Pottery Pricing Game, Part 1

It seems that there is one common thread among all potters… how to price our work.  This is something that always comes up in conversations with my potter friends.  I have been thinking about a way to address it at one of our Asparagus Valley Potters Guild meetings.

Last night the Guild meeting was at my home/studio.  Earlier in the week I sent out an email to all the potters asking them to bring one pot for a group photo shoot, and to talk about pricing of that piece.  When Tiffany Hilton came to the meeting she had a great idea to add.  She said how about we play a little pottery pricing game, we cut up tiny pieces of paper and anonymously price each other’s pots.  Great idea!   We all put our pots on my glazing table, and each of us scribbled our prices out, and put it inside each pot.  We then lined up each little tag from low to high in front of each piece.  Taking our turn, we read aloud the price range, and what we actually have it priced at.  WOW, what an eye opener for many of us.  For the most part the average prices were in-line for what we would price it at, but some were way too low.  It was a lesson on perception.  How does one perceive the amount of work that goes into a piece, (even other potters didn’t realize the amount of work that went into some of the potters pieces).  What type of audience is buying this piece.  Is the potter a full-time potter, and how does that affect their pricing.  Does that potter value their work?  OMG… it opened up a whole can of worms!  A couple of potters said they were going home to take some uppers, because we didn’t guess nearly high enough prices.  One potter didn’t think her work was worthy of the higher price we all gave it.  Most of us realized we could maybe ask for a little more on the piece.

One member, a ceramic/mixed media sculptor, had a totally different perception on pricing than the potters.  This was a great eye opener for me.  Her work was a large (2 ft. high) figurative piece.  The prices ranged from $90 – $1600.  She was saddened by the low ball $90 price, (no one fessed up to that price).  I personally priced it at $450, the average was around $600.  Her actual price was $1400.  When she talked about the amount of work that went into it, I was enlightened, and embarrassed at what I estimated.  When she priced our pots, every one of them was over-priced!  It’s all about perception… she had no idea what we put into each piece, and we had no idea what she put into her piece!

Look for part 2 in a few days!

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6 thoughts on “Pottery Pricing Game, Part 1

  1. I’ll bet that was one heated meeting. I have a very difficult time pricing. I was a pottery collector before I was a potter. So I ask myself how much I would be willing to pay for the piece. If a piece sits around too long I will actually raise the price to test if I set the price too low. I like to keep my pots affordable, but sometimes people think if the price is low, the quality is also low.

  2. I am so sorry I missed this meeting! This kind of exercise should be done on a regular basis. And there should be a follow up exercise to match it for the next get together.

  3. Cindy, I like that idea of raising the price of the pot if it does not sell.
    Asking yourself what you would pay for it came up in our discussion… the problem with that is, that we are potters, and don’t have big incomes. Maybe we shouldn’t base it on what we can afford!!
    I also think that if the price is too low, sometimes the quality is low… a prime example are many of the pots you find cruising through the pottery pages on etsy. (Not that there aren’t good potters on etsy, there are just so many hobby potters that want to try and sell their work.)

    Steve- We missed you!

  4. I think you are totally right that mostly it all comes down to perception. And as you discovered, other artists (who CAN relate to our creative process) and even actual potters seldom understand the work that goes into someone else’s pieces. So what does that tell us about educating the public? Either the public doesn’t care how much work went into a piece, or they have a mostly wrong perception, or it is irrelevant to how much they are willing to pay.

    So we can’t always expect sympathy when we justify our pricing based on how much work went into it. And the truth is that there is hidden work behind every pot in how long the artist has been honing their skills. A beginner may spend half an hour on a lump of clay to pull a cylinder, a dedicated hobbyist ten minutes to do the same, and a trained professional only four or five, but the trained professional took years and thousands of hours to get to that point, and the results will be better in quality for the most part as well. It can’t just be about quantity of work, can it? But even so, shouldn’t they get paid for all that background experience? The better quality is only the result of thousands of hours of practice….

    So we personally may need to price our work according to the amount of effort we put into making it, but this generally doesn’t matter to the public, even when they possibly should be sympathetic. The truth seems to be that perception swings on such unrelated qualities as reputation/name recognition, suitability of matching one’s home decor and other Wallmart shopper concerns, and the appreciation of fellow artists who ‘get’ a lot of what your work is about but still may be largely clueless about many of the things you are doing and aiming at in your work. Each of those general categories sees the work very differently, and pricing has its own expectations accordingly.

    And of course its even more tangled by the actual marketplace, the history of local pricing, how saturated the market is with makers, the available dollars to get spread around on pottery, how educated the public is about pottery, and the artist’s willingness to sacrifice all that and undercut pricing just to sell a few extra pots. There is no simple answer it seems, just a number of different threads to follow. And like Cindy said, “sometimes people THINK if the price is low, the quality is also low”, so it almost doesn’t even matter what we do because the public will have its own impressions regardless. In the end it will always come down to a balance between being happy with what you are charging and the ability of those prices to sell enough to earn you a living. And THAT is always a personal question.

  5. Working in a Craft Gallery I can tell you that how long it took the artist to make the pot almost never comes up. If it is decorated in an intricate fashion, perhaps then it is considered. People may be interested in how it was made and that may add a perceived value but mostly they are responding to what they like. They have a comfort zone for what they think say a mug should cost and depending on the day they may step a little out of it, but not much.
    Lately the thing I hear more and more of is that people think they can and want to make things themselves. Maybe this will create an audience that recognizes the skill that goes into creating these objects or maybe we will all be making pots!

  6. Thank you Sara for those insights, it is always good to hear from someone who works in a gallery. I have taught many pottery students over the past 25 years… they make the best pottery customers, because they now know what goes into it.

    Carter- so many things to think about!

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