Some of my fans have been asking me to have a “HOLIDAY SALE – 20% OFF.” That’s an idea that’s been around for a long time. It’s obviously good for the customers, because they get their product for a lower price. It’s also supposed to be good for the seller, because even though she makes less on each item, she sells so many more items that she makes more money overall. I believe it’s called the Woolworth principle. Mr. Woolworth invented it over a hundred years ago, so it must work, right?
Well, let’s see. It obviously works for a large corporation. But what do large corporations do? They make lots of gizmos using machines (the product of the industrial revolution, which had reached its golden age by Mr. Woolworth’s day). To produce more goods to sell at the new lower price, they can run the machines for longer times by instituting second and third shifts so that they run 24 hours a day. Then, if demand is still greater than production, they can buy another machine.
By the way, their customers get hooked on the lower price, so eventually the biggest corporations have instituted “Everyday Low Prices.” Now their products are discounted not just at the holiday season, but all year ’round.
Now let’s see how this principle applies to the artisan. For this example, let’s say that the artisan has priced her items by taking the cost of materials, then doubling it to set the selling price. This means the “cost of goods sold” is 50% of the total price. She needs a workplace, which may be another 10% cost. She needs to use some machines that make parts of the process easier or faster, that may be another 5% cost. She needs to use electricity and water, maybe another 5%. That sums up to 70%, so she actually earns about 30%. Pretty decent. However, if she takes 20% off the price for a sale, she now makes 10% on each piece, unless she can get the landlord, the machine seller, the utility companies and the materials suppliers to each take 20% off their bills. Well, 10% is still a positive number, so all she has to do to make up the lost revenue is to produce 3 times the number of items. So if she has been working 8 hours a day on production, all she has to do is work 24 hours a day during the holiday season, not to make more money, but just to make the same money as the rest of the year.
She could avoid this and truly increase production by hiring say 6 people, and training them to make these items. Now we’re getting somewhere. Trouble is, it isn’t where I want to get. I don’t want to become a manufacturer of large quantities of identical items that I originally designed. My goal is to create beautifully hand-crafted, high quality wearable art. That is what the majority of my customers are looking for. They can already find plenty of pretty look-alike jewelry at any jewelry shop counter. Unlike the mass produced jewelry that will become cheaper and cheaper over time, the work of any good artisan will hold its value. The work of those artisans who make the move to the level of artist will increase over time. Most of my customers inherently recognize this, value the talent involved, value their connection to the artist, and appreciate the unique piece of art that they own.
I have a confession to make. Because of my devotion to the art of designing and for hand made quality items, I actually feel disrespected when people ask for a “sale” price. I hope that people aren’t doing this intentionally, and that’s why I’ve taken the time to lay out some of the practical considerations and the aesthetic considerations above. I don’t want to take the easy path and simply part company with these people. I would rather inform them that when they buy the work of artisans and artists, they have entered a different world, one that has its commercial aspects, but isn’t about commerce. This is a world about beauty and food for the soul. Yet it is still a world in which the artisan/artist must earn a living to pay rent, buy food and clothing, raise kids, all the stuff of life.
Wow! What a rant! Still, I am passionate about art and need to defend it and those in the craft whenever I see attempts made to cheapen it. As an aside, I know that around the world there are truly talented, artistic people who work in sweat shop conditions, earning barely enough to survive, let alone enjoy the good things in life. They can’t even afford to buy other artists’ pieces. I hope there is a way to improve their lot so that they aren’t treated as just talented machines any more. This is a project bigger than me, and I look forward to meeting others who are also concerned. I would like someday to be so rich that I could set up a foundation to address this particular world problem. I would focus on women and girls in third world countries who so badly need a hand up.