Thursday, July 03, 2008
Pricing Stained Glass
Before I could write this article, I had to do some serious soul searching, because this information is a trade secret. So I had to ask myself if I really believe all that stuff about competition being a bad illusion and do I believe there's really enough for all..if so, I could go on with the article. So here it is, a testament to the fact that I DO believe my own philosophies......
Of all the questions that I get from new stained glass artists, the one that is most often asked and probably the most important is, "How do you price stained glass?"
And there is no easy answer, because we are all coming from a different place. The home hobbyist who has no overhead doesn't have to charge as much as the struggling artist who has to pay for materials and utilities and studio space. Established studios need to cover employee benefits and often have miscommunication which leads to re-work.
So how do we value glass work? In our studio, we've come up with a formula that has been tweaked over time. When we started back in 1983, a friend in the business charged $3 for each piece of glass in a window and we figured that we could make a living at that level. After we moved to Utah and discovered that the cost of living was so much higher, we first tried to price glass at $5 per piece and then went to $10 per piece. When metals doubled and shipping costs began to rise we once again shifted our pricing upwards. Each time we've raised the price of stained glass, we've had to get used to the new price. When I first charged $10 per piece, I felt very selfish and greedy, but as time went on and we found that our profits were only modest and not unfair, the price seemed right. Now, if I were to charge that price, I would feel the client was getting a tremendous deal!
Today, July 2008, we charge $15 for each piece of glass in a window. We don't worry about material costs, the formula covers all costs. We don't worry how big the window is or how little the pieces are. If we do multiples of the same design or designs that require no pattern, we often offer a discount, the wholesale rate, which is half the retail price.
With this formula we are able to easily estimate the material costs of a window, they will be 10 to 20% of the retail price of the panel. And when material costs once again rise up above that 20% mark, we'll know it's time to raise prices again.
We do make mistakes at times. Jeanne and I were recently measuring a window for a woman. She had called and described a geometric design she wanted for $400 and when we got there she was talking about an art glass panel. And she still only wanted to pay $400. I began to explain how art glass results in much more waste of glass and would have gone on building value into the art glass price, when Jeanne said, "I think we could build it for that price." So we did. That piece should have been $2000 and I had heartburn all the time it was in our shop, so we just built it as fast as we could so we wouldn't have to think about it. After all was said and done, we broke even on the piece, so at least we didn't lose on it!
A word about the philosophy of pricing. We aren't solely motivated by money. We could choose many, many different businesses to go into which would pay us handsomely for our labor. If money is your goal, you really ought to consider a different endeavor because even the most successful of stained glass artists only achieve a modest bank account.
That said, there are a couple of reasons that you need to charge enough. First and foremost, if you don't make a profit, you can't buy more glass. I have to admit, a new pallet of glass really motivates me to work hard and complete a project. It sometimes seems that every extra dime we make goes toward expanding our palette and supply of glass.
Second, if you sell too cheap, you cheapen the industry. Cheap sun catchers sprinkled around home improvement centers get people in the mindset that stained glass is a cheap commodity, not a piece of art. Contrast that to the impact that a well priced, prominent work of art in a civic center adds to the perception and value of stained glass art as a whole. When we as a community cheapen the art, we lose. When we as a community of artists add value to the art, all stained glass art becomes more valuable.
It's one of the reasons that we try to stay away from sun catchers and gifty, throwaway items and we concentrate on pieces that become part of the homes and business they go into, becoming treasured heirlooms that enhance the value of their setting.
We never, ever compete on price with another artist. In fact, if we have a client who wants to get competitive bids from several artists, I usually don't bother giving them a bid, even though our studio prices tend to be 25% lower than other studios. You may wonder why I have this attitude. I just don't like to be thrown into a competitive arena. We do good work. We provide exceptional value. And there is enough work out there (even in hard times) that there is enough to go around. So I would rather spend my time creating beautiful works rather than bidding on lowest cost projects. The few times we've gotten into competition on a project, even though we got the job, the victory was hollow. We didn't get paid the right price, the work wasn't satisfying and the joy just wasn't there. Besides that, there are many times when those bidding wars result in no one getting the job. They often decide that window glass would be cheaper!
There is a tendency in the art world to get a twinge of jealousy going when we see others work. We compare our work to theirs, think how we would have done it better and wish that we had gotten a chance to do that project. But if we get outside ourselves and feel joy for the success of the artist who did the work and realize that they are contributing to the community consciousness of art glass, then we'll feel the right way towards the art of others. We may even make some new friends!