Here's a novel approach to pricing handmade. Don't price it at all. Autumn Wiggins, owner of Upcycled Exchange Materials Market in St Louis, proves it's in fact a great way to run a business. I thought I'd pick her brains and get to the bottom of this unusual approach. She was kind enough to oblige.
What made you go with a pay-as-you-go business model versus the traditional one?
We have a couple restaurants in St. Louis that use this model successfully. It made sense in my scenario, since I’m not paying for the inventory. It saves me a lot of time and angst since I don’t have to tag and price things. I can handle running the store - sorting out stuff and taking care of customers by myself with time to spare for working on freelance websites and other projects.
Shock? Wonder? What were some initial reactions from the community?
People seem to love it! It’s a totally different shopping experience when you aren’t focused on getting a deal or stressing because what you need is expensive. Some have described it as the feeling of getting to treasure hunt in your grandma’s attic(as in, there’s all this neat stuff, and you can take anything you like), only instead of junk, it’s really well organized craft supplies. I try to make it feel more like a spa than an attic.
Let's say a business owner decides to go pay-as-you-wish. What are some rules or guidelines to keep in mind?
Having a suggested price is necessary, but the broader the better. I have one section by volume and another by weight. I am very dismissive of the suggested prices though. When I show new customers around, I emphasize that it’s totally up to them - I’m not going to measure or go through what they buy.
Presentation is everything. I like to think that I give our materials dignity just by having the shop in a beautiful space and making it very organized. You want to add value however you can, and visual perception is very important.
I have a rule of one purchase per person per day, only what you can carry out the door on your own(besides bulk sized items). Now, so far, no one has even come close to that limit. My intention with that rule is to make sure some smart ass that just wants to put me out of business can’t come rolling up to my door with a Uhaul.
You also have an online store with a subscription model for ordering supplies. That's brilliant, but also new concept. Do people get how it works?
The commodities idea is really in it’s infancy, and people don’t quite get it yet. I’ve been so busy just getting the shop open and all that, I haven’t had much of a chance to promote it, but I think it will evolve. If other people who start Upcycle programs had it in place from the get-go, it might be a little easier to integrate.
Too many artists tend to underprice because they believe that's how they'll move merchandise. Do you have any advice?
They probably have nothing to lose by trying a pay-as-you-wish setup in person and gauging what they should charge in their online shops from that. Back in my crafty hayday, a really nice lady paid twice my asking price for a sewn zipper pouch. She was very upfront about me not charging enough, but most people would never question your asking price. If you put the ball in their court though, they will be really open to assessing the value for themselves. You just have to give them permission to.
I would be terrified to have a pay-as-you-wish model at my Etsy store. Am I being paranoid?
I don’t think that’s even possible on Etsy, but what an interesting tangent. Someone should start a pay-as-you-wish handmade market. Although, I think it would work much better in person. The anonymity of the internet doesn’t lend well to this model. You could easily do it at any craft show, but keep in mind people do like a reference point. Simply saying “suggested price” on your tags might be a way to test the water.
Before money, bartering was huge. Now I hear about a lot of bartering (swaps) happening around the bay area. Should the treasury department be concerned?
In the immortal words of Bork, “Start your own currency!”
I think the treasury department is pretty concerned with Bitcoins right now, actually.
You know though, bartering evolved into money because it was inconvenient. I think we are still a long way off from bartering being universally convenient, but the internet is beginning to facilitate that.
You organize the Strange Folk Festival? Can you tell us what it is and what makes it unique?
It’s just a little ‘ol indie craft show I started 6 years ago! I guess the gnome with no legs is unique, but Strange Folk is in the suburbs, and it’s pretty eclectic compared to urban shows. We have a lot of kids activities on one end of the spectrum, and people in period costumes doing demos of blacksmithing and such on the other.
What are some other innovations is brewing in Autumn's mind?
I am really focused on open sourcing Upcycle as a franchise right now. That’s #1, but it does segue towards my interest in seeing crafters experiment more with open source concepts in general. I think there is a lot of needless angst right now within the handmade community over intellectual property, and I have a few ideas I’d like to experiment with in that realm.
Thank you Autumn, plenty of new thinking here and you may have just inspired a few stores in the East Bay to give 'Pay-as-you-wish' a try. Wish you best luck for all your future projects.
Upcycled Materials Market Exchange
3309 Meramec Street, St Louis
This post is part of a monthly series on the touchiest of all subjects, pricing! See you again in July.