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custom orders and pricing

updated thu 28 aug 03


Janet Kaiser on fri 22 aug 03

It is too late to advise you of this now, but you really need to
know the budget available for any custom-made work BEFORE you
lift a finger or even consider accepting the order.

You mention that the proposed objects are "simple, but time
consuming". Being "simple" would indicate to a layman (your
client) that it is an easy process and therefore not going to be
unduly expensive. They probably do not appreciate the time
involved or that you will require payment for that time. They
also may think that because they are requiring what they consider
to be a large number, that the price will be really low... That
is one of the side-effects artists and makers suffer in this
bulk-buying, manufacturing world of ours. Most of us are
enchanted by the "buy one get one free" ploy, until we are at the
production end!

You need to be on the ball right from the start and be able to
roughly calculate how much time will be needed to make a single
piece*in total*. You then multiply by the number of items
required as a rough guide.

An hour per item maybe? Making, decorating, firing, glazing,
firing, handling, packing... That means two normal 40-hour per
working week production PLUS all the material costs. BTW this is
excluding any "development" time, because I presume you know what
you are doing and how.

What is your hourly rate? $10? The order is for eighty individual
items, so 80 items each taking one hour to make from start to
finish times $10... so the cost is going to be $800 for your time
alone... ADD your estimated material & fuel costs. Say about10%.
So $880 or $900 for a round figure. If you need two hours per
item from raw clay to handing over to the client, the bill will
be $1600 for your time and so on. You have a famous name or
reputation and anything made by you is going to cost more
compared to other makers? Well, I cannot help there!

You can do that calculation in your head or on paper whilst
talking about the commission at the initial consultation and you
can then give the client an idea what the minimum cost is going
to be. You do not say anything about breakages or extras... That
is "your beer" and should be a calculated part of your "material

If they do not bat an eyelid, you will be able to go to the next
stage and offer to make a sample "for free" and only when they
are absolutely delighted with that, clinch the deal. Even then I
personally still would not make 80 items if there is only a luke
warm reaction... You do not want 80 unsellable items sitting on
your shelf because the deal fell though at the last moment...
"Oh, I found these neat little Chinese hoojahs in the dollar
store down town last week..."

For this reason, once you have come to an agreement on price, you
should ask for a deposit. It is up to you to decide what is
appropriate. I know people who require full payment up front and
others who only ask a token payment to show good faith.

Yes, commissions are a notoriously difficult area for artists and
makers and you will receive many replies from people who will
advise you not to bother. That is because they themselves have
learned from past experience and some of their stories would make
your hair curl! You will find some in the archives...

A mother organising her daughter's wedding and wanting everything
to be absolutely perfect, also brings added emotional baggage
into the equation. All commissions are tricky, but this situation
needs extremely diplomatic handling, if both parties are going to
be happy with the "transaction". You and your reputation as a
maker are also on show on the big day... Surprising what can come
from 80 wedding guests being shown your ware and maybe hearing
all about you and your business...

Oh and one word of advice in the situation you now find yourself
in... Do not phone with your price. A bald statement over the
phone is not a good idea... The price, however reasonable is
going to come as a shock. It always does! So either visit with
the sample piece/pieces or get her to come and see you. Say you
are happy with them, but you want her to see, etc. etc. You also
need to see facial expression and body language to help judge if
this is going to work out. No half-hearted "they will do" sort of

I am not sure I have answered your question, but that is the best
advice I can give in retrospect. Good luck!


Janet Kaiser -- A long serving commissioning broker for
artists/makers and
A.J.B.A.M. (adviser to jittery brides and their mothers) :-)

>Then I am to call her and give my asking price. She said she
>has a budget in mind. Any ideas are greatly appreciated.
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Eleanora Eden on wed 27 aug 03

Hi Debby and all,

I once asked a retired executive from that outreach service and this sweet
gent came over. He was pretty dumbfounded I think by my lack of biz
sense. But one thing he did tell me was that it is reasonable and expected
to ask for a 15% surcharge for custom work. The deal is that I can never
remember to ask for it!


At 09:41 PM 8/20/03 +0000, you wrote:
>I am having a difficult time pricing a custom order. A customer has
>requested a special order of handbuilt ornaments for her daughter's
>wedding-80 in total. I usually throw functional pieces so this is totally
>different for me. They will be glazed with a simple glaze. Should I charge
>by the piece or by the entire order? Each piece has to be totally formed by
>hand- can't use a mold. The item is easy but time consuming. I'll
>probably have to make more than 80 to account for some breakage. I am
>making several up to see about size, drying rate and to test how they take
>the glaze. Then I am to call her and give my asking price. She said she
>has a budget in mind. Any ideas are greatly appreciated. Thank you, Debby

Eleanora Eden 802 869-2003
Paradise Hill Road
Bellows Falls, VT 05101