New Column About Pricing your Work at Core 77


Core77 has just published my latest column, which discusses when you should publicly disclose your prices and when you shouldn’t. You can read it – for free – via this link.

I have been wrestling with this problem since the 1990s when I sold my first Morris Chair to a couple. My price was so low that they gladly drove from Texas to Cincinnati to fetch it.

Since then I’ve made a lot more mistakes on pricing my work, and I likely will make more mistakes in the future. The Core77 column represents a bit of the scar tissue I’ve developed in the last 20 years.

The column also answers a question that customers ask: Why are Lost Art Press book prices the same at other retailers? Isn’t that racketeering? (It isn’t.)

Thanks, as always, to Core77 for allowing me to write about a wider range of topics than this blog will tolerate.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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21 Responses to New Column About Pricing your Work at Core 77

  1. jerry arkema says:

    Great article. Well written.

  2. Mark Thomas says:

    I’m glad you write these type of articles posted here or elsewhere. As a new full-time furniture maker, it is always welcome when someone is willing to share info from “the business” side of things. I guess the majority of woodworkers are hobbyists so the majority of writing focuses on the skill of woodworking. However, I know there are a bunch of people like me who are trying to pay the bills working with wood, and we love this type of info. Thank you!

  3. johncashman73 says:

    A top cabinetmaker had one client for a couple decades that commissioned countless reproductions of museum pieces. When asked by someone why that work dried up, he responded “Bernie (Madoff) got her.”

  4. Jeremy says:

    Excellent piece on a topic that is probably the real #1 biggest challenge in woodworking over any other joinery, technique or tool. As a hobbyist, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told by well meaning friends “You should sell those!” knowing they have no idea of what the market value of such things are nor how many hours I’ve spent on the project and how much I would lose per item before I could become at all profitable.

  5. Jeff Hanna says:

    Good article, but I have to disagree a bit with one part about pricing low when you’re starting out (sorry, I’m going to be that guy).

    I used to manage a woodworking business owned by someone else. It was my first gig as a manager after working in the trade for a number of years, so I had no experience whatsoever as a manager. As a result, my employer paid for me go through a one-on-one course with a business psychologist (yeah I know how that sounds, but I did learn a lot).

    After working there for a number of years, I was ready to go out on my own and start my own furniture business. When I decided to do that, I asked the business psychologist if there was any advice he could give me. First thing he said was, “you’re in more danger of charging too little for your work than too much. A lot of businesses fail because people think they can charge a lesser amount to start out and raise their prices later. That never works because you spent time establishing a loyal customer base that expects to pay a certain amount based on their disposable income and when you raise the price you have essentially priced that customer base out of what they are able to afford or are willing to spend based on your previous price.”

    Just some food for thought and for the record, even though I was given this advice and did my best to follow it, I admit that I have fallen into that trap a couple of times. It’s not an easy way to make a living.

  6. pauls49 says:

    Thank you for a great article and especially for introducing me to Core 77.

  7. Rachael Boyd says:

    I once had a older woodworker ask about how I priced things. I told him that I use an hourly rate. He told me that I should price things as to make the customer say WOW that’s kinda high but as they walk away they say to themselves but it is worth it. Good work cost money.

  8. mike says:

    Too many woodworkers price based on their time and materials. What they don’t seem to realize is that 1) how much a one-person shop pays for lumber and 2) how long it takes that person to build something has almost nothing to so with the market price for the item they sell. In order to price your items you need to go out to the market place and see what similar items cost. I know us woodworkers like to think we each produce something “totally unique” but customers don’t see it that way. There is almost always something similar out there. After seeing what similar items cost, you can adjust your price up or down based your experience, the build quality, your reputation, etc.

    • tsstahl says:

      I would amend that to ‘see what similar items cost that are made the same way’. As a hobbyist, I don’t sell for any profit motive. Still, I couldn’t compete on price with Ikea.
      Chris obliquely is talking about training your customer. Your universe of customers is not every person with an income.

      A respected business woman and mentor of mine has an adage: the difference between a 4$ plate of spaghetti and a 16$ serving is presentation.

      We’re both hitting a complex issue with short blog posts so don’t think I’m calling you out as ‘wrong’. I’m just making the point that discovering and keeping your target market is more important than short term unit pricing.

      Slainte! 🙂

      • mike says:

        I think I covered your points when I wrote “find similar items” and “adjust price up or down based on your experience, build quality, reputation”

  9. kerry Doyle says:

    As a hobbyist, I give my stuff away (I usually know what it’s worth) As retirement from a non-wood job looms I might need to supplement the fixed (broken) income to support my wood (and other) addictions.
    Your advice is wise advice because there’s always that delicate dance between what will I invest in making a piece versus the value someone else finds in that piece. I’ve been told to find patrons, not customers, which would be good advice if i ran in that crowd. If you make a piece because you like it and then try to sell it to someone else who will like it as much, but in dollars, you’re doing well. It’s better to negotiate ahead, which David Savage discusses in the Intelligent Hand.

  10. hgordon4 says:

    Speaking as a CPA and business adviser, who has run his own practice for 25 years, I think this piece was brilliant. Not overtly stated, but clearly communicated, is a very important message for any business owner: know yourself, know your value, communicate it – and in doing so you will attract the kind of clients you want and drive away the ones you don’t.

  11. Milford says:

    A while ago a local woodworker mentioned having settled with a client on a price that neither of them could afford. However, since it was to match some earlier pieces, both wanted the job to be done.

  12. You forgot the time honored tradition of “grab bag” sales. Mystery is good.

  13. Chris Bame says:

    Excellent article Chris. You nailed it again, as usual.

  14. Ken says:

    Do famous woodworkers have a problem (or do they care) with people commissioning pieces just to flip? I have seen this in other areas, gunsmiths in particular who have a long waitlist.
    I have considered trying to make a quick and easy $5 on the much coveted lump hammers.

    • johncashman73 says:

      You could make a fortune on high falutin furniture books. They run 60 to 90 bucks, and end up in the several hundreds when they go out of print. University and museum presses don’t print many copies, and don’t reprint when the run out.

  15. Scott Maurer says:

    MAP pricing stinks for the consumer but it ensures the ability of brick and mortar to compete with online only stores so can very much be worth it to the consumer in the long run.

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