I typically keep a few pieces of my work in the window at my workshop in Covington, Ky. Right now I have a couple chairs on display, plus an aumbry. The pieces do attract attention – and also some uncomfortable conversations about the prices on my work.
Recently Patrick Edwards visited my workshop, looked at the aumbry and said: “It’s too cheap. You should be charging three times as much. Plus, get that crappy easel off the top of it.”
One of Patrick’s points was that if a piece of custom furniture seems too cheap, it won’t sell. Perhaps (and this is my interpretation) the psychology is that the customer unconsciously assumes something is wrong with it.
She wanted to know if I could fix her kitchen chairs. (Sorry, I don’t do repairs.) Then she asked how much new chairs would cost. When I told her $800 each (for starters) she looked panicked.
“How much for a regular chair?” she asked. Like many of my encounters with people in the neighborhood, they were looking for thrift-store pricing. Somewhere between $20 and $50. In the end I gave her the name and number of a colleague who repairs chairs.
Pricing my work isn’t a struggle for me. I know exactly how much my materials cost, and I log my hours on every piece. I charge a shop rate of $60/hour, which is typical here in the (very inexpensive) Midwest for skilled work. I add that amount to the cost of materials. And that’s about it. I might lower the final price if the piece was featured in Popular Woodworking Magazine because I already got paid for writing the article.
This pricing scheme allows me to eat – about one-third of my income this year will be from furniture commissions. And sleep – I decline to raise my prices on my work just because I can.
I also need to add that my prices don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part and parcel to the way my wife, Lucy, and I have chosen to live. Zero debt. Low overhead. And low to the ground – we don’t own a boat, a lake house or any of the other trappings of our neighbors.
If you don’t need a lot of money to live happily, you can say “no” to almost any project or proposal that you don’t want to do. I say “no” a lot. And instead, I get to say “yes” to things that that engage my heart, hands and mind.
There are lots of ways to price your work. This isn’t the best way. Heck, it might even be the worst. But it definitely works.
— Christopher Schwarz
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