Craftspeople, practical trades and how we value them

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  • Craftspeople, practical trades and how we value them
  • Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    Something @Bunnyhop said in the HebTroCo thread struck a chord with me having spent the last year and a bit self-employed, trying to make a living from my craft.

    Bunnyhop said…

    Yes it’s the same old problem for the few of us that manufacture or make stuff in the U.K.

    It takes time to make bespoke items. Wages in the UK are higher as are stock prices.
    Often on STW you lot are aghast at the price of made to measure curtains (which is what I do for a living). Believe me after making a pair I am often earning less than the national living wage. I can only make things work if people buy the linings or the poles and tracks I can provide to make up the money.
    I am proud to say the curtains, cushions and Roman blinds I make last years and years. There in itself is another problem, meaning a customer may not return for quite a few years. Luckily I have many customers.

    If you want quality products, made by skilled people, Made in Britain, then there is a price to pay.

    I for one am willing to support our economy, support the many small business people (who work very hard) and I think it’s money well spent.

    It’s all very true. I’m a cabinetmaker, making bespoke furniture, fitted, freestanding or whatever, but I’ve had many experiences of people not really being realistic about what is involved in that recently.

    My method is normally to go and meet the client in their home, chat about all the things they might be looking for, discuss options, materials, design ideas, integrating things into existing fixtures etc, etc, etc. I then will normally go away and work on designs which I do several versions of, all drawn up and rendered to mimic the space where things are going before sending these back to the (potential) client for their reactions, likes and dislikes and any thoughts generally, usually then I will go back and tweak things to their ideal and then prepare some ballpark figures after researching all materials, fixtures and fittings and hardware and of course the time involved for me to make and install whatever it is.

    All of this takes a lot of time and it’s time I cannot really charge for up front. I can’t really ask someone to pay me to design something they may not really like after all.

    Because of this, I guess my rates reflect a certain amount of ‘back-ending’ these costs to cover the significant time it takes me.

    Everything I do is bespoke, and yet I still get folks asking me to work for less, or more often saying that it’s currently out of their budget.

    Obviously I’ve now realised that I need to be more upfront with potential costs (however it’s very difficult to know with completely bespoke items until you really draw things up and get into the complexity of making it) and I’m thinking that my website needs a few examples of pricing for different jobs to give a rough idea.

    Anyway, all my little gripes and my to-do list aside, I feel that, as Bunnyhop alludes to, there is a general under valuing of practical trades in this country certainly, likely across the world.

    When I worked out my optimum day rate, I did it mainly off the advice of others, personally or on YouTube. My rate has to cover all my business overheads and leave me with a reasonable wage but you cannot be 100% productive 8 hours a day, 5 days a week or whatever like in regular employment so you’ve got to cover a bit of down time and also necessary admin time etc.

    This was a good video I used for working things out.

    In that video, the amount he suggests you need to be charging as a minimum to earn a little more than his example of someone working in McDonald’s, is actually still more than I charge, and that’s because I just feel like the market will not bear it and I feel almost embarrassed to be asking for what really, is fair exchange.

    Why do I feel like this as a woodworker/craftsperson?

    Comparing myself briefly with other industries off the top of my head. Let’s say I wanted to go and have a massage for an hour. That’s going to be what, about £60-£80 for the hour? If I take my car to a garage then I’m probably looking at something similar, maybe higher. If I get some IT work done then, I don’t know…a lot though probably. If I go to a solicitor, then 😳

    So this has turned into a bit of a long waffle but why is there such a disparity of value attached to the things that we do?

    Let’s take that massage therapist again briefly. They’ve done lots of training, got diplomas etc, got a nice bed and some essential oils and a white coat, and then they charge £60 or whatever an hour.

    Then the only example I know well, myself. Two years City and guilds training, 3 year degree, many years working with other makers building my craft, many thousands of pounds worth of hand and power tools, a rented workshop and a van, and yet I struggle to charge £30 an hour. In fact I’ve never charged that much.

    So, why is it so hard to earn a decent wage as a craftsperson? There’s a few self employed folks on here. What’s your take and strategy?.

    Ps, sorry for the long rantette. 😀 👊

    Premier Icon Dickyboy
    Subscriber

    All depends on your competition and size of market I guess, there is so much cheap tatt available and most people don’t have cash to splash out on quality, also comparing your hourly rate (when it takes many hours to produce a piece of bespoke furniture) against a 30 or 60 minute massage hourly rate takes a lot more commitment from your customers to spend their money. Also, you are competing against hobbiests doing there own thing.

    stumpy01
    Member

    I agree. I think the ‘issue’ or mental sticking point that joe bloggs would have when wanting a new item of furniture, for example, is that there is such a massive range of mass manufactured stuff that covers virtually every budget, it is hard to justify the extra cost of something bespoke.

