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Should Artists Discount Their Work?

Making your living selling your own creations at market teaches you a lot of things, especially about people and how they perceive value.

I have the whole world visit my jewellery stall at The Rocks Markets and I love the diversity and similarity between us all. Kids across the nations and cultures are all pretty much the same, the look of deep love from grandparents to grandchildren is the same, just as the look of pride a parent has when talking about their adult child graduating uni.

Yet the differences can be equally intriguing. My Asian customers must have a bargain, they must feel like they are getting value for money and it is a deep seeded cultural drive. For them it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a discount and this request has nothing to do with manners.

Variations of Lord Tasman of the Gum Leaf Order

Variations of Lord Tasman of the Gum Leaf Order

Many western cultures see asking for a discount, especially from an artisan, as a rude thing to do, as if it is disrespectful to discount the creativity and work of a maker. I do appreciate this sediment but as a market girl with the world shopping with me I need to understand both sides of the coin.

So to keep things simple I have a market offer “of get three pieces of jewellery and get $5 off”.

This has been one of the best business decisions I have made.

It means that with pushy customers wanting big discounts I can simply (and repeatedly) refer to the  special.

I’ve found that the ones who want a discount on a single piece, usually my lowest priced item, I can easily direct them to the sign that states my special. I’ve even been known to increase the price for the individual piece that they’re asking for a 15% discount. I do enjoy their bafflement when I do this during the banter, but they get the idea and desist.

Increasing Sales

The best thing about that offer is that it let’s me upsell. All of us love a bargain, irrespective of cultural values. So when someone has two pieces in their hands I remind them of the special and often they’ll decide on a third, usually something for themselves as the first two treasures are presents.

I also like it because it creates a level playing field for those who are shy of asking for a discount and those who are comfortable in speaking up. Although when I explained this to a lady who wanted a bigger discount she pondered on what I said and replied, “but those who are brave enough to ask should be rewarded more.” I love that answer and if she hadn’t have left so promptly after that I would have indulged her, I think being brave is wonderful and should be rewarded.

To my way of thinking if you are getting three or more pieces from a small business then it is OK to ask for a discount and there’s no use in the owner being upset with the request. The key is to do it quietly so they can look after you kindly without other customers hearing the conversation and thinking it is open season.

Small Business Smarts vs Stupidity

When I was on holidays last year I stopped into a very well curated surf shop during the off season in a small seaside town. I went in for sunglasses and ended up falling in love with a pair that were three times what I’d intended to pay as well as a leather handbag and funky hat. It was all adding up very quickly. The lady who owned the shop was doing exactly the right thing and getting to know me, why I was visiting town, what I did for work and where I was going, as well, of course, what I was looking for. So when I was at the counter with my pricey pieces and quietly asked if it might be possible for a discount because I was getting three she had enough knowledge about me to make a decision. She gave me a 10% discount and that was the clincher for me, I could shop with her, spend a chunk of my money and feel good about it. I reasoned with myself that if I stayed two nights of the trip in a backpackers instead of a B&B my budget would be fine.

I love that hat and it’s even made sales for me at market because I look the part in it, but that’s another story! I wear the sun glasses every day and the handbag has turned into my favourite. It was completely worth the two nights at a backpackers and besides, I met some really interesting people there.

The thing was, she got hundreds of dollars from me because she was willing to give me a 10% discount.

A few days later I was at a country market a couple of towns down the coast looking at vintage fabrics. I was trying to decide between four pieces and decided to see if the lady would do a deal on all of them, knowing that I was a market lady too and it was at the end of the day. She rebuffed me as if I was personally insulting her. There was nothing personal in it and she had the margins in the pieces to do something but it was her attitude rather than her answer that lost her the sale. I knew she would whinge to fellow stallholders about me once I had left the hall and it was unnecessary. She lost money and face.

The Right Attitude about Pricing

There are times at market when I have shop owners buy my work for their businesses and I love it. I sell only to a few shops but such requests have meant that I need to have a wholesale price in mind for my designs that works for both of us.

Over the years I’ve had shop owners sitting in the back of my stall going through my reserve trays and picking out pieces. They get to take home a lovely curated selection along with cards and gift bags and I get an added bonus for the day in my sales.

So when I recently had a businessman with his two daughters, son inlaws and grandchildren on holiday come to me to buy presents to take home to Saudi Arabia I let the negations begin. It turns out he wanted to lot of pieces, the equivalent or more than what most of my stockists order, and this at the end of day that had been quiet when I’d been hoping to start catching up on sales after a few wet market weekends.

The way the man was talking it was easy to figure out that he was a trader, he was in the business of doing deals and he wanted to get all his presents to take home from me because I’d smiled warmly at his daughter when she’d first looked at my stall and my work was locally made.

He was only interested in doing a deal and we bantered back and forth for a good 20 minutes. In the end we met at a price that was below my retail prices but above my wholesale prices. He certainly didn’t know about my wholesale prices and he felt good about the transaction and paid me the equivalent of a good sized shop order. That money meant that I was able to pay for three bills that I wanted to knock on the head and took worry away.

It was also a very unusual experience. I’ve sold my jewellery at markets for over 15 years and that was a first.

Valuable Lessons

But there’s two key lessons for artisans making their living from what they sell, be warm and engaging and be adaptable to how you perceive a sale. This man wasn’t looking for a big discount on just a couple pieces, he was looking to do a proper size sale with me. I’ve never offered such a discount to a retail customer before but I have worked with shops so my own attitude inside my head made the sale possible, just as much as his attitude did.

On the same day I turned down a sale of five freshwater pearl necklaces because the husband wanted too much of a discount. I’ve discovered Google Translate to be a great communication tool but it can’t properly translate sentences so when it comes to the finer points of negotiating it falls down. I ended up asking for help from a very handsome, urban styled man with translation and it was fascinating to see the conversation between the two men, one quite provincial visiting from his homeland and the other worldly and understanding that the offer being made would never be accepted because it was way too low.

In the end my potential customer understood that I couldn’t do the price he wanted and we parted with smiles and a handshake but no money changing hands.

Straight after that I had a three pieces sale with a $5 discount and all was well.

A sale needs to work for both parties

It is key that your attitude to a sale doesn’t leave money on the table and nor should your hunger for the sale mean that you’re giving away your business. I’m not there to sponsor another’s holiday presents nor business. I’m at market to make my living with fairly priced treasures.

Pricing for Sales

So when you’re looking at your pricing and selling your work think carefully about how valuable multiple pieced sales are to your cash flow. Are they more valuable than your ego? How can you price your work so you have some spare margin to give a reasonable discount on multiple pieces?

What attitude do you want for yourself and for potential customers about multiple piece sales? Do you want to be negative and a bit aggressive about someone who asks for them or do you want to see it for what it is, a natural cultural question?

Personally I want to make my living from what I create and I want to enjoy my customers. I want them to talk about the wonderful experience they had with a vibrant, friendly and warm stall holder who makes the most beautiful jewellery from The Rocks Markets. I want their friends to think that Sydney is a creative community and welcoming place to visit and when they come to Sydney they must come to find me at The Rocks and hopefully shop with me. That’s what I want.

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