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. Good pointers…thanks…and I agree…there are a lot of variables….
    I always find….study what is out there…what others will pay….watch the market…always…
    Nancy

  2. Tori Rowland says:

    Thanks so much for these tips! As I write, my vehicle is loaded down with the furniture I painted, to be placed tomorrow in my first booth at a great antiques store near my town of Athens, GA. I definitely already hold fast to your number 1 rule… You make your money when you buy. (It’s my husband’s #1 too! ) Thanks for inspiring me to get started on a twenty year dream. :D

  3. That is a wonderful post. So many factors go into pricing. Location is huge. What I could get for something in a chic shop in Southern California compared to the small town I live in now is hundreds of dollars apart. Thank you for addressing paying yourself. I find so many people under value their time (and talent too)!
    I’ll be passing this on to a friend. Thanks for your generous spirit in sharing information.

    PS- I just adored those pinwheels. So ding-dang cute!!

  4. Good advice!
    I think most people will do like you say and price things too low, and then get out of the business because 1.) they can’t keep up with the demand
    2.) they aren’t making enough money!!!

    you’ve given a couple of good gauges too…how quickly certain ‘LIKE’ items are moving …and where your selling venue is located…

    I’m marking this as a favorite article so I can come back and read it again…

    Pat

  5. Thanks for the tips!!!

  6. This was very informative and reinforces what some of my friends have been telling me. So much depends on the area and customer base I think but I’m getting better!

    I am trying to price our things higher – we’ve given away things for too long! But as long as we still love what we do – that’s a good thing!

    Your blog is a favorite!

    Thanks,
    Bonnie

    • I guess it is a bit like real estate – location, location, location. My daughter made some very darling things that friends loved. She was encouraged to sell at a farmer’s market. She had almost no sales there. Her prices were reasonable – but the clientele at that location was way off. The amount of tattooed bodies was probably an indication why her cutely patterned pincushions, bags and aprons were not getting a good response. I heard an experienced seller explain it this way – “There are $15 markets, $10 markets and $5 markets and we unfortunately live in a barely $5 market.” So online is the only way to go to be successful in our area.

      • Miss Mustard Seed says:

        Oh, I totally know how she feels. The first thing I did was a craft show and it was terrible. It was totally not my venue and it was a discouraging start to my business.

  7. Thank you, Miss Mustard Seed! This post was timely and incredibly helpful!
    Best Wishes and Blessings,
    Amanda

  8. Valuable info. I love this post!

  9. Thanks so much for the tips :) I’m just starting out and I just want so badly to be affordable so people like me can afford it!! :) Can I ask you what kind of fabric that is on the wing back chair up there, or if you have a tip for what kind of fabric is best for chairs like that?

    • That chair does look great! I was thinking the same thing myself! What kind of fabric is it? and Where do you tend to buy your upholstery fabrics?

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      That upholstery fabric was provided by my upholsterer and it is really awesome stuff. It’s a synthetic fabric, so it’s super durable, but it looks like burlap. I wish I knew what it was called! I’ve started purchasing hemp canvas, which looks almost exactly like olf European grain sacks.

  10. These are some great tips, I especially loved the first one about making money when you buy. I used to own my own boutique and my two biggest pieces of advice would be first consider your location and what the market is like in that particular area. Also, if you make something consider the materials AND the labor. So many people sell their things too cheaply by not valuing their work, which in the end ruins it for other people who also make and sell things. If you can’t at least double your price after adding up materials and labor you don’t bother doing it.

  11. This is a wonderful post. What I love most and think is one of the most important things to consider is ” I want to keep my pieces affordable for the average person (like me.)” Even though the items I sell are wants, not needs, it’s nice to know that things I offer are affordable to most, not just a few.

