HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #16: People Still Love Our Older Work

I’ve gotten good feedback on this section of my “How To” open studio series, about having respect for our older work here and here. I’m glad it’s landed in just the right place, at just the right time, for so many artists, too! (THANK YOU, everybody who let me know that.)

Here’s another story I’d completely forgotten about the value of our older work:

Years ago, when I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I often visited the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair. It was among the very first fairs featuring artwork I ever attended. (I grew up in a very small town in mid-Michigan, in a rural community. I didn’t know anybody who actually ‘made art’.) Also, that city event also involved three different art organizations, but in the general public’s mind, it was just one big, wonderful opportunity to see hundreds of artists over a three-day period.

I think this was my first experience with the Fair, and I found a young woman whose work I fell in love with. I don’t remember much…it involved hearts, it was colorful and lovely, she was friendly and excited at how well her work was selling, etc. Unfortunately, it was out of my price range. But I told her how much I loved it, took her card, and told her I’d be back to buy a piece next year. (I THINK the piece I wanted was $150, a lot for me, and a lot back in the mid-70’s!)

I set aside a little money each month and counted the days til the next Fair.

At last the next year’s Fair began, and I found her booth as soon as I could.

But everything had changed. Everything.

Her work had changed completely. (Still 2D, but different subjects, color schemes, size, etc.) Her prices had tripled. Worse, even her demeanor was different.

The excited, happy person was gone. She was snooty, aloof, dismissive of her older work. When I asked if she still had work from last year, she went on a rant about how she was done with that, and she was having much more success with her new work. She was never going back to the “heart” stuff. She was also dismissive of my budget, which had taken me a year to accumulate. She now had “real” collectors who were willing to pay much more for her work.

In short, she made it very clear she had no interest in me as a potential customer.

I walked away almost in tears, and never visited her booth again.

But as I look back, I see I’ve learned a lot from that second encounter, as devastating as it felt at the time.

Can you see all the insights, too?

I know the “hearts” theme sounds trite, but it wasn’t. They were my favorite artwork in the entire fair. Sure, I might have ‘outgrown’ it eventually, as some works of art don’t speak to us forever. But I do still have many of my oldest pieces I’ve collected over the years, and still treasure them. Very few of them have been given away.

That person’s newer work might have been ‘better’, but not for me. It might have made more money for her, but not from me. She may have believed her attitude was more ‘professional’, but not in my opinion.

She made her older work, and loved it when she made it.

One year later, it was worth nothing to her.

And one year later, I meant nothing to her.

In my last two articles on this topic of our older work, I noted what my friend said: We loved it when we made it, it was our best effort at the time, and there were people who also loved it, and bought it, and treasured it.

Just because it’s older, we’re older, our work is better, doesn’t mean it no longer has value. It will still speak to someone, it will still be cherished, and we may have moved on, but it still has its place in the world.

In fact, I’ve made a practice of updating and refreshing older work, and repurposing the artifacts I made years ago. A horse pendant that wasn’t ‘balanced’ can go into a fiber piece. An artifact that didn’t make it as a centerpiece can now be placed inside one of my shrines, its imperfections giving it even more ‘authenticity’ to its air of antiquity.

And if you need/want another reminder about how our customers feel about our older work, check out this post from a year ago. (It’s the one about an artist that shifted gears so monumentally, his customers were left totally in the dark.) (His attitude was much, much kinder, though.)  USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL

Short story? Yes, we grow as creatives, we get better, we change and morph, and so does our creative work.

But each stage of our journey has its value, its admirers, and its place in the world.

Don’t dis yourself, your work, and especially not your customers!

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #10: Discounts: Yes or No?

Everybody loves a bargain, right?

That’s why we artists buy our supply in bulk, so we get those volume discounts. And back in the recession of 2008, all kinds of businesses, desperate for income, offered discounts to their customers.

Should artists offer discounts??

It depends. And mostly it depends on how, when, and why you offer them.

Me? The one and only time I ever offered a discount (during that same recession), it backfired. It turns out the customer asked for one, “just because” they’d read that Macy’s was offering discounts. And it turns out they just “threw it out there”, and would have bought the artwork at full price. IF only I hadn’t been feeling desperate and said, “Sure!” Oy vey.

If you believe that discounts work for you, no argument here. Just some clarity about the downside, and suggestions for actions that might work better.

