Thursday, April 8, 2010

Showing Your Prices

I was looking at a couple of websites yesterday, and saw some adorable bears that I might have been interested in purchasing. I say "might" because there were no prices. There was a similar message on each of the sites that indicated if you wanted more information on the pieces, you could click on the photos. Okay. Clicking on the photos gave me the size of the piece, the materials it was made of, etc. If you wanted to know the price, and cost for shipping, you had to send them a separate e-mail.

I've never understood this method of advertising your wares. Do they want to sell these bears or not? Why can't the price be displayed along with the rest of the information? I think it puts the person inquiring in a difficult position - especially after they find out they might not be able to afford the piece. Shipping may be exorbitant - especially if it's coming from another country. A number of years ago, I inquired about a piece that I had seen in a magazine. Very little information was given in the article about the piece, but I finally tracked down the artist and inquired about it. It turned out to be about 6" tall, which was much smaller than I had imagined. It was almost $400, which was much higher than I had ever imagined. After receiving the information, the artist contacted me a couple of times to see if I was interested in purchasing the piece. I could not see myself spending that much money on a single piece, yet had to figure out how to politely decline after inquiring. Fortunately, a friend asked me if I had seen the piece, and I relayed the info about it on to her. She purchased it, and I was off the hook.

I have often wondered if the hesitation to list prices was because of the different currencies from various countries. That shouldn't be a problem, because there are converters at your fingertips on the internet.

I am one of those people that like to know from the beginning whether or not I would be able to purchase a bear or not. Why not just put the price out there to begin with? I know that pricing our own work is a very difficult thing to do, but it's part of being in business. If I had to inquire about the price of each item of food or clothing in a store, we'd never eat again, and I'd always be in the same outfit. I'm just not going to ask. If you want to sell your wares, boost up your confidence, be proud of your work, and price it. The only place you should have to ask how much something costs is at a garage sale. Artist bears do not fit into that category.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Designs Along the Way

I've had fun making things over the years, and find it interesting to see what becomes really popular, and what gets passed over. Sometimes, the result is surprising. Several years ago, a friend came over to spend the day at the house, and our plan was to use our time re-designing a basic bear pattern into other animals. We got out all of the pattern pieces and buckled down to some serious designing. After a lot of drawing, and adjustments, we were where we thought we should be at least on paper. She spent the day working on a rabbit, and I ended up with a fox. We got out our fabrics and set to work to see what the "real" results would be. This is a photo of the original fox I came up with from the design project we worked on.

I was quite pleased with the end result, and while it has had some tweaking done to it along the way, it has turned out to be one of my favorite pieces. Each one has a vest that I embellish with beadwork and a bit of embroidery. The fox remains one the most requested pieces I do.

I sometimes "see" a project in a piece of fabric, and love the challenge of trying to pull it off. When I came across this particular piece of fabric, I immediately thought it would make a cute pig. No one else could envision it as I had, but I thought she turned out pretty cute. To make things better, she took second place at the bear show in Kansas City last year. I display her with a small can of Spam. Not everyone thought that was as funny as I did. You just have to have a sick sense of humor, I suppose.

This was not the first pig I had done, but actually the second. The first one was pink, and didn't garner the attention that Olivia did.

Another piece of fabric I could "see" a bear made out of was actually a pair of pants. I struggle with purchasing a piece of clothing and cutting it up to use the fabric, but this particular piece was something I knew I could never purchase yardage of at a fabric store. Besides, do people really wear pants made from furry fabric? Anyway...the end result was "Panto", who now lives in Missouri.

I've been working on some other pieces lately, especially pincushions, some of which are animal related. I'll get some photos of those and post to share.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Something For Nothing

I was reading my e-mail last night when I saw a message about "floor trading". This is when people go to shows where you are set up, and sell their wares out of their bags or purses. Some are blatant about it - others more discreet. I had written about this before, but it appears that it's one of those things that a lot of people just don't want to complain about. Why not? You've paid for your space, and they are taking money out of your pocket with every sale they make. Are we afraid the promoter won't let us have a space next time? For me, if the promoter won't take responsibility for protecting my sales, I don't want to put money in their pocket by purchasing a space. Those that do participate in "floor trading" always offer the same excuse - they couldn't afford the booth fee or didn't have enough merchandise to fill an entire space. As shoppers, we shouldn't purchase from these people either. It's not good for the future of shows, in my opinion. Paying vendors will stop participating if they have to compete with these people.

