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What price is right?

I receive a lot of questions through comments and e-mail and one of the things I’m asked most about is pricing.  When you’re selling pieces as a part of your business, how do you know what number you should put on the tag?  I wish I could just throw out a perfect formula like investment + labor + desired profit = price, but it’s much more of a “soft” thing for me. It’s a gut feel.  And it varies so much depending on your location, the shop, the event, the piece, the time of year, the weather, your mood.  Get the picture?  There are so many factors.

I make a huge profit on some things (like a chair I bought for $10 and sold for $285)  and I make a small profit on other things. I’m a cheap person and a DIYer, so it’s hard for me to imagine paying a lot for something and that colored my pricing for a long time.  It probably still does.  I’m sure I could be a bit more aggressive with my pricing, but I want to keep my pieces affordable for the average person (like me.) So, take it or leave it, here are some principles I follow.

 

 

Remember the old saying, “You make your money when you buy.” That is so true in this business. You make a bigger profit when you shop smart. I don’t buy antiques if I can’t at least double the price and I try to keep my furniture purchases less than $100.  I pay more for a piece if it’s in great condition or really special. This takes a learning curve. I’ve made a lot of dumb purchases and I’m sure I’ll make more. Just go with your gut, buy things you like, and buy things that are usable and make sense for your market.

 

 

Pay Yourself. When I first started with my ornaments, I thought, ”I paid $.30 for the ornament and already had the paint, so I’ll charge about $2.00 for the ornament.” OK…that’s stupid. It took me a long time to hand paint each one, so I was paying myself $1.70 for all of that work. It just wasn’t worth it (which is one reason why I don’t paint those anymore!) Make sure you’re giving yourself a reasonable hourly rate for your work and focus on projects that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Know Your Market. If you sell at a junky flea market (between the tube sock lady and 1990′s computer equipment guy), you’re not going to be able to charge a lot for your pieces. People just aren’t coming to buy high end and expensive pieces. If you’re selling in a chic shop or at a popular antique market, your venue will support a higher price tag.

 

 

“If demand is greater than supply, your prices are too low.” My brother always tells me this after I sell out of something fast. (Have I mentioned before that he’s the one who named me “Miss Mustard Seed”?) If things are flying out of your space and you can’t keep up, this is a good indicator that you need to increase your prices or teach your toddlers how to make glittered letters and sheet music wreaths. (Just kidding. No need to call the child labor department.)

 

 

Lower is not always better. Sometimes when I price things really low, in my mom’s opinion, I’m reminded that people might think there’s something wrong with it or it’s a piece of crap. (I was going to say “junk” instead of “crap”, but we like junk around here, don’t we?) Make sure you’re not underselling yourself or your stuff.

Higher is not always better. I have seen ridiculous prices on total pieces of crap. I mean, unbelievable. Or even really high prices on things that are nice, but they’re nowhere near as nice as people think they are. Just because something is old, “collectible”, or you love it, doesn’t mean it’s worth a lot. Be realistic and listen if people are consistently telling you your prices are too high. I tend to err on the side of pricing things too low, because I want to move inventory. I’d rather sell something for $200 and move it in a few weeks or months than sell it at $300 after it’s been sitting around for a few years.  It’s very rare to have something in my space for more than 2 months and I like it that way.

 

 

Ask for advice, but stay within your comfort zone. I’m always asking people what they think of a price on something or what they would pay for something. It helps me to stay in a realistic range. Ultimately, you need to go with what you’re comfortable with. You have to be proud of your product and know it’s worth what you’re asking. If you’re unsure about it, ask around until you get a better feel.  Remember that you can always mark the piece down, so don’t be afraid to test out a higher number and then put it on sale if it sits too long.

 

I wish I could give you something more concrete, but pricing in this business just doesn’t work like that.  I do hope this post helps you think through pricing the pieces for your business and gives you the confidence to go with your gut.

 Do any seasoned pros have some additional advice?







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Comments

  1. Hi,
    I have agonized over prices for along time, especially when I first started out. Everything you said is so true. My husband has always told me that if my items are too cheap they will think its “cheap” or crap. Venue definately affects the prices you can charge as well. I recently put a few pieces in a really nice consignment shop, very upscale and in a very good area. I was very upset at the prices they suggested for my items. I mean I paid for the item, put work into it and then they get 50% of the sale. They really lowballed me and I will not be putting anything else in there. I’ve tried selling on a very popular local yard sale site and although I have made a few nice sales, most people email me trying to come WAY down on my price. Not worth my time. They are all bargain hunters.(like me!)
    I always follow my gut when pricing my work and for alot of things really. The gut usually does not steer you wrong.

