A customer had returned to the venue to announce she would "never buy Toil & Trouble yarns again." The reason? She had purchased 5 skeins, and I had not offered her a free pattern.
This comes back to a discussion that happens over and over in the world of small businesses and handmade. My friend Liz talked about paying for handmade a while back, and I discussed it again in terms of paying for knitting. Inevitably, as a professional artist or artisan, you end up thrown into the role of educator. We find ourselves repeatedly having to explain the value of our work.
I love what I do. I work hard at it and I am thankful to be able to make a (tight) living with my fiber company, and I am very aware that this is because of my wonderful customers. But sometimes I wonder if my customers realize that their every purchase literally allows me to pay for a place to live every month, and for groceries every week.
Even though this customer did not leave her name behind, I remember her well. I remember her face, her name, what she bought, and the discussion we had about the pattern she was interested in knitting. I truly value customer interaction and remember every single one of your faces, even if I'm not great with all your names. We had a very pleasant exchange. There was no "buy x skeins and get a free pattern" deal posted. She never made any requests of the sort to me at the time. But she returned to the venue two months later to express her dissatisfaction that I had simply not made the offer.
There are some important questions that I feel consumers of handmade need to ask themselves before asking for discounts or free items:
"How would I feel if someone asked me to work for free?"
It takes me days, even weeks, to come up with a pattern idea, make a sample piece (sometimes several sample pieces), write and re-write the pattern, format it, photograph the sample, have the pattern thoroughly test-knitted and tech-edited. So, how would you feel if someone felt entitled to getting the product of many days/weeks of your hard work for free?
"How would I feel if my boss asked to pay me less this month?"
"How would I feel if my boss said he wanted me to work 8 hours, but would only pay me for 6?"
Every free item, every discount, very literally takes money away from my pocket. With the yarn I dye, I pay for the raw wool, for the dye, for the water and electricity I use to dye it, for the labels I attach to it. Every pattern costs me supplies to make the sample and tech editing fees. Also, there is the less visible cost of my time and labor.
"Would you go into a supermarket, restaurant or clothing store expecting gifts?"
If often feels like these expectations only happen when doing business with small companies. I ask myself if this person goes to a restaurant and is upset when she isn't offered free dessert. Does she go into a store like J. Crew and feel slighted when they don't offer her a free shirt with the pants she just bought?
There are companies that purposefully hike their prices. They do this so they can run frequent promotions and give the illusion of offering a bargain, while keeping their profit margins intact. There are companies that raise prices to cover the costs of giving out freebies, so they are in fact not free at all. I prefer to price fairly from the get go. When I do offer a discount, I am making a conscious decision to earn less money that day/week.
Making a living as an artisan is not an easy task, and is made entirely possible due to customers. I am so thankful for each and every one of you. But at the end of the day, I need to make sure my business is financially viable. And I hope this is something you can understand. I welcome your thoughts on this, as small business owners and/or as consumers.