I belong to several online groups, and a lot of people share photos of their work. They also tend to share the links to tons of free projects. I started noticing a trend. Almost without fail, every time a new photo was posted, there would be an immediate response along the lines of "great piece", "beautiful work", etc. Your ego is boosted, your work is validated, and you feel good about the piece you designed and worked so hard on. The feeling dissipates when the next line reads - "Can I have a copy of the pattern?" What type of response can you give without sounding like Grumpy Gus? Not all patterns are free and not all designs will be shared. Sharing patterns that you designed to sell or that were purchased puts everyone in a difficult position. Of course, there are plenty of people that are more than happy to share their patterns at no charge, and to them, we should all be grateful.

I try to be generous and often make donations of my items to guilds for their money-making efforts. Lately, I've received several generic letters from guilds addressed to no one in particular asking for donations. They don't offer the opportunity to pay and participate in their shows - but they aren't shy about asking for donations "with a value of at least $25 - $50" that they can use for fundraising. At the very least, they could put our names on the letter. I wonder if they even know what type of product I make.

On the flip side, maybe some things should be free. For instance, I was interested in possibly participating in a big, 4 day show this fall. I downloaded the application, and saw that they required at least three color photos of my work, a photo of a booth from another show AND samples of my merchandise, tagged with the retail price. They charged $15 to process my application and unless your provide them with a prepaid shipping label, you don't get the samples back - whether you get a booth or not. HELLO! The booth fee is $900 and they take 10% of your sales. The real sting came when they bragged that there was $13.7 million dollars in total sales at last year's show. Now, this is obviously a successful show, but with that success, the option of keeping my "samples" is not an option. If you don't pay the return shipping, they sell the samples and keep the money, thus the reason for wanting the retail price. With an all volunteer staff, why does it cost $15 to apply? I'm not asking for it to be free, but, after all, I am paying you $900 AND 10%. Sheesh! I think I'll pass.

I don't know where this attitude of always wanting something for nothing comes from. Maybe we don't understand "handmade" of hard work anymore. Maybe we are so used to everything being "made in China", we expect dirt cheap prices on everything. Maybe.......

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Puddin" - How it all Started


This is "Puddin". He's the bear that started me on this wild and crazy ride I've been on for so many years. He's also where I met my dearest friend Sally oh so long ago. Over twenty years ago, my husband I and were driving down the street and saw an incredibly cute sign outside a shop. Curious, we pulled in, and that's where we met Sally and were introduced to the wonderful world of bears - artist bears. I had never seen so many beautifully crafted bears, and I had never experienced artist bears. The oh so cute lady behind the desk was about my age, and obviously had exquisite taste in the things she carried in her shop. She spent what I'm sure seemed like an indeterminable amount of time with us. She explained what mohair and alpaca were, told me about how individual artists designed and created their own bears, each bearing a signature look instantly recognizable to the trained eye. More importantly, she explained to me why the bears cost the prices they did. The mohair alone, was oh so expensive - not to mention the artistry behind each bear. Of course, I long for those prices today.
Before I realized what had happened, I had fallen in love with those bears - all of them. But, like puppies or kittens in a litter, you always find a favorite. After several return trips to the store, never buying a bear, but always enjoying the conversations, we found we were so much alike, it was a bit scary. We both had sons, who were a lot alike. We were close to the same age, and had similar interests. I started filling in at the store on occasion, and in lieu of pay - saved my "hours" to purchase a bear. "Puddin" was the one. I had looked at some many faces, and stroked so many chins over the course of a couple of months, but he was "the one". I was so thrilled when the day came that I could take him home.

Months later, I was participating in a show in Houston, as I was now making my own bears. I found out that the artist who had made "Puddin" was going to be there, and I could get her to sign his footpad. I was shy about approaching her, but with assurance that she would be happy to sign the bear I went over and asked. She was such an incredibly sweet woman, and I was so glad I didn't chicken out and leave without meeting her. Not so long after that, she stopped making bears, and I knew I had nearly missed my chance to meet her and tell her how much I loved her work.
Hundreds of bears later, "Puddin", is, by far, still my favorite. He sits in my grandfather's old ladder back chair, with the cowhide bottom. The seat is slick now with no cow hair left, but seeing "Puddin" sitting in every time I pass by brings back memories. Like the chair bottom, worn with time, "Puddin" serves as a reminder of how we all slowly change over time, sometimes without even realizing it. He sags a bit more than he used to, but is still as wonderful as ever.
Sally and I are still friends, and have had many, many adventures together. I'm sure we have many more in our future. Just think - a friendship of so many years due to a bear named "Puddin".

