What it means to ask a crafter for a discount

Have you ever asked for a discount on something handmade at an art show? People don’t often ask for discounts in big name stores but will ask crafters for one. Here is why you shouldn’t.

I want you to do me a favor. Think about your favorite store. Maybe it’s a big national chain or a small local shop. It can be a place you shop at all the time or just on special occasions. Now I want you to imagine that you found something you really wanted, but it is a little more than you wanted to spend. What do you do?  Maybe you sigh to yourself before placing the item back on the shelf or rack, acknowledging that as much as you want it, you can’t justify buying it right now. Perhaps you decide if the store has a sale soon you will buy it then or save up to buy it later. Maybe you are so enamored with this item–I mean, it’s perfect!–that you decide to treat yourself and buy it right now. (We do, after all, deserve a periodic indulgence!)

Or perhaps you decided to be really bold and bring the item to the cash register and asked for a 30% discount. And hey, while you’re at it, why not bring up a few items and ask if you purchase that first item at the regular price and ask if you could get the other items at half price?

Wait, you don’t do that?

Most of us wouldn’t imagine walking into a store and requesting a large discount. At least, not here in the U.S. where that’s not really part of the shopping culture. (And hey, if you do, then you, my friend, have much bigger cajones than I!)

Yet it happens quite frequently with makers. I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard from fellow crafters of people requesting discounts or BOGO-type deals at shows and on Etsy. It’s happened to me, both in person and online.

[Tweet “If you ask for a discount on something #handmade, would you do that in a large store?”]

Listen, I get it. Handmade things are expensive (or at least, they should be). If I didn’t make my jewelry, I can pretty much guarantee that I would not be able to afford about half of what I make. Do you know what the materials cost is for my chunky Byzantine bracelet, one of my favorite pieces and one of the few items that I do own? (It was a treat to myself after Eve was born.)

large byzantine with heart charm

About $50. (That’s a big reason why I don’t own too many pieces that I made!) For each one of these bracelets I make I’m already out $50. So if the bracelet costs $230, that already brings me down to $180 in what I would bring in. But that $180 hasn’t factored in the time it costs for me to order the supplies, make that bracelet, to ship it and package it, to take photos of it, to list it on Etsy, and to market it. And if I sell it in a store, than typically I only get 50% of the price of the item. If it’s something that involves some metalsmithing, then I also have to factor what it costs for me to be in the studio (I pay each time I go in). Plus there’s also the cost of my tools to make it and the time I have spent perfecting my craft, and so many things I have not factored in.

Like so many other makers who you meet at a craft fair or stumble across on Etsy (if they are legitimately making handmade items, but that’s a whole other post right there) we are one-person shows or a very small team of people working hard to bring you the best possible product we can. We pour our blood, sweat and tears (sometimes literally) into what we do. We do it because we love it. We are passionate about our craft and want to share a piece of ourselves with others.

[Tweet “Makers are passionate about their craft and want to share it, but they also need to get paid!”]

But we still need to get paid for our time. And quite honestly, most of us are guilty of undercharging for what we make. It is the number one thing I have struggled with since opening my Etsy shop. Believe me, I wish I could charge less. When I first started making jewelry, I had this grand idea of making beautiful and affordable jewelry. And I do have some pieces that I feel are affordable for many people (even me!) like my mobius spiral pendant necklaces and earrings.

Linkouture sterling silver and freswater pearl earrings

In reality, I have to charge more for many of my pieces because I don’t want to lose money on what I make. That would just be foolish and it wouldn’t take very long before I had to close my business. And what good would that do anyone?

[Tweet “When asking for a discount on something #handmade, how does it affect the maker’s livelihood?”]

But hey, don’t I sometimes do sales and giveaways? Yes I do, but if you notice, they are not that often (and actually, with less frequency than I used to do them). But I decide when to do them and how much of a discount to give, taking into consideration what that means for my bottom line. They do help increase sales, especially around the holidays, but they also mean less money I am paying myself. So it’s tricky.

I know, fabulous readers, that many of you get it. Many of you are small business owners yourself and understand what it entails to make a living doing it. I’m sure many of you even struggle with your pricing. What I ask of you is to help others to understand. Share this post, or if you see someone you know trying to score a good deal at a craft fair, let them know what that means for the maker.

28 thoughts on “What it means to ask a crafter for a discount”

  1. I get it totally and doing design work from home, I get asked quite often about my hourly rate and price structure. Even though I offer more of a service and not a product I still do feel my time and expertise is worth it. And yet, I also have offered deals and giveaways in the past, as well to try to not seem like I am overpricing anyone either. But again we do work hard and very much deserve to be paid for our time and our skills, too.

    1. Yes, you are so right, Janine! Sometimes i wonder if it’s even harder for service-based businesses when there isn’t something tangible people can hold. You deserve to be paid for your time and expertise!

