Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Cost of a Cup

I was speaking to a customer at our sale on the weekend and was a bit taken aback by the comment that $10 for a cup is just too much because it is “just a cup”. Personally, I think $10 is a bargain. Let's say that I can make a simple cup (no handle) out of 200g of clay. This is the equivalent of .441 lbs. For arguments sake, let's say half a pound My clay costs about $26 for a 50lb box. So, the cost for the clay to make one cup is $0.26. The cost to glaze and fire this cup is based on the formula that the studio uses and it amounts to approximately $3. So, the absolute bare minimum that this cup would cost is $3.26. Nowhere in this figure is my time taken into account, or the overhead that I pay for using the studio space, the gas that it takes to get my work to the shows and galleries etc. I would say that to throw 1 cup takes me about 1 minute (not a production potter by any means). The trimming takes another 2 minutes, the glazing takes about 10 minutes and includes the waxing of feet, dusting of the pot, waiting for glaze to dry, wiping bottoms etc. So we are at 12 minutes for making and decorating (lets round to 15 minutes). The minimum wage is $9.75/hour in Alberta, so this would work out to $2.44 if I only put the same value on my work as that of a kid working in a fast food chain. The cost in materials and the making/decorating time (at the very least) is $5.70. The way I price my pots is based on the cost to fire and usually amounts to four times that cost, so in fact, the $10 cup, should be more like $12. So, when I have a conversation with a customer that thinks $10 for a cup is just too much because it is “just a cup”, I don't really know what to say. Don't get me started on matching sets. My personal belief is that sets should not be less per item than if you just bought one. So a set of six $10 cups should be no less than $60 and in my humble opinion, should cost a bit more. The effort to produce, by hand (not machine), a set of anything that perfectly matches is not simple. I can't blame the customer for thinking this though. We have been living in a world of mass production that has resulted in consumers that do not think about quality, only how cheap it is and can they get a better deal elsewhere. Pottery is functional, therefore it is not valued as a work of art by most people (unless they have tried to make it themselves and have an appreciation for the skill required).
Now, take that cup and add a handle. It is going to cost a wee bit more than $10. I generally charge in the area of $20 for a plain mug. The handle requires special attention, it is not just a strip of clay haphazardly squished into place. I pull my handles by hand, I don't extrude them, so this takes a little extra time and care. I then consider the mug and determine where it should be placed to have the right visual as well as functional balance. After attaching the handle, the mug is set aside to dry very slowly so that the handle remains an integral part of the mug and not a cracked mess. Do I consider the time it takes to dry these mugs under plastic for a week and then a few more days unwrapped to completely dry? Nope. If I am decorating my mugs, this will increase the cost a bit too. My black and white sgrafitto mugs take quite a bit of extra time.In fact, depending on the pattern, it can take upwards of an hour. I charge about $30 for one of these, so that means I am only getting $10/hour for that time. If I were to price my pots truthfully, they would be unaffordable and that is counter productive.

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