  2. This is helpful, thank you!

  3. Great information. I live in Australia and the same advice applies over here I believe. I have only started selling my furniture and decor on ebay as an opportunity for markets or a store has not risen as yet, but maybe one day in the future. I look around at what other items are going for on ebay and mark accordingly. Again, the ebay market is another story itself with customers tending to be “looking for a bargain” and so it would be wonderful to have a corner in a store one day. I too, price occasionally higher if I love a piece and don’t mind having it in my house for a while longer if it doesn’t sell. Thanks for the great tips. Sharon.

  4. Cindie R says:

    Thank you so much, over and over, I can’t thank you enough! This was the best article and who knew that so many other people were in the same boat as me. As a newbie in the business, I wasn’t sure of my pricing and when others said I was too low I felt torn to raise my prices. Slowly but surely I’m getting closer to being more comfortable with pricing and your article was just what I needed to help me.

  5. Denise says:

    Merci beaucoup!!! Great information. I agree. Right now I am doing projects for my home . Hope to have a small business one day soon. ( I always cringe when I say one day soon or someday – it bothers me because I sometimes realize that I wait too long to start something.) Speaking of hemp canvas, can they be found at fabric store? Or do I have to order online? I am preparing for this French wing chair.

  6. Great post, Marian!
    I am going to do my first Fair in June, it will be a vintage fair, so I imagine the clientele will be different
    than at a church Spring Fair (now is the new first, lol) I have been invited to participate!
    I found out here where I live I find better things on Craigslist but they are expensive. If I go to cities near by, i get cheaper stuff. However, sometimes here people are eager to just get rid of stuff so I can get a great deal. I have to be constantly watching. The other day I got a solid wood table, chairs and a sideboard, all solid wood made in Canada, for $130. That was a steal. But of course, something that will take longer to paint, so I need to add material and the hours…
    Thrift shops are also expensive and full of junk here. I a starting to go out and visit Habitat for Humanity Stores and Thrift Stores in other cities, to see if I get a better price. I notice I was buying expensive stuff, so your first advice rung a bell, here!
    Thank you for looking out for us newbies!

  7. Great piece and such an important part of ultimate success. I try to do unique things whenever I can which people seem willing to pay more for. If I find that something I’m making in multiples doesn’t sell and I can’t afford to do it for less, I just don’t make any more, whether it’s a $2 item or a $30….. you just have to learn what your market will bear. If you ‘cheat’ yourself too much, you lose the joy.

    I sell online so shipping and handling is tough nut too….I generally cover the postage but rarely get much to cover my time packing and getting it to the PO. (Thankfully, I can use “free” materials.) Nevertheless, shipping has just gotten so expensive I consider that time a ‘gift’ to my little ministry and do not let it steal my joy in doing it.

  8. Wendy says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. It’s what I needed to hear right now!

  9. Lydia Langston says:

    Thank you soooo much for this post. I opened my small store Maine Country Home last month and really appreciate this post. Through you I discovered ASCP and thought the best advise you gave was Pay yourself again thank you. Your blog and work is a great inspiration.

  10. Those were great tips! I had spent the whole weekend thinking about my pricing, and according to your rules, I can definitely see how things make a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing these valuable information with us! Blessings, Vanessa

  11. You really hit on a hot topic,I was in the retail wqrld for over 30 Years. But in our world of vintage,antiques and crafts. More Variables and many have been touched on. Thank you for this topic, I know for sure that in .Crafts I have undersold on some of my items for the purpose of more sales from vendors in larger markets with the hope of special orders,and this has worked . So a Cake made and set for 135. I sell for 100.00 and then get special orders for 3 so netting 325. and the special orders were a smallerr version. So 425. vs 135.maybe. Also listen to the customer you are working with,how much do they love the item and lower by even 5 may make the sale. Or if a couple items in question then a bundle price a little lower on the individual item,but selling two when customer is their.