    There’s also a general lack of appreciation of all the tasks & work that go into making something bespoke & ‘unique’ compared to something mass-produced.

    You see it with photography – perhaps wedding photography the most. What a rip-off, I’m not spending £500 on a wedding photographer. My mate John has got a DSLR & takes decent pics; I’ll just get him to do it.
    Does your mate have an assistant, back-up kit, insurance, multiple back-up systems for your images, years of training & experience, knowledge of the venue to get the best shots, how will he handle inclement weather or poor lighting situations etc….?
    A friend of mine did that for his wedding, getting his sister to do the pics. He’s happy with them, but they are decidedly average at best. And the album he ended up with, is a Photobox photobook that does the job, but isn’t exactly a special memory of the day.

    I’ve seen the same with 3-D printing. Take this exchange here, for example…

    “He’s Going To Destroy My Business”: 3D Printer Business Owner Shares Conversation With Customer From Hell

    twinw4ll
    Member

    Because folk who work with their hands are seen as second class citizens, to get on in life you need a bullshit certificate of some kind. I was employed as a jeweller/model maker for 25 years and often wowed people with my skills, but was poorly paid compared to folk with baffling seemingly made up jobs.
    I feel your pain.

    Make beautiful, one of a kind, legendary swords.
    Use them to hold up carriages on the highway and protect yourself from the city watch.
    Profit.

    Premier Icon jimdubleyou
    Subscriber

    @Kayak23 – where do you work?

    I need somebody to build a bit of furniture for a weird spot…

    SW London…

    I’m in the print trade – all we do is click print and it pops out the machine ready done.

    As for colouring-in costs people look at you aghast when when say there’s a charge for it! 🙂

    Premier Icon beej
    Subscriber

    The available market for handmade/custom goods shrinks the more the goods cost. The challenge is to find the people willing to pay for the benefit over less expensive options.

    Take a piece of bespoke furniture, using your example. I can absolutely understand how something designed for the customer and completely unique, handmade and finished to an incredible standard could cost £10K+. However, how may people would place an appropriate value on those benefits over a table bought from Oak Furniture Land? They both keep stuff off the floor just as well.

    In a way you’re selling art, not furniture, and art is worth what people will pay.

    TiRed
    Member

    Everything is Economics. Your competition is not other bespoke producers of fine furniture, it’s mass-produced (much cheaper) furniture that may not be as suitable or as nicely crafted – but will still, say, store books. AS said, you are selling art.

    I have a skill. It’s very rare, and took tens of thousands of hours of study and practice to acquire. You can only buy it from a few suppliers who’s hourly rate would make solicitors and barristers look cheap. I’m currently employed by a company that want to keep that skill in-house. One day that may change.

    Buying nice hand-made stuff is really a conscious decision now, whereas fifty years ago it was the norm. See bicycles – everyone would go to their own framemaker for a frame that suited their needs. It really is the same thing. Don’t apologise for being expensive. Charge what you are worth because you WILL NOT be able to compete with the bottom.

    keir
    Member

    However, how may people would place an appropriate value on those benefits over a table bought from Oak Furniture Land? They both keep stuff off the floor just as well.

    and with furniture being much more subject to fashion than in the past, many people will think buying something that’s good enough to last long enough until it goes out of fashion is the way forward

    Is the majority of your work with domestic or commercial customers?

    With the bespoke design and quality you offer you should really be focusing on the customers that’s value your skills. Commercial will enable you to charge for the design and consultation process

    Premier Icon cb
    Subscriber

    I think part of this (from a buyer rather than trade perspective) is not really knowing what the results will be! I would pay more when I have confidence in the trades person.

    Some of the more ‘basic’ trades – painting/plastering etc. I have a plasterer that I know (came from a recommendation off here) and I barely look at his quotes now. I know he is fair with pricing rather than cheap and I also know that he will do a great job – that removes any doubt/stress I might have about the end result and paying a bit more is a no brainer.

    I’ve had cheap painters over the years and they have done an ‘OK’ job. A recommendation from the plasterer above has led to a quote from a new guy, his price made me check for typos! However, I’m told by someone that I trust that he’s good, I’ve now met him and was impressed with the level of detail/questions in his approach and I’ll be going with him.

    Its about reducing risk of the unknown. OP – your idea of some typical jobs with rough pricing is a good idea for your website but maybe you also suffer in that your work is long term? Everybody employs painters, not so much cabinet makers? You need to do all you can to take stress away from the buyer (in terms of quality assurance).

    Premier Icon pocpoc
    Subscriber

    also comparing your hourly rate (when it takes many hours to produce a piece of bespoke furniture) against a 30 or 60 minute massage hourly rate takes a lot more commitment from your customers to spend their money

    This is a good example. I can afford to treat my wife to a massage as a present/treat. I can not afford to buy fitted wardrobe for our bedroom. But that is the difference between £40 and a few thousand.