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


It's amazing how you meet people and what a delight some of them turn out to be. Such was the case with a lady I met at the Houston Quilt Show. After we had returned home from the show, I got an e-mail from her asking if I would be interested in some fabric she had purchased for some bear projects. She realized that she wouldn't get to it, and rather than hang on to it, like I would have, she offered it to me. She refused payment of any kind, so I offered to make her a bear in exchange. Done deal.
The box of fabrics arrived, and I immediately could "see" all kinds of bears being made from it. I wanted to make something for her that she would enjoy. Not knowing her preference of style, or if she kept a mish-mash house like I do, or had a very formal lifestyle, I decided to make something that would hopefully fit in any decor.

This is the end result - Taffy - a cream colored bear, with subtle, light colored foot and paw pads, and a matching neck bow.
I packed him up, sent him off, and hoped for the best. At least, if she didn't like it when it arrived, I would be able to find out what changes she would like for a replacement. She was totally delighted with the bear, and sent me the nicest e-mail about it.
This is what bear-making is all about. Then again, who doesn't love bears!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Back to Blogging

Getting the hang of the blogging thing really takes getting used to. I've learned that some people are very casual about it, and others are very dedicated. I've decided that in order to keep it interesting, for both myself and others, it's got to be something that is done on a fairly routine basis. I, myself, tend not to keep going back and checking on blogs that I generally enjoy if nothing new is posted for a long period of time.

In light of that, I thought I'd start sharing some of the photos of some of my bears, both past and present. Hopefully, I'll see comments about what people like and dislike. I'm also thinking that it will help me keep coming up with ideas and staying focused on doing what I truly enjoy - making bears.

My first photo is of a bear I call "Nuthead". My husband actually calls it that, because of the large acorn top that I used as a hat. His uncle, whom I love dearly, is always coming up with nifty finds, and knows how much I enjoy them. When he showed me these large acorns, I knew immediately what I would use them for. The end result was even better than I had hoped.

His uncle was quite pleased with the use of the acorn tops as well, and I'm pleased to be able to show you them as a hat on one of my favorite bears.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Discounting the Customer

I always try to remember that, in this business, our customers are invaluable. The hand-made bears that we labor over are not exactly on the top of the list when most people are making decisions about how to spend their money. The bears and accompanying pieces we make are usually purchased with funds that are left over when everything else has been taken care of. Naturally, there will always be people that will be in a position to purchase at any time they choose. A large number of collectors will save for months, and sometimes all year long, waiting for a show so that they can add at least one more special piece to their collection. These are the collectors I really appreciate, because of all of the beautiful pieces available - they chose mine! Wow, that does make you feel good for a long time!

My adventures in the bear world have always been fun, for the most part, but I see a lot of people tagging on to the financial woes that scream across the daily evening news programs . Artists are discounting their work at a pace that this business has never seen before. Collectors are telling us of their woes. I am a sympathetic person, but trying to beat the artists down on the prices doesn't sit well. These are discretionary funds we are supposedly spending, right?
I've always tried to price my work fairly, and have been told over and again, that I don't charge enough. I'm happy with my pricing, and have sold enough that, apparently, so are my collectors. Lately, some of my long time collectors have started using a much different approach than ever before. They comment on a piece they see and are interested in. The conversation quickly turns to the price. "Is that the best you can do?" or "I don't know if you realize how many pieces I've bought from you." Uh, yes, actually, I do. Additionally, I appreciate your continued support, just as you obviously appreciate my work.

I will certainly work with anyone on the price of a piece that they are interested in, but I have limits to my pricing, just as the collector has limits to their spending. A recent encounter with a longtime collector left me in a position of wonder. The conversation started out as it always does - catching up on families, sharing a few jokes, etc. Then, she zoomed in on a bear, reminded me of how many pieces of mine she already has, despaired over the lack of room she has left, and then - "What's the best you can do?" I made her an offer of a lower price, and she wanted an even "better" price. And, she didn't want to have to pay the tax, but wanted a nice, handled bag and a receipt!

I wimped out, sold her the bear, sucked up having to pay the tax myself, and placed it in a nice bag for her. On her way out, she felt compelled to mention another bear that she had seen on my website. She told me she thought it was just the stupidest thing she had ever seen, and I should take it off my site, and never make another one, because no one would ever buy something like that. Standing there, in the middle of my booth, surrounded by others, I was at a loss for words. I wanted to say "Thanks for your opinion", along with a few other things, but I just stood there. I just stood there feeling stupid.

Yeah, I'll get right on taking that bear off of the site - right after I make five more that look just like it!