Profitable Subpar Work – A Strategy for Selling at a Farmers Market

Most of my income comes from weekend art/farmers markets where I sell mainly turned work (bowls). I’ve learned that you need to have a bell curve of prices from cheap to extravagant with the majority falling in the middle-class affordable range. I’ve always struggled with the $20 cheap range.

If you don’t have a selection of goods at low prices you lose mid-priced sales from the uneducated. These people will always ask, “How much are your bowls?” That’s what life has trained them to do. If your answer is only about the eye-catching masterpiece that caught their attention, the price will scare them off from everything else. They’ll bolt after platitudes. The ability to say, “Our bowls range from the $20 range on up to several hundred,” gives you the opportunity to talk, educate and build value. You can talk about the process, differences in design/species, discover their personal needs and plant gift ideas. Because they don’t bolt you have the opportunity to sell.

But, if your low-priced items are obvious crap then they will lower the perceived value of the entire booth. A decent bowl takes hours to make so in no way you can make a bowl to your best ability and only charge $20. You’ve got to prioritize your abilities and swallow your pride.

A $20 something bowl is not going to be my best work nor made of the best material. I’ll put 20 minutes into what would otherwise be scrap. In order to meet those parameters, I prioritize two things and let everything else slide. The shape must be right and the interior finish cut must be done to my best ability (and there is no second finish cut.)

The wood is the green quartersawn scrap sides of the pith I cut out making “real” bowl blanks. Greenwood will warp and the grain is not centered but it cuts fast and is free. A quick coat of milk paint hides poor sanding, minor tear-out and accentuates tool marks. The interior is off the gouge smooth and burnished with beeswax. The end product is a fully functional bowl for stuff like cereal with a nice shape and color.

But as I wrap this low-priced bowl up for a customer I always swallow hard. Luckily it’s rare that’s the only bowl they’ve purchased.

– Shawn Graham

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