Selling Stuff

From time to time people will look at some of my marquetry work and say something like, “You could sell these.”  Yes I could, but I don’t.  I have thought from time to time of doing some kind of home based part time business.  Now that I no longer work for a big company, the thought occurs more often than is healthy.

First, it’s a full time job to have a part time business.  It’s a lot of work to run a business and many parts of it aren’t fun.  Like the taxes. If you make enough profits to put into a bank, well, the IRS is going to notice and want their cut.  Or more correctly, the state, the city, maybe county and my CPA will all have an interest in and want a cut of whatever little money I might make.  There is also the amount of time spent on the business side that takes away from the fun side of making things.

Second, customers can be a pain in the rear.  Okay, I could have used other words rather than ‘rear’, but let’s keep things family oriented for the moment.  I use to work in customer service and did enough sales work to know.  Once I was the general manager of a test lab and was responsible for the sales department.  I had many customers who continuously asked me to sell my services below cost or would make all kinds of interesting demands – like just mark everything as “test passed” without actually testing the stuff.  Maybe it would be different selling bandsaw boxes, but the thought of driving to the UPS store twice a week to ship stuff out and then keep track of all that doesn’t thrill me.

Third, profit.  In general most wood objects I could make, boxes, trays, clocks, pictures, puzzles, etc would never sell for enough money to make a profit.  For example take this fancy clock I made last year:

Marquetry clock – marquetry on white oak about 10 inches tall.

Now think of how much you’d be willing to pay for it.  I’d expect that most people would say somewhere between $20 and $100.  The cost of materials was about $15, but I spent nearly 15 hours making the thing.  Then I’d still have to account for the overhead of my shop: tools, electricity, rent, and so on.  The tools I used to make this clock would cost you around $2,500 for the saws, sanders, drills, knifes, clamps, etc.

To make a real profit – that is to pay for electricity, wear and tear on tools, and my time I’d have to charge closer to $400 for that clock.  I suspect I’d get no buyers.

Fourth is the actual sales process.  There aren’t many outlets for selling clocks or boxes.  Craft fairs or art and wine festivals can be expensive and time consuming, plus you need a large stock of things to sell, which I don’t have (and in this time of covid, they aren’t running at the moment).  There are on-line things like Etsy and it’s many competitors but again, it’s a lot of time to make sales on those platforms.  I’ve looked into and most advice about selling on Etsy is how to rise above the noise of a million or so other people trying to sell stuff.

The art of selling things and making a profit is more complex than, “Wow! this looks great!”  You have to find a way to reduce costs, time in manufacture, and have viable sales channels.

Honestly, I’d rather have a root canal.

I like to make art. I love to build things, I enjoy writing and telling stories, but take those activities and try to earn an income from them means changing the way I work – the way I create art or build things.

It’s a problem all artists face – do we work to please others so they’ll give us money or do we follow our own ideals and not concern ourselves with whether others value our work or not.

At this moment, I don’t need money to create my art and I feel the need to create a body of work that pleases me and that I am interested in doing.  If others find that work interesting or valuable, I’d be pleased.

But, it is the act of creating that interests me at the moment.  I have some ideas and projects in mind that I am working on.

Of course, once created I’ll share those projects here or maybe I’ll start a YouTube channel …

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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24 Responses to Selling Stuff

  1. Mira says:

    You cracked me up with “I’d rather have a root canal.” You are soooo right about it being a full time job for a part time business. Art Business is an artform of its own.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You can’t put a price on enjoyment Andrew. Your clock is beautifully crafted but I’m sure the last thing you’d want is to have to make another ten to a deadline!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s the eternal ‘Artist’s Dilemma’, isn’t it? You can’t charge enough to cover the cost of your time, which is okay as long as you love what you’re doing; but if you have to do enough to cover the costs of doing business, will you still love what you’re doing? Tough choice…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a difficult one. There are guys in my woodworking club who love to find a design and just keep making over and over. They love the process of manufacturing and just using the tools. Then there are people like me who always want to be doing something different. I get both sides and flop back and forth on where I am on that, but mostly I like the challenge of doing one and done things.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, your work is beautiful but I totally get your point about selling it. My sister makes exquisite jewelry and has tried craft shows, etc. She didn’t make much profit at all, especially considering the time she puts into each piece. So now she just sells occasionally to family and friends. But she continues making her jewelry because she loves creating it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s difficult to earn much on handcrafts these days. There is so much competition from manufactured goods. A couple of decades ago a friend and I sat down to see about creating a custom furniture company. After a lot of research we discovered that it’s a hard way to make a living and I’d earn a lot more as an engineer. Rents and materials costs have risen so high since than that I wouldn’t even consider it.

      Like

  5. mitchteemley says:

    Good line, Andrew, but we know you bang out 10 of these an hour. I’ll give ya $20, take it or leave it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave says:

    Your post gives me a better understanding of my best friend’s father-in-law, who spends his retirement in his basement doing woodwork. Like you he produces beautiful pieces and has sold exactly zero. His house is overflowing with his finished products. The satisfaction of your talent clearly outweighs the effort to make it into a profitable business. Good for you!

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    • I know a lot of folk like that – sometimes it’s hard to even give away the stuff we make. For guys like him and me, it’s the act of creating that is the satisfaction. Doing it as a business really changes that and honestly, a lot of us creative types are really bad sales people.

      and for the record, my wife has said I can’t make anymore clocks for awhile – apparently I’ve already made enough for every room in the house … 😉

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  7. Christi says:

    You make great points. My dad used to sell some of the furniture he made from scrap lumber at a flea market in Phoenix. I believe there was a reason all the transactions were in cash.
    I did a couple craft sales when we lived in Iowa and jobs were hard to come by. I think I would have enjoyed it if it wasn’t for the customers. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve thought about doing the flea market thing back in San Jose, but with land getting so expensive there, the flea markets tarted getting forced out or started charging way too much money. It’s also not really the way I work – I rarely make more than one of a design. I’d have to start doing batch work and make more to have inventory to sell.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christi says:

        Yep, that’s what he was doing – batches of the same design. That’s what drove me nuts selling crafts. I didn’t like making 20 items of the same design. Too much like work!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Efrona Mor says:

    Very good analysis! The clocks are indeed beautiful.. I have the same issue with art. I sketch and people say it all the time, “Sell those.” Seriously I’d have to sell each sketch for $150 minimum for the small basics.. So I hear you, my friend. The world is not for the craftsman anymore and that’s a shame.. but happy clock making..

    Liked by 1 person

    • My wife does oil and water color paintings and we’ve had the same thing there. She’s put a couple into charity auctions to support them, but rarely do they get any near what they are worth in time or materials. Mostly it’s the time that is the big expense.

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  9. Baydreamer says:

    Well said, Andrew. Just enjoy what you create and if you share publicly and others enjoy your work, too, then that’s worth more than trying to sell and make a profit.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. These are the reasons why we do craft sales. I can make what I want, if I want to take orders ok then they can be picky. I bring only what I want to sell and that money helps buying more materials to make more. Love your work.

    Liked by 1 person

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