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!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Competing in the Bear World

I belong to several online forums, most of which are bear-related. A couple of days ago, a query was posted on one of these groups about bear contests. They were asking for opinions and suggestions as to how the contest should be changed. Naturally, there was a flurry of comments, most suggesting category changes due to the ever-evolving techniques that artists now employ in bear-making.

It quickly turned to needing categories for different classes of bears, in addition to animals of different sorts, then grouping them into different sizes and even different skill levels. One suggestion was that a "Master Class" be set up for those that had won awards in the past.
It was mentioned that new artists to the field weren't comfortable placing their work against the more accomplished artists. Another view pointed out that a novice category might make new artists feel slighted. The category "Novice" may be construed as their work not being up to par to contend at the regular level. You gotta start somewhere, and the beginning is usually the best place.

Others suggested that photos of all of the entrants be published, and not just those of the finalists and/or eventual winners. Previous discussions have reached the screaming level because the magazines have gotten smaller and smaller over the years. Photos of all the entrants just aren't going to happen, in my opinion, due to the sheer cost of publishing.

For me personally, magazine contests just are not something that interest me. For years, I subscribed to the magazines, and year after year - the same artists won. How long does this go on before someone decides a change needs to be made? I think the time has come, folks. There are so many artists out there that have amazing talent that will never be showcased in these contests because they feel they don't have a snowball's chance against the people who have won so many times.

I have to admit I never weighed in on the discussion. Just seemed like a moot point. However, if I were to make just one suggestion, it would be this - Set the deadline for entries, and stick to it! It would irritate the ever living life out of me to work on a competition worthy piece, pay my money, and make the deadline as required by the rules, only to find that the deadline had been extended. I've seen this happen more than once. I just don't like it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Teaching People How to Treat Us

I recently participated in a show, and to be perfectly honest, when I was packing things to take to the show, I knew I probably hadn't put out my best effort. Don't get me wrong, I was pleased with the quality of the pieces I had made, but I didn't finish up all of the pieces I had hoped to take. I've always valued quality over quantity, so I was still in a good place overall.

I have done this particular show for about a dozen years, and it's always been one of the best I participate in. This time - not so much. The aisles were very crowded together, and it seemed that people couldn't easily maneuver them. Surveying the situation, it quickly became apparent what was going on. Vendors had purchased their required space, which came with 2 six foot tables. Instead of purchasing additional tables from the promoter, they had brought their own from home. There were plastic tubs stacked one on top of the other, with unsightly cloths thrown over them, enabling them to "display" more of their wares. They had all encroached on the aisle space, and had set up card tables in front of their stands to package up sold goods, and again, were partially in the aisle space. These people always bring WAY more than they could possibly sell in day's time.
Some of these shows are set up so that you have no place to stand except in front of your tables, and this show is no exception. Those of us who were working within our allotted space quickly found our space became the new "aisle". People would stop to visit with each other in front of my table space, because there was no other place to go. Strollers ended up being "parked" in front of my table while their owners shopped next door or at the stall across from me. It's difficult to be put in this type of situation, much less be brazen enough to say anything. If, for some miniscule reason, these offenders were to become even slightly interested in my product, I couldn't risk offending them by asking them not to use my space to park or visit in. When someone did show an interest in my products, they didn't know who to ask for help because there were so many people.
As I looked around the room, I saw poster after poster declaring "30% off " prices, "liquidating", "all prices negotiable", "nothing over $20", and by lunchtime - "50 - 75% off". Huh? Is this what it has come to? I traveled over an hour one way to get to this show, made sure my display was nice - pressed linens and all. In the future, I won't lower my standards to blow out my work at bargain prices, bring wrinkled sheets or god forbid, plastic shower curtains as a table cover. I will continue to keep my standards, but I will also let the promoter know how I feel about the show. I'll also mention to her that paying customers brought in goods from their car to hawk to those of us who paid for the privilege. Maybe those of us who are willing to work with our customers but not give away the farm could be placed together in one section of the room. Those who just want to go home with money in their pocket could battle it out next to each other.

We really do teach people how to treat us.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Joining the blogging world!

I've been thinking about blogging for quite some time, but have been reluctant to start, as I didn't want to have a blog that started out with a bang and ended up sitting idle. I started out following some blogs, and found that after a while, they became dormant, and I stopped checking in on them. Others have gone in the complete opposite swing. They are so active, and have page after page, photo after photo and link after link. It becomes so mind boggling, I sometimes forget what I've read and what I still have to read. While I want to stick with are the ones that remain active, there must be a happy medium. Those are the blogs I like to follow. I can read their daily or three times weekly posts at a leisurely pace and truly enjoy it. That's what I hope this blog becomes - a place to feel like you are visiting with a friend and catching up on what's happening.

I've been making artist teddy bears for some 20 odd years, and have branched out to making other animals as well. Most of my creations are made from mohair, and recently, I've found the new South African mohair fabrics to be a fun, new product to work with. I do a lot of repairs to well loved stuffed animals and cloth dolls, as well.
I've always dabbled in some type of the arts, but my mainstay has always involved fabrics of some sort. I'm pretty much self-taught, though I've taken a few classes along the way, and tried to get as much as I could out of each class that I took. Like anything else, some classes were better than others. I have a keen interest in pincushions and find it a challenge to try to come up with new and different ideas to make them.
I participate in a number of trade shows per year, mainly bear and/or doll shows, and also have a booth at the International Quilt Festival in Houston each fall.