  12. I love how concisely and clearly you write!!! LOVED these tips! I’ve always priced things lower because I love selling out at the Christmas craft sale: money is so much easier to carry home. :) But this year I priced some things higher…mostly b/c I loved them, wouldn’t mind keeping them or giving them for special Christmas gifts. I purposely painted old cupboard door scenes thinking of the person I would give them to if they didn’t sell. I painted a farm scene for my husband, figuring it’s size for the place in the house where it would hang. Then it sold, despite the high price I had on it. I guess my aunt enjoyed the look on my face on Christmas morning when we opened our gift and found it was that farm scene …she gave the gift two-fold. :)

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      I do price based on my love for things as well. If it sells, I’m happy getting more money for it and if it doesn’t, I’m happy to give it a good home myself. Sometimes I need to keep something for a while and then I’m ready to put it up for sale at a better price for the customer.

    • What a neat story! I love your aunt’s sense of humour, Pumpkin, Pie, Painter. :)

  13. Great article! I struggle with pricing!

  14. We have found that the venue makes a big difference. If we take an item into our downtown outdoor venue, we ask less than if we take it into the “big city” venue. City dwellers just pay more. Also, garden items are not as popular in the city as the rural venues. We try to take what will sell, price it reasonably, and still pay ourselves. When we price something and we are there to deal with them, we always leave a little “wiggle room” (about $5-$10 on larger items) to come down on the price. We get our bottom dollar price and the customer feels like they got a deal and will come back next time and look us up for another deal.

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Yes. I always price a little higher when I’m going to be there physically, because I know some people are going to want to negotiate.

  15. Linda@Coastal Charm says:

    My goodness…we both think the same way on pricing our inventory. I will be sure to share this post on FB.

    Blessings,
    Linda

  16. Thank you so much .. this is a great article. I started redoing furniture in the first place because I was to “frugal” to pay the prices that some people were asking. I love your blog/site/advice. You are an inspiration.

    Thank You, Niamh

  17. PERFECT TIMING!!! My sister and I are between the sock lady and the pool supplies and the yard sale finds… there’s another flea in a nearby town that we are trying to get into, and we’re thinking we can price our stuff “better” there. This was exactly what I needed to read to reassure me we are headed in the right direction. :)

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Yes! Get away from the sock lady and the pool supply guy. :) You’ll do much better.

  18. I’ve been selling products and services for many years now. I already know for a fact that I undercharge for my wall-painting services, but I’m gradually pricing better as time goes by.

    As for all pricing, it’s important to stay competitive, unless it’s really one-of-a-kind. Like your Mom, I’ve always said that too low or too high creates suspicion in the customer. “Why is it so much less, or so much more?” is what they’re thinking. I also think “perceived value” is quite important too. If the item is packaged or presented in a more aesthetically pleasing way, you can ask for more and will probably get it. That’s just good marketing…..

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      That’s a great point. A strong brand, beautiful packaging, cute tags, a nice environment to shop in, etc. all make a difference in how much people will pay. That’s why people will pay $50 for an Ambercrombie & Fitch t-shirt.

      • Ha ha. True that.

        You know, after reading everyone’s comments, I’ve come to the conclusion that we, as women, are way too empathetic for our own good. Empathy is great for life in general, but if we need to worry about our own bottom line, we really need to stop under-valuing ourselves, our skills and time. Quite often, the customer you are making it more affordable for, is someone who can afford a lot more than you. Are their financial needs more important than yours? Quite often, the answer is No. (Sorry for the soapbox. This is just a conversation I have to have with myself from time to time.)

        My significant other has been in the sales industry forever (as in mostly commission), and has constantly preached to me about my pricing. One mantra he has finally trained in my brain is “You can’t get the sale if you don’t ask for it”. So now, when I price something what I think “they” will pay, and not what I would pay, and then it sells for the asking price, that mantra sings in my head.

  19. Perfect! :)
    I do have a formula, so far its working for me- but I definitely rely on other vendors experience, knowing what market I’m selling in, and sometimes gut.
    I just priced a piece three times before putting it in my space! : /
    Great advice, I’ve always been curious about your theory! Thanks for sharing!

