insurance is another major cost for every transaction.
Healthcare, Vision, Dental and Retirement costs need to be part of the final cost if you are running a business.
 
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A person needs to account for all of the time, tools, equipment and resources involved in the process from start to finish.
The logs may be free but you still expend a lot of time and energy harvesting, loading, transporting, processing and curing the blanks.
The yearly maintenance cost on trucks, trailers, chainsaws, bandsaws, lathes, hand tools needs to be accounted for.
The consumables used for the entire process also adds up to big dollars and needs to be accounted for in the final price.
If you require dried cured wood for your projects the cost to inventory and age this wood also needs to be accounted for.
The larger the shop, the larger the overhead, if your shop burned down could you replace all of your equipment and the building?
Insurance cost is part of the final cost if you are looking at the big picture.
Utilities, Heating, Air Conditioning, Compressed Air, Sewer and Water costs also need to be considered in the final cost.
Advertising, Marketing, Packaging, Shipping and Insurance is another major cost for every transaction.
Healthcare, Vision, Dental and Retirement costs need to be part of the final cost if you are running a business.

For sure, all of that is true, Mike.......

I gave up on analyzing the true cost of each bowl, when considering all the auxiliary expenses. What I do now is try to come to an accurate cost of the wood, and add $10 for the extras. For me, it simplifies things! If I were a true businessman, I'd have to take all the expenses into consideration, but I really don't consider my lathe turning to be a business......it's just something that I can invest a lot of passion, and therefore make a satisfying existence for someone like me.

My formula is......artistic value + materials cost + size (to a lesser degree) = selling price.

(Of course, just because I explain what I do, is in no way suggesting anyone else follow my lead.)

-----odie-----
 
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For my market, rural TN craft shows and market events, I price at what the market supports. At first it bothered me to sell a nice small natural edge bowl for $40 or a large walnut for $175 but then I examined "why" I make bowls and things like them. It made all the difference. I really like the work, making unique items from gnarly old logs and the satisfaction of the process and end product. Whether they sell or not I'm going to do the work. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing one of my bowls will be on someones mantle, coffee table or kitchen table full of salad many years after I'm gone. I give stuff away to family and friends and like many of you I have a lot of the nicer pieces in my own house but watching a local housewife spend $60 for a small natural edge bowl that she really loves and wants for her table to put fruit in is great. I get asked how long all the time but never feel it's to analyze the price/value of the item. They just want know. Is my stuff priced too low - of course it is. Could I raise my prices and still sell it - likely/maybe. Do I need the money as income - no. As long as I feel there's a reasonable balance where my enjoyable hobby funds supplies, new tools from time to time and a wee bit of my talent I'm a happy camper.
This says it best for me as well. I have done a number of projects that Ive been told I am selling way too cheap .. My response: "I won't argue if you want to pay me more than I'm asking" I do most of my stuff just because I enjoy it , very little "production" stuff and I do charge pretty fairly for commissioned projects .. But, I gotta get rid of my finished work somehow, and there's only so many people I can give away stuff to (or want to give to) .. I've donated items to local charity for things like raffles and chinese auctions (worthy causes)..
 
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