The Quest for a One-of-a-Kind Price

The great thing about Renegade Craft holiday fair is discovering the new unique products that artists have been working on all year. We saw all kinds of neat products, from plywood furniture by Reply Furniture to coral sculptures from Relm Studios.

These beautiful pieces, however, suffer from one-of-a-kind pricing syndrome — a made up affliction — described as bouts of head-scratching caused by the lack of similar items to compare with while coming up with prices.

So how DO makers price a truly original product? We decided to do a little analysis.

At our booth, makers could bring their products and post it for an appraisal from retailers in the West Coast. We then, separately, picked the brains of makers and retailers, to investigate how they approached pricing the same product.

Let’s begin with Ariel Zimman at Relm Studios. Ariel creates ceramic coral sculptures inspired by her diving trips to Central America and the Carribean.

We paired her with Michael Levy, director of Creative and Operations, at natural curiosities store, Paxton Gate. Michael is fascinated by products inspired by the natural world. So coral sculptures were right up his aisle.

We asked Michael how he priced Ariel’s coral sculptures.

The Story is Paramount

“For items that have no precedent, like a sculpture, I think about our customer and what they would be willing to pay,” says Michael.

“I compare it to similarly-tiered items that I have dealt with in the past and research similar pieces out in the world at galleries similar to Paxton Gate.”

“I think about the craftsmanship, man-hours, and materials involved. I ask what the creator thinks the value of it is.”

And ultimately the story that the creator tells about the product is paramount. A story that clearly ties the piece to the creator and, at the same time, galvanizes a strong emotional response or connection to the piece can drive the price up significantly.

I weigh all this, and then I go with my gut.”

Michael priced the coral sculpture at $175.

We then turned to Ariel to look for any similarities in the approach.

“I typically price according to size+time+material,” says Ariel. “But it is by no means an exact method.”

“I typically price according to size+time+material,” says Ariel. “But it is by no means an exact method.”

Luckily for Ariel, her retail price was at $130, which wasn’t that far off from Michael’s. However uncovering her story behind her product required a bit of digging. Most of the logic behind pricing was based on the process which was fascinating to hear, but the part about bringing undersea corals to the surface as a result of her diving trips was the real personal insight that could connect with customers.

How popular is it?

Beth Naumann created her line of Hellbent jewelry based on her past experience as a architect. There’s something about the pressure of building a house with strong bones that translates to making well structured jewelry.

Beth constructs her entire line with brass which includes mobiles. Since the material is constant, she looks at other variables to influence her pricing.

“It depends on the popularity of a piece. And perception around it. For example, people wouldn’t value a hairpin as much as a necklace even though equal amount of craftsmanship is required for both.” says Beth.

“It depends on the popularity of a piece. And perception. For example, people wouldn’t value a hairpin as much as a necklace even though equal amount of craftsmanship is required for both.” says Beth.

Beth priced one of her more popular pieces the Nested Curves earring at $130. Betsy Barron owner at Love and Luxe boutique in the Mission priced it at $140. In all our experience, such a close intersection between the prices of a maker and retailer is quite rare.

It does happen when both maker and store owner share a common philosophy.

Time to Experiment

Angela Tsay, CEO of Oaklandish, is open to doing a little experimentation. One of her stores, Oakland Supply Co features bags by Josh Jakus of Actual.

Josh creates products that join only a few basic ingredients in a really simple and coherent way. For example, one of his tote bags, when unzipped, unfolds into one continuous flat piece of felt.

“I think about who I imagine the customer for such an item would be, says Angela. “And what that type of customer would be willing to spend. And if that is the type of customer that I can imagine coming to Oakland Supply Co.

If the amount is then in line with what the maker has set as retail, we will bring the item into the shop. If it is a high cost item, we will just bring in one to start.”

Josh agrees some experimentation is essential for unique items.

“Unique products have no competition, so there’s no formula for coming up with a price. People buy a product if they love it and if they can afford it, not on a comparison to something else.”

For makers, it’s always hard to flip between thinking about their product, to thinking about what a customer would pay for it. It’s a right brain to left brain switch which gets better with experience. Even veterans like Josh who’s has been in business for years admits to struggling with pricing the newer items like his new line of messenger bags.

As you prepare to expand your line for the new year, and you speak to a store owner about featuring a new product, go ahead and ask what they think it’s worth and why.

You may find a few insights that will influence what you put on that price tag.

By VINIT PATIL

Vinit is co-founder of the Pricerie, a place for makers to discover and improve the value of their products. He is also artist partner at junk rescue collective, The Whiteout.

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