  20. Great post !!! I struggle with pricing all the time – and try to go with my ” gut ” but it’s such a fickle market to be in – sometimes something will sell within a day at a price I thought was too high – and something else stays forever that I feel is a ” steal “. It’s a matter of the right person coming along at the right moment – sometimes you get lucky – sometimes not so much

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      That’s a good point, too. Sometimes the piece is priced right, but it sits for a while because it’s such a specific style, color, size, etc. I find my pieces that are strong colors or have decorative painting on them take a lot longer to sell.

  21. This is great advice, and the best part is that so much of it is just common sense, which just requires a bit of forethought to implement! Brilliant. :)

  22. You are spot on with your advise. Good Marketing always helps, and if the item has a story or history, people love that, too. Cheers

  23. Thanks for the great tips. I actually had someone offer me a lot less because she said she might repaint it (due to color preferences) I wanted to cry a little bit. Anyway, I definitely didn’t take her offer and want to make sure my pieces are priced so that the buyer is willing to pay it if they love it, but not so low that they aren’t going to appreciate the time and care I put into it.

    I would love to hear some tips on pricing for custom pieces that a client already owns and just needs painted. Thanks so much!

    • Good question!! I’d like to hear a theory on that too! With furniture pricing I have loosely based prices on cost of furniture/supplies + what I want to make + gut but sometimes for the amount of labor (even though it is a decent profit for one piece) the hourly rate probably is rediculously low if you were to factor in hunting for the piece, supply shopping, actual labor time, etc. Do people have set custom refinishing prices per type of piece (hence expected labor time) or an hourly rate + materials depending on how many colors or types of finishes a person wants?

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      I think I need to do another post on this! Yeah, my prices were structured differently when I did custom work.

  24. Thank you for a great post and all your advice! I haven’t been able to part with any of my creations yet, but being so thrifty and knowing what you can make or redo so cheaply definitely impacts my thinking of what people will pay. If I won’t pay it, doesn’t mean someone else won’t be more than willing to. But when you get it for free or very cheap you feel a bit extravagant asking too much. I like your tip about charging for your time. Thanks again! x Julie

  25. Like you I used to do it on feel for a piece and feel for the market but occasionally I had a piece that I loved so much I would put a higher price on it so I could keep it around a bit longer problem was they generally sold at that price just as quickly. Pair G’father and G’mother chairs in original leather sold in two days for $3000. to a passing solicitor just setting up his office….I was so sure they would eventually make their way home!!!!!!!! So I agree with everything you said!!

  26. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve recently started selling some of the furniture i’m painting and selling some pillows and other bits and pieces on Etsy. My husband and I constantly have this back and forth battle on pricing as he says I should think about the time I’m putting in as well. Thank you so much for putting pricing into perspective. Do you have any advice for those of us who don’t have a space in a location yet?

    • Seems like everyone’s comments apply to me too!!! lol. I also am not in a retail location (yet…maybe I will be sometime down the line) I’d love suggestions on pricing?! I sell through Craigslist and some Facebook groups I’m in and so far I have sold everything I’ve put up rather quickly and for the prices I’m asking (or $25-$50 less in cases where the person has bought more than one piece or has made a counter offer). I know my prices have been lower than some retail stores/barns in my area but I figure I need to do that 1. to move inventory since it is sitting in my house and 2. to be competitive in my area. I have recently started pricing higher since pieces are moving so I can be more flexible if someone makes a lower offer! That way the customer gets the price they want and I get the profit I want! No harm in putting “or make an offer” in your Craigslist post after putting your “high/goal” price.

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      I think this is a topis for another post as well!

  27. I have found in business, not to assume my cheap is someone else’s cheap. When I first opened my frame shop, I struggled with charging retail because I knew I couldn’t afford it, so my customer must feel the same way. Then one day my mom worked the shop for me. One of my regular customers came in, (one I never thought would pay retail) Mom laid down the most expensive frame in the store, took the order with no discount and my customer didn’t blink at the ridiculously high price paid and left happy. My whole out look changed. Charge what it is worth, not what you think you would pay.