  1. Is cheaper always better? If it’s really “all about the price”, then trust me, your potential customer can find something similar for less. And when they do, they won’t be back. The measure of our work is how well-made it is, how much skill goes into it, and how unique it is. The story behind it, YOUR story, your personal vision. If it’s something anyone can make, there’s someone who does/will, and then it really is all about the price.  And if you say it’s worth $100, but you’re willing to take $80, then what is it really worth?? Know the value of the work you do.
  2. Can you afford to offer a discount?  When we figure our actual cost in creating a work of art, we think about the cost-of-goods-sold: Our materials, our tools, etc. Most artists also factor in time, which makes sense. Except maybe it takes YOU ten hours to paint that piece, and another artist can do it in two hours. And if that other artist has a long history of followers and sales, maybe they have repeat customers who have truly earned a reward now and then. (More suggestions about this below.) And if they support themselves with their work, have to pay for a studio space, the cost of participating in events, exhibitions, shows, etc. the prices will of course be higher. Take into account the amount of money from sales that you’ll pay income taxes on, too.
  3. Are your prices already too low? When I first set prices for my work, I wasn’t in any galleries or stores. My prices actually reflected my wholesale price. Once I was represented by galleries, I realized that I would get only 50%-60% of my retail price. So my prices went up. Because….
  4. Are you respecting your galleries? Galleries are a powerful way to get our work in front of potential customers who can’t come to our studios.  This means we have to respect galleries for what they do for us. If we discount prices in our studio, and a gallery finds out, that could be the end of your relationship with them. Galleries, on the other hand, and with your permission, could offer their faithful customers a discount. Some even offer to take it out of their own commission. Make sure you let them know if this is acceptable, and definitely let them know if it isn’t! Even they do take it out of their profit. Again, what’s the message here? “We’re so desperate to sell this artist’s work, we’ll cut our losses!” Ouch.
  5. Will a discount help me close the sale? Maybe. Tempting, right? Let’s talk about WHO gets a discount first. I would advise not offering one to a new customer. First, it’s not fair to your loyal customers, especially those who have collected your work for years. And yes, they might find out! I’ve found that people who get a bargain love to brag about it. And with social media marketing so popular now, your loyal customer might very well come across that post. The trust and integrity we’ve worked so hard to build is gone in an instant. If anyone deserves a discount, it’s our repeat customers!
  6. Do discounts work? I believe they can help us make small gains in sales when we are starting out, when all our customers are new. But it kinda goes against what our work stands for: Handmade, artisan-made, implies our work reflects skill, quality, and integrity (ours)–not something you can find at a dollar store, where items are mass-produced, often in countries that don’t pay makers well, and are discounted once the shelves have to be cleared.. Discounts can work against our “brand” as someone who creates a unique body of work.
  7. But I believe discounts work! Okay. But BE PREPARED. First, before you offer a discount, check with them what they’re looking for. My first (and last) discount, I offered 25%. (I was desperate.) Turns out they were hoping for 10%. Whoops. Second, factor discounts into your pricing. Always make sure you will still make a profit, even with a discount offer. It’s like “free shipping”. It feels less expensive, but you actually factored the shipping cost into your price, right?
  8. But what about loyal, repeat customers? Two thoughts on that: First, I’ve learned the hard way that even a stated “one-time discount” offer registers as “forever” to our customers. “But last year you gave me a 10% discount!” “Your ad said 25% off!” (Yep, that was 6 months ago…) Instead/second, offer another incentive: If you have prints or cards featuring your work, offer those instead. Or offer smaller work to the purchase that can be added with a discount. (Smaller means a smaller amount of money ceded, or it could be a one-off you are ready to pass on to a worthy person anyway.) Or a coupon for a manageable amount to use on their next purchase. (Again, even a “one-time” coupon will register as “forever.” It’s just a human thing…) Offer a one-off, stand-alone workm a direction you experimented with, but decided not to pursue. For one new collector, I offered to come to their home and talk about the piece for a small gathering of their friends. (It closed the deal, but they didn’t take me up on it.) I have a fellow artist who borrowed my car to deliver larger works to their customers. (Only twice, I have a boxy car, and they came to my rescue several times in difficult situations at my old studio. I’m glad to repay their kindness by helping them offer an incentive to a customer!)
  9. Is it really about the price? It’s common to assume that when a potential customer is hesitant about purchasing our work, it’s about the price. That’s when some of us jump to a conclusion, and offer a discount. But over the years, I’ve found that isn’t so. If someone is obviously interested in an item, I’ve shared the story, I’ve answered there questions, and they’re still hesitant, I’ve learned to as this simple question: What’s holding you back?  Turns out it’s something totally different: “Will it go with the new rug in my living room?” “Can I fit it in my car?” “I want it, but my budget is short this month–will they accept a layaway?” Easy solutions to address!
  10. How a challenge can work even better than a discount. When someone asks if you can discount a work of art, try this highly effective counteroffer: “No, but if….”

Examples: “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. This work represents a lot of time, skill, and care. It’s a high-quality piece that will bring you joy for a lifetime, and no one else does anything quite like I do. But if you purchase it today, I’ll give you a free copy of a magazine that did an article on me and this very piece!”

No, I don’t discount my work. But if you decide to take it today, I’ll be happy to give a free artist presentation to your coworkers/friends and family/favorite club/guild/association.”

No, this is one of my best pieces, and it’s fairly-priced. But if you take it home today, I’ll hold your credit card information for a week while you decide. If you return it within a week, no charge. And if you don’t return it, I’ll process that charge on (date).” The woman I offered this to? I wrapped it up, gave her all the postcards, story cards, etc. I include with a sale, and gave her the bag. And as she left, she whispered, “I don’t think this is coming back!” It didn’t. (I still waited a week, though!)

For a gallery/store: “No, my prices accurately reflect the value of my work, in time and materials. But if you place your order today, I’ll rearrange my shipping schedule to accomodate your upcoming gallery event.”

The last reason I rarely offer discounts (and usually only on older pieces that have ‘aged out’ of my collection)? Because I felt like I wasn’t respecting my own artwork. If I can’t respect what I do, why do I think others should?

Do you discount your work? How? When? And for whom? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear your strategy!

If you found this article helpful, let me know! And share it with others you think would find it useful, too.

 

 

 

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 2

This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.

Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

Don’t leave your early collectors behind.

Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.

In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.

In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.

Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.

I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.

There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.

She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”

I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.

For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.

When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.

To my dismay, things had changed.

Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.

It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.

Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.

The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.

Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.

She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.

She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”

She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.

I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.

Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.

I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.

In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.

At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.

I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.

I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.

I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.

I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.

As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.

I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.

They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.

Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.

But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.

Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.

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