    Also their is a big swing on pricing when you are selling a victorian look in china which is not trending compared to a piece of furniture that has been repurposed for a todays vintage trend. My example is heavy lead cut glass of which I have several for sale and no movment,But I find a old wood chair,paint it up and cut a hole in it for a large dog bowl. Have done this 3 times and sold each within 2 months

    Thanks for all the info you have sparked on this one post,Kathryn

  12. Well said! Thanks so much for the great tips.

  13. Just starting out and this is much needed advice. I have a few pieces for sale in my gf’s very high end boutique (an hour away from me) and nearly croaked at what they thought my pieces were worth and then what they intern marked them up to. But they are selling…slowly. It is a trial, a work in progress to see if anything would sell. I would like to venture out a little more locally and just figuring out how to do that. I don’t even have a blog yet. I’m learning. I love the openness and advice I’ve found in “blogland”.
    Thank you MissM!!!

  14. I have the same issue with pricing, not because I sell stuff, but my husband and I go antiquing and to estate sales every weekend, and we see a HUGE discrepancy in prices (we have seen the exact same desk twice in one day with a $400 price difference between the two, and the more expensive one was damaged!) I love it when I can buy things that someone else has lovingly refinished or repainted, but when people suddenly feel like their 70s pine dresser is worth $600 because they painted it white, well that kills that market for the good stuff for IMO! It’s not that I am not willing to pay a fair price (we just bought our daughter a turquoise painted desk for a fair price for all involved) but the amount of crap I see out there being peddled as gold kills me!

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      I’m totally with you! I’ve seen some pieces on Craigs List that look like they’re spray painted white (hardware and all) and then priced at $600. That’s just silly.

      • Karil says:

        Yes, Yes, Yes, to all you have said about this!! I am just starting out as well, and I have been researching and the thing that gets me the most upset is seeing just that! There is a local “re-do” shop by me that gets cheap pine furniture, spray paints with cheap paint and then sells it for an unbelievable price! WHAT? then I have seen things at a local antique/ vintage mall done with chalk paint and special finishes that someone has marked under 100.00! I just don’t get it. Thank you so much for all you have said, it really helps a ton!!!!

  15. All good points.

    I don’t generally price things dependent upon what I paid for it but rather what I believe someone would be willing to pay for it. Whether I pay $50 for a dresser or get it for free, I price it the same. The amount of work that I have to put into something affects the price that I am willing to pay for it when I buy it. A few months ago I bought an Oak serpentine dresser that was in fabulous condition and only needed a wipe down with orange oil – no prep work or painting required. I paid $100 for (higher than I would usually go) and flipped it for $249. It never even came home with me – right into the shop. Sold in about 2-3 weeks.

    On the other hand, if I come across a piece that is cheap (or even free) and it has issues (veneer bubbling, missing pulls, etc.) I give serious consideration to the amount of work I will have to put into it versus the price point that I can sell it at. Sometimes I have to walk away. Even free pieces (unless I can use it for parts).

  16. great info. no easy formula that’s for sure. i really like your approach and perspective. thanks for sharing.

  17. Thank you Miss Mustard Seed! This post was very helpful to me. I am getting ready to post a table and 4 chairs that I redid in ASCP. I’ve been going back and forth on the pricing! I guess I have to get my feet wet at some point and go for it.

  18. Carol Ann says:

    Personally, I appreciate your use of the word “crap.” Sometimes it’s just the better word. For instance, while waiting in line at an Estate Sale (yes, there was an unbelievable line to get in), things were getting a little
    tense with jostling for prime position for the front door….the mood was lifted when someone from the back of the line said, “Calm down people! There’s enough crap in this place for everybody!” And he was right.

  19. Such timely advice! I go through this every single month when my store has it’s “sale”. We are only open for a few days each month so it is a big event. In the days leading up, I constantly 2nd guess what my prices should be. The best advice you gave here is “paying myself”. I do try to stay away from making too many smalls, that is a profit eater. But this advice will stick with me. Thank you as always for sharing. Off to check out Hemp Canvas online!

  20. I say try to sell your body first, and if the buyer is appalled, then quote her a sale price on the item.

  21. Thanks for sharing your pricing philosopohy! I’m fond of saying that pricing is a science … and science was never one of my favorite subjects in school. :-) My favorite place to sell my folk art these days is a “country” antiques show in Silicon Valley. Shoppers at craft fairs want contemporary stuff, aprons, baby things, etc. … but the shoppers at this antique show tend to be looking for olde things and my niche is the shoppers who might not be able to afford the authentic antiques. The next show is June 10th and I’ve got my work cut out for me between now and then!