    • wish there were “like” buttons for blog comments! :)

      • Miss Mustard Seed says:

        I agree! I’m getting used that in FaceBook and I often think, I wish I could “like” that comment! I’ll ask my designer if there’s a plugin for that…

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Yes! This is the problem I had when I first started. I would think, “Well, I wouldn’t pay more than $50 for a dresser, so nobody else will.” My stuff was way underpriced for a long time because of that.

  28. marie says:

    and on that note….what are you asking for the wingback chair? this is the second time i’ve seen it on blogland this morning and i think it’s a sign. :o) i live fairly local and could be there on friday to purchase it….

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      It actually sold a few months ago to someone who drove up from South Carolina to get it! It’s a really cool chair. In my space right now are the two barrel backed French chairs in the same fabric.

  29. I am looking for a specific piece for a specific place in my new home and the piece must be black. Not sure I want to paint, so this is hard to find. I would pay just about anything for the right piece! But you have given great guidelines on a difficult subject.

  30. Kristen says:

    Great post Marian! This is spot on advice… After doing this for several years, I still struggle sometimes because like you said, I want things to be affordable to people like me. Unfortunately, one of my early mentors told me not to expect to get paid much for your time and it’s always stuck in my head.
    Your comment on where you sell is huge too. I had Pacific Northwest prices down pat and I’m blind going into Luckett’s, but I’ll hold off pricing the big pieces until I walk around a bit :)

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure that was great advice. Your time is what makes the piece special! For those of us who refinish furniture, we need to remember that not everyone does that and it’s an art form. Our time, designs, skills, creativity, etc. are very valubale. If they wanted to do it, they could hunt at yard sales and refinish a $20 piece themselves. They are paying YOU to get a finished product.

      Feel free to give me a call if you want to talk pricing for Lucketts.

  31. Thank you for the great insight in this article! Perfect timing for me as I plan to rev things into high gear around here to jump start a little business! Blessings!

  32. One thought is – When pricing an item (if it is ready to go – just a quick clean up)- what you pay for it is immaterial. You charge what your market will bear. This involves either research, your ‘gut’, or both! If you found it really cheap – then good on ya’!
    And yes – you do have to pay a decent hourly rate to yourself. As Sole Proprietors we pay our own Social Security tax – as well as our own health insurance. Being in business for yourself is not an inexpensive proposal. On top of that we need to pay for groceries, gas, clothing, etc…

    Best of luck out there in pricing land everyone, Liz
    http://www.bittersweetdesignstudio.blogspot.com

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      That is a terrific point! Sometimes I buy something and take it straight to Lucketts. All I do is tie a tag on it and I can make $200 on it. I just found it for a really good deal and I can keep the profit.

      That’s also a good point about taxes. Ugh.

  33. Jen Nolan says:

    Great tips! I’m just getting my feet wet (paint on my hands,hair, and clothes) in this business. Love your blog!! :))

  34. Great post! I am at the cusp of the selling part of this business…and have been getting info and inspiration right here on your blog….doing the buying part (for myself and our home) for many years…but blogs like yours, and posts like these have been giving me the desire to start selling my vintage and antiques. I would keep in mind that you BUY from the tube sock lady…..and SELL with the mustard seed ladies!

  35. Very good advice..love your blog!

  36. Maybee's Mom says:

    Good talk….my thought on pricing was always…double the price of large pieces and add 10% for Credit card use…..alot of time.. like you I was too cheap…most of my buyers were other dealers…..but a bird in the hand is worth two in the booth or bush…..there was a time …long ago… one could buy a box of jadite or ironstone for 10 bucks…..of course.. that was in the 80′s… great profit could be made…now not so much….I know dealers who have to dust off their wares…..maybe their prices are too high if it sits around long enough to get dusty…..just saying…..anyway…Love your thoughts and blog

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Yes, I know the booths you’re talking about. The ones that look the same everytime you go to the shop and it’s looked the same for five years. There’s definitely a problem there and it’s probably not just the prices. The vendor is out of touch with the market and/or not displaying their items well.

