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ongoing selling out debate

updated thu 9 oct 08


Maggie Pate on wed 8 oct 08

I still have the vestiges of a day job working for a local non-profit gift shop 1.5 days a week. Part of the mission of the place is to support local hand-crafters. About half the work in the shop is hand-made. We have really tightened up our standards of the quality of work we accept lately.

I had a great laugh the other day when a lady came in hunting for some handmade gifts and cards. "I don't understand," she said. "You used to have such lovely hand-made things. Now you don't have anything at all. I've talked to that new manager several times, but obviously she doesn't care. I'm sorry to say it, but this place is really going downhill."

I steered her over to some racks of cards. "Did you see these?" I asked. "All the cards on these two racks are handmade."

"Oh, those aren't hand-made." She scoffed.

"Yes, they are!" I said. "These are watercolors by a woman in town, and these are by a photographer down the road. See, she even made one with the weathervane on the building across the street for us. And here is some hand-thrown pottery and these bowls are turned by a nice woodworker from Connecticut. "

"Well, I'm not going to stand here and argue with you," she said, "but these are NOT hand-made!" and off she went in a huff.

Point being, people are so un-used to seeing high-quality craft these days, that they don't believe nice looking things could possibly be hand-made.

I've found that if I have a mix of cheesey, quick-selling, sell-out pots and nice work out displayed together at a craft show, that the cheesey ones all sell out and I don't sell any of the nice stuff. BUT! If I just put out the things I like, without mixing in any cheesey pots, I sell all the things I like easily. I think the reason is people like the lady above. If I put both types of work out together, they think the cheesey pots are hand-thrown and the nice ones must be things made in a factory somewhere that I'm reselling. Unless all I have out are nice things. "Oooh...your work is beautiful! You really made all this yourself????"

My philosophy: make that special order planter someone asks for if they want to pay you for it, and they already seem to like and respect your work. They need a planter and you need the money. But make what you like the rest of the time. If you put enough of it out there, it will have more presence than if you try to do things by halves and make some guaranteed sellers too. The customers who really like and appreciate the more challenging pots that you make may actually be turned off by seeing you make dinky things for a quick sale. "Gosh, THIS pot is really nice, but it must have been a fluke, because those other things are DAMN TACKY!"

My long-winded two cents.
-Maggie Furtak