by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

How much should I lower my prices of sale/clearance/discontinued jewelry items? Should I worry about making much of a profit or is it common to decrease prices just to move the inventory? I am always annoyed when I shop and things are marked as ''clearance'' and are barely marked down. How do I decide between the extra money and the extra space?--Polly Hudson, Jacksonville, Fla.

Desperate retailers have taught consumers (including you) to shop ''off price.'' The practice of offering goods at prices just above wholesale generates cash flow and moves inventory, but does little for the bottom line.

You don't sound desperate, so I'd urge you to take care that your customers don't get into the off-price habit. However, it is smart to turn dated or unsuccessful designs back into cash so that you can purchase supplies and create more inventory. The trick is how to do this without compromising your price structure.

Perhaps the best of the not-so-best can be offered at a studio/seconds sale around the holidays with prices perhaps 20 to 30 percent off. Instead of giving discounts larger than that, try to find a more anonymous outlet for pieces that need deeper discounts.

For instance, you could donate them to a charity auction where they will disappear among the many items offered and you either get a part of the sale price or a tax credit. Or look for craft schools that have fund-raising sales that pay the donor a percentage of the sale price (again, these usually take place at holiday time). As you work through this decision, keep in mind the brand you have built and avoid doing anything that might compromise that. And unfortunately, this may mean some items end up in the scrap bin.

How to Decide Between Shows
I'm finalizing my show plans for next year, and there are two shows I can't decide between. One is about 30 minutes away and the other is six hours away. However, the one that is closer has higher exhibitor fees, so I think the difference in expenses will be minimal. Are there any benefits to doing the show that is farther away? The only reason I can think of is that I might be able to sell my pottery in a larger area.--Bryan Regis, Austin, Texas

Of course it makes sense to make decisions that will allow you to sell your pottery to a larger market. Let's remember that we are now living with the new normal--going forward, the craft artists who are totally on top of their marketing plans are the ones who will have profitable businesses and be able to spend their lives doing what they love.

So let's take a closer look at the ramifications of the two options you are deliberating. First off, have you done the local show before? If so, you have two important pieces of information. You have firsthand demographic information as well as sales information (your own for sure) and a sense about sales throughout the show. Was the show profitable? This would mean you had money left after paying for the goods you sold as well as all expenses (including booth fees, travel, lodging, food, any extra help and payment to you for the preshow planning and promotion time as well as the time you were out of the studio).

Use the same formula to project the numbers for the new show and then compare the two and decide which one would be better for your career and bank account.

If both shows are new to you, make an expense sheet for each including the items mentioned above. With this information, you can get a good sense of what you'd have to sell at each of the shows to break even and then to make money.

Now get on the phone and talk to the promoters of each show. You could do this online, however, I feel there are some things that are better understood when you hear the tone of voice and can move the conversation along smoothly. Ask about the demographics for each show. Often promoters request that their exhibitors report sales, so try to find out average sales for your medium.

Remember, just because a show has large attendance numbers doesn't mean they are buying the products you make. Each show has a different slant and people come for that reason--if you're not part of the slant, you may not do well.

Lastly, my hard-and-fast rule is that a craftsperson should never do a show without talking to three people who have. It's the best way to get clear, honest information.

People Who Take Advantage of Free Products
A few months ago, I attended an outdoor arts and crafts festival in a nearby town. While there, I observed a few people (who I think arrived together and then separated) going from booth to booth, asking for samples. After seeing them collect a few soaps, incense and such, I lost track of them. Should I have told the show staff or warned exhibitors? They clearly weren't out to buy and were just taking advantage of the craftspeople's hard work. Or maybe it isn't any of my business?

Without knowing the intent of the ''collectors,'' it's hard to know for sure whether this group was taking advantage of exhibitors. Perhaps they were from a local group gathering things for a charity auction. Or maybe they were from a catalog company gathering items for consideration. Let's assume they were none of the above and were talking advantage of hardworking craftspeople. What should you do? This is an ethical issue, as you saw something improper happening to others. Is it appropriate to step in, and if so, what form should your participation take?

First, I would talk with the craftspeople involved and get their side of the story. Next, decide the most appropriate way to bring this to the attention of the show management. Is it best coming from the exhibitors involved or would it be better coming from a neutral third party? Whatever the decision, it won't help the people who were already taken advantage of, but will let the promoters know they need to be aware of what's happening in the booths at their show and potentially protect the rest of the exhibitors.