  37. Debra says:

    Thanks for posting this. Great advice!

  38. I had been wondering your pricing philosophy because I was questioning mine! Sounds like I’m on the right track! Thanks for posting!

  39. LOVE the advice… I’m just now coming out of the low price mind set… now I take in all the variables when I price something.

  40. I feel the same way when pricing my stuff. I want people like me to be able to afford the nice things I make. Because they can’t do it themselves.

  41. I love this post so realistic, great advice. I sell Vintage on line so I can’t exactly cater to a specific market, my customers come from big cities to small towns,but I try to follow the same guidelines you use. I buy what I like and try to price at affordable but realistic values. Thank you for sharing. I also would like to know why your brother named you Miss Mustard Seed? Because you have a lot of Faith? Just curious.

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Well, online is your market, right? If you’re selling on Etsy, for example, you can look at other Etsy dealers who sell similar items to get an idea what the market will tolerate. It’s the same idea, although, I agree that it’s a bit more of a moving target!

  42. I just started selling on Etsy.If I am not sure how to price I look to see what others are asking.But sometimes they are asking too little or too much.Then there is the shipping cost.I can’t pay for that and that can add up too.I have a friend that sells.She pays way more for her inventory than I do.I like to get things for as less money as possible to keep the resale down.But it is hard when you are looking for really cool things.If I do pay more than I just think at least I can keep it.But then that is really not the point is it?Thank you for posting this.It is a good guide line.
    Anne

  43. Thank you! I just started selling 2 weeks ago and you have addressed some of my questions. I appreciate your knowledge :)
    Debbie

  44. chicky says:

    You are totally right – for someone like me who gawks at the beauty of these craft work find it very hard to swallow that because I have no talent I have to pay $300+ on pieces…thank you for your kind post…i wish you live by my area so I can scoop up stuff from you!

  45. Such good valid point – that lots of sellers forget or never think about! Pricing this is scary sometimes – almost like you got a deal on it , so you can’t possibly ask more than X. It takes time to learn you can ask X+$$.

  46. Linda Lanke says:

    Thanks for the great post. I started a modern vintange furniture business a few years ago — doing both custom work and selling pieces in a local boutique — and pricing is a struggle. What I have found is people think when they have a piece reupholstered, it is cheaper than buying new. And, that is definitely not the case! I started increasing my custom work prices, but sometimes still feel that I’m only earning minimum wage! I’m getting more comfortable charging much more for my work because we need to value our time, expertise and artistry. Many people who ask me for estimates don’t blink an eye at the price and those who do think it’s too expensive, those aren’t my customer base. I keep reminding myself this little mantra and it works. Just takes time to get comfortable charging people for your work.

  47. Well written. I sometimes myself feel guilty about prices. And then I think about the time away from my family and that is priceless. Thanks!

  48. Thank you so much for that post… This question have been on my mind lately… I buy things really cheap, and sometimes I wonder why people would pay more for it, even after the work I did on them… But you reminded me that my time was worth something!

  49. I “like” the comment about people buying something for $20, and doing it themselves(which is not at all the same as MMS doing it), or paying you more for your creativity and getting the desired look. I have difficulty pricing my creativity, and this post helps. I don’t however have difficulty pricing my other services that I have been trained in for years, so maybe it is my perception based upon my lack of experience(even though others like my items that I created on a whim). This is one reason I am thankful for you Marian, you put it in perspective and share you learning/growth process with us :)

  50. Thanks so much for the info. I’m just getting ready to put some things on consignment. I’ve been reluctant to do that because all consignment stores in this area charge 50%, which means I have to double what I want/ need to get. That’s really hard to swallow, but something I just need to get past?

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