  2. I love that you gave such insight into your own business and how the price is critical to EVERYTHING in the process of creating your jewelry. I used to have my own business being a music teacher, and I can’t tell you how many people asked for ‘discounts’ or ‘free lessons’ or ‘extra tutoring for free’ ETC. There are SO many logistics that go into running your own business… heck even the taxes are out of this world! It’s amazing what people will do to save money…

    1. Oh my goodness, the taxes! I didn’t realize before I started how high self-employment taxes are.
      I get that people want to save money, but you have to think about at what cost. What does that mean for the other person who is giving you the discount. I would have never though that someone would ask for discounts or free music lessons! That’s crazy.

  3. Yes! Most people also expect handmade to be high quality and high quality takes time. Plus add all the hidden costs of keeping a business running. Banking fees, shipping costs, marketing costs such as purchasing ads, taxes….Add to why handmade costs can be a bit higher.

    1. Yes! People want the high quality but don’t necessarily want to pay more for it. It’s hard when we can get so much and for so cheaply.

  4. I’m not an artist or business owner, but I get it. I own handmade jewelry and other objects, and I expect to pay more than I would for mass made items. You’re paying for talent and craft, and for something original that can’t be churned out on an assembly line. Well said, Bev!

    1. Thanks, Dana! I don’t doubt that you are one of the people who not only get it, but APPRECIATE the value of handmade. You are the type of person form whom we do what we do 🙂

  5. Awesome post, Bev! Another thing I’d like to add is that US based makers need to pay themselves US appropriate wages. So many of the items that are mass produced don’t really even have labor costs figured into their pricing because the people making them are being paid pennies a day, literally, which makes the prices of handmade goods made in the US (or any other developed country) seem that much more expensive.

    1. Yes, it’s so true! We can’t compete with the cost of mass-produced items made in countries where the cost of living is way cheaper (and perhaps people are also paid unfairly). That is definitely something that people need to factor in. Well said!

  6. This post makes me happy and I’m going to share it as much as possible. Over the holidays I did a craft fair and someone was looking at a one of my bracelets and asked “Is this your best price?” Of course I said yes, what I should have said was “No, I could go HIGHER!” I think people just assume that as makers, we’ll just take whatever money is offered because we’re desperate. I still continue to struggle with pricing my items but I think I getting better at being willing to pay myself. Thank you for the great post!

    1. Yay for paying ourselves better! (It’s something I need to work on as well.) Thank you for sharing, Marilyn, and let’s hope that more people will understand the value of handmade!

  7. I struggle with this as well. Since I offer a service (digital media consulting) and my product isn’t tangible people love to ask my opinion and want to pick my brain for free. Or take me to coffee and pick my brain even further. It is quite frustrating. I value my time and knowledge and wish others would feel the same. I created service packages in my business to make it a bit more tangible but I totally hear where you are coming from. Time is money and in your case you have product too. Thanks for putting it out there and saying what we all have been thinking/feeling!


    1. Oh, I can completely understand! Your time is definitely worth more than a cup of coffee. People would never imagine asking a lawyer to answer legal questions over a cup of coffee. Your time and skill is valuable! Thanks for sharing, Jeannine.

  8. I would never imagine to ask for a discount, I’d search around for a promo if I “needed” a discount, but I just wouldn’t ask. I have heard people say handmade is expensive, and there are times *I* want to buy handmade, but it is to pricey, but I get it. I was once there, I know how expensive it is, making tutus and hairbands wasn’t cheap, and i found myself undercutting myself. Great post, Bev.

    1. You probably wouldn’t ask because you know firsthand what goes into having a handmade business. It’s so hard to make sure we charge enough, I’m sure I should be charging more on some of my products!

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  10. I am a big fan of bartering but I am smart enough to know when it is appropriate and when it’s not. I encouraged my sister to haggle for her wedding dress at a consignment shop (only when hundreds and hundreds of dollars are being spent) and I will ask for the best deal at a flea market but I would never ask a maker for a discount unless they first offered it.

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  13. This is the problem I’m having. My mom got me into woodcrafts. We go in together and share a booth at shows. Just today we were selling this lady was buying from my mom at a discount. Then she turns to me and says since I bought these can I get one of those walking sticks for two dollars. That’s Bs. I sell them for ten dollars which isn’t bad cuz online I’ve scene them go for forty. At this show i was selling them for five and she still wanted a deal. I had trays that I make from tobacco sticks for twenty that I sold today for ten and people thought that was high. Yet they go for way more online. I’m really not making any money. If I don’t deep discount they just walk away.at this point I’m ready to get out cuz I can actually make more money working at McDonald’s and I would also get days off. Working for yourself is not as stress free as people think.

    1. I’m sorry, Mike, this sounds incredibly frustrating. It’s unfortunate when people don’t see the value in others’ time. I wonder what would happen if you didn’t do discounts at shows? It’s possible that people would be less likely to ask for a “deal”.

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