Value for Money - Part 1

(This is part of my on-going series on the biz of pottery making. Opinionated, for sure, but this is where I am right now after over 25 years making and selling functional pots. If it makes you think and spurs you on to do one good thing for your career, my goal will have been met! Part 1 is an overview, Part 2 talks about Finding Your Audience, and Part 3 discusses Pricing, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.)

Value for Money, Part 1

Value for money: sound simple, doesn't it. But it's a huge concept and it is one that underlies every buying (or not-buying) decision. As a maker, you need to take the concept of value for money very seriously.

I don't mean pricing. Pricing is of course closely related, but I want to talk about the idea of value for money by itself first. Parts 2 and 3 of this post (coming later) will talk about the implications of the idea, as they apply to you as a potter.

Every decision to buy is a decision that  the thing being bought is of more value to the buyer than the money it costs. In other words, if, in the purchaser's mind, the value of something is greater than its cost, she will buy it.

The question is: how does someone decide value? There are at least two different approaches to determining value, and which one is used depends on the kind of thing being considered. Broadly, something that is primarily intended to be of practical use (that is, something functional) will be assessed quite differently from something that is intended to be purely decorative. And this distinction takes place in the customer's mind, not the maker's. What you, as the maker, intend will influence your assessment of the thing's value, but your customer may surprise you. As potters, we are well aware of this, knowing that many a fully functional dinner plate ends up hanging on a wall. (It can happen the other way, too, sometimes with dire results.)

Value as Seen in Functional Items

Value, for functional items, is assessed on the basis of the material it is made from, how much effort was put into making it, how well it will perform its function, and how long it will last. So a mug, for instance, will be evaluated on the basis of its material (porcelain commands more respect, that is, value, than stoneware), how much work is evident in it (is it hand-painted with an intricate design or is it simply dipped in a brown glaze), how well it will do its job (does the customer like the way the handle feels), and is it sturdy enough to last a while. For functional pottery, the potential buyer will also evaluate whether she likes it, and whether it will fit in with the rest of her kitchen gear. Interestingly, buyers on the higher end of the income scale will give these last questions greater weight than will buyers on the lower end of the income scale. Not only does how much money the buyer has available determine whether or not she is able to buy, but it also determines in what order she evaluates the attributes of a possible purchase.

That's a complicated way of saying, 'if you have enough money to please yourself, then pleasing yourself will be of more importance than it would be if you didn't have enough money'.

Value as Seen in Decorative Items

Deciding the value of a decorative item is both easier and harder!  Easier, because 'do I like it' becomes the most important question, at least for most of us. For collectors, 'does my collection need it' may be of higher importance, but most people buying pottery are not serious collectors. The question 'do I like it enough' is usually easy to answer.

Harder, because the potential buyer will base her decision on her own attitudes. Her belief in your reputation as a maker, her perception of how fashionable your work is, her competitiveness (and note that competitiveness relates to her choice of peer group), her attitude towards vanity spending, all these come into play. She may not be very aware of these internal values, but she will use them to make the value decision about a possible purchase. In other words, your reputation as a maker, how fashionable you are, and how rare and hard-to-get your item is, will all affect her evaluation of the item's value. How well an item works, how long it will last, and what it is made out of become practically meaningless.

What Is The Point?

What does it all mean for you as a maker? Well, first, I think you need to be very clear about whether your work is primarily functional or mainly decorative. This determines your marketing approach. For functional work, you can stress how well your pieces work, how sturdy they are, how timeless their design is. You can talk about how your handles fit hands comfortably, how the colours look good with food, how the rims are made rounded so they are less likely to chip... all the things that give functional work more value.

If, on the other hand, your work is mainly decorative or artistic, then you need to approach your marketing very differently. Now you have to work on your reputation as an artist - dress like one, talk like one, hang around with other artists, enter competitions and display in high-end venues, stuff like that. Now, in a way, you are more important than the things you make.

Either way, you have to find your audience.

And price to the field.

         (Parts 2 and 3 to follow)

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