My Studio Isn't a Sweatshop

by Donald Clark

Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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How can you politely explain to a gallery/shop owner that handmade art takes time? For example, 15 new, customized pieces cannot be produced and delivered in three days! I have had this happen several times recently, and I blame the new era of ''instant gratification'' and fear that it is trickling into the handmade realm. The business side wishes I could comply, but the artist in me considers it insulting.
- Donovan Halpert

In a perfect world every gallery/shop owner would be or have been a crafts person. Alas, we live in an imperfect world. Yes, this may be part of a new era where ''it's all about me'' and ''I want it now'' seem to be common themes. However, the production and delivery example you cite most likely wouldn't fly even in the mass-produced world. You need to help these people get a handle on reality and an understanding of the handmade process.

You could start by pointing out that one of the major attractions to handmade items is their uniqueness which comes from the way they're produced, one at a time, by hand. They need to know your process is time consuming. Now, let's get specific to your business and let's assume these requests are coming from existing customers. Did you give them any information about your process? Do you have a terms and production guidelines sheet? If not, it's time to make them and have an educational conversation with the buyer.

Be nice; on the one hand you don't want to lose them as a customer but, on the other you need to be clear about why you're in this business and why a craftsperson can't mass produce things overnight. Let the buyer(s) know you'd be happy to work with them on custom orders in the future, given the proper amount of time to complete the job.
Art Factory

Developing a clear statement of procedures to be followed when custom orders or commissions are undertaken is an essential tool in ensuring the success with these types of projects. Before the work begins, a contract needs to be signed, approving the design of the item, spelling out the production timeline, and outlining the payment schedule for all custom work. I highly recommend that you require a down payment before you initiate production, request another payment at a point where the work can be seen and approved by the buyer, and the final payment upon delivery.

Clarity is the most important component in any undertaking. You can't satisfy this particular customer this time; just be sure you don't get into this position again by being very clear about what a buyer can expect from you.


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