  22. Carolyn says:

    That was a wonderful read for me because I struggle with prices. I totally agree with everything you say, it’s a gut feeling and asking yourself what you would pay for it. Also I have bought things I am not so crazy about myself so why waste time working on something you are not crazy about? Then on the other hand there are things I LOVE….do I really want to sell it? But I surely can’t keep everything or else I need a bigger house for sure! I just love reading your posts every day; the pictures and blogs are a stress buster for me. God Bless You in all you continue to do! Can’t wait for the paint to be available!

  23. I’m a little late on commenting here. I searched your site for this information. I do agree with the gut feeling on pieces I’m selling. But now I’m taking on a job to refinish a friends furniture for her and I have NO IDEA what to charge! Usually I price by “what I would pay for a dresser..or side table ,,,or whatever” but this is just the painting…not the piece!? I dont know what to charge. And I am too new at doing this to really KNOW how long it will take me so I can’t “charge by the time I’m going to spend on it!” Any advice?

  24. Re-reading this post as I just stocked my etsy shop. And I raised some of my initial prices because I was hoping for some sales and not stopping to think about how much time and expense I had in some of my handmade items! Thanks Marian – as always you have great advice and I love how you share with all of us so freely!

  25. I am definitely interested in reading a post about pricing for custom jobs. I am just starting in this business (I love it), but most of what I am doing right now is for customers. I hope to begin painting things to have in a rented space soon.
    I love your blog, your great advice and your beautiful work!

  26. devan says:

    I was just rereading this post to try to figure out how to price a few pieces I have finished. My question has to do with consignment shop versus selling outright. I found a boutique to sell in but they want 50%. Is this a pretty common percentage? And when selling on consignment would your prices be higher than if you sold the piece yourself? Example a desk I bought for 14 $ worked about 6 hrs on…was thinking of pricing@ $150, but would only make $75 at consignment shop…just not sure if I should raise the price? What is your opinion of the rate and of the pricing in each way? Oh and if it helps any, I live in northern Colorado. Thanks

    • Linda A. McDonald says:

      My question has to do with repair work. A lot of dresser drawers seem to function ok but the bottoms don’t always fit perfectly. The thin wood sometimes will have a small split or hole in it. Do you always replace the bottoms? And if you do what do you use and how do you do it? I don’t have a husband who is handy. I ‘m not even sure what to pay for a repair. What do you pay someone to deliver and haul a piece to Lucketts? Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Linda

  27. Marian, I just finished reading all of the posts in your business series and have to send out a great big THANK YOU for giving so freely your knowledge, experience, and wisdom. These were inspiring, to say the least, and I’m walking away with more courage to keep following the direction my heart is telling me walk.
    With gratitude,

  28. Kate Bryan says:

    I am a complete newbie. I do not have a business nor do I intend to:). I am just tired of my house looking like everybody else’s. I have almost finished my first piece and have found myself looking around the house to see what else I can refurbish… There’s plenty but some of the pieces are just not quite right. Where do you find all the furniture you work with. I have gone to a few antique shops but so far many have been priced way to high. Is it one of those things where you have to be looking all the time, yard sales, Craig’s list etc….? Thanks for your input.

  29. Thank you so much for everything you have shared regarding starting your business! I have just started my own, and truly appreciate all the help I can get. I tend to be a DIYer myself, and am always on the hunt for deals, so pricing is proving to be a BIG challenge for me.
    Thank you for the advice you share on here.

  30. Hi there, I believe you and I follow each other on Pinterest! I know it’s difficult to quote a price on refinishing and I tend to do the same as you and err on the low side. I’m just starting to really make a business out of refinishing furniture amongst other services. What is your opinion on what I would charge to completely strip two MCM Selig lounge chairs and completely refinish them? I will also be making completely new loose seat and back cushions for both chairs. I will have to put in zippers, purchase foam and batting. I would certainly appreciate your thoughts if you have the time.

    Thank you,
    Lorie

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  1. […] you want more specifics, I wrote an entire post called “What Price is Right” that you might want to read.  In that post, I covered topics like paying yourself, knowing […]

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