    My wife has tried various home-made craft selling things over the last few years. None of them have ever made any profit. By the time you factor in a bit of stock loss for breakages/out of date product then the profit margins are so slim that if you were to work out an hourly rate from the time it takes to make the product up then it’s down to £1-£2 per hour. It’s all driven by what people are prepared to pay for things which is in turn driven by the like of Etsy and sellers competing with each other to be the stand-out product in a marketplace of similar products. Why should someone chose your product for £10 when someone else is selling something similar for £8?
    I can not imagine that anyone selling on the likes of Etsy ever makes enough from it to use it as a primary source of income. And craft fairs / summer fetes are the same thing, except you can see the depressed and fed-up faces of the sellers as they pay £20 for their stall out of the £25 profit they made for standing in a freezing cold village hall all day.

    Premier Icon uniqueusername
    Subscriber

    I imagine there is also something in the understanding of the per hour rate charged vs the per hour rate received as pay. Your hypothetical masseuse is charging 60 per hour, I guess many would reason “I’m not being payed 60 per hour they can jog on they must be raking it in”. As a not self employed person have no idea how much per hour my employer charges for my time.

    Premier Icon Harry_the_Spider
    Subscriber

    As part of my job I estimate the cost of manufacture for components. The wages of the guy actually making the thing, the cost and depreciation of the equipment required to make the thing, the cost to heat and light the factory that houses the machines that make the thing, the cost of factory itself and the costs of those indirectly involved in sales, purchasing, engineering, accounts, shipping and so on.

    Taking “artisan trousers” (and I suspect Jane’s Curtains too) as an example, I’ve seen the amount of work that goes into them and they weren’t run off in a couple of minutes. If the RRP was £30 then somebody is telling fibs. They would be mass produced, made of lower spec materials, made by somebody earning next to nothing, or all three. So, £125 for something of a good quality hand made in the UK is relatively cheap.

    You very much get what you pay for. There’s nothing wrong with buying cheap, but don’t kid yourself about its quality or provenance.

    wrightyson
    Member

    Some of the more ‘basic’ trades – painting/plastering etc

    Bit of a harsh comment. There are plasterers and good plasterers, there is nothing basic about any of the finishing trades. You’ve openly admitted that regarding the decorator, the old adage of “if you can piss you can paint” does not cut it with high end finishes.

    Tight arse QS’ are the main crux of the construction industry and that’s why mass builds wind up with such shoddy finishes at times.

    Premier Icon stevied
    Subscriber

    Had this recently with the 3D CNC’s sculpture I did of the Malvern Hills. Someone contacted me for the price of one and when I told them they thought I was joking.
    £35/hour for the machine use, £40 materials plus my time to program etc..
    They thought it would be about £50 🤣🤣

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Subscriber

    My dad did a similar thing to you OP, but usually as a part of wider home rennovations.

    Once he’d developed a good reputation he was never short of work and never had to advertise, but charged realistic rather than “aspirational” prices IYKWIM.

    If your work is a bit more niche-y, do you need to focus more on marketing and perhaps on managing expectations around pricing? (I see you did suggest that actually)

    Put your Instagram on here so we can see what you do?

    Tight arse QS’ are the main crux of the construction industry and that’s why mass builds wind up with such shoddy finishes at times.

    That comment is coming out of your final account. 😉

    DrJ
    Member

    On the other hand, once upon a time I was a university lecturer. I was chatting to a guy tiling my bathroom and in the course of conversation I told him how much I earned. He was astonished – told me I needed a kick up the arse to work for so little. And then he drove off in a brand new sports car, leaving me with my old Clio.

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    @Kayak23 – where do you work?

    I need somebody to build a bit of furniture for a weird spot…

    SW London…

    Cheers. This wasn’t meant to be a stealth ad in any way but that said, I’m in the Midlands so probably a bit of a stretch for SW London. 👍

    Is the majority of your work with domestic or commercial customers?

    With the bespoke design and quality you offer you should really be focusing on the customers that’s value your skills. Commercial will enable you to charge for the design and consultation process

    Yes, really this is the direction that I’d like to head in. I’ve been going since August 2018 and haven’t advertised yet so it’s all on recommendations so far which is good. However, I think to move towards that market I need to do more proactively to get it.

    I think that the ponderings/frustrations I’ve been having are not just about my own area. All sorts of people with craft skills are sadly struggling to use their skills because the return isn’t sustainable. The craft show example up there is exactly it!

    I’ve done a few exhibitions, had great feedback and sold several things, but really the time I need to devote to that just makes it not worth it, and someone invariably asks if they could have the item but a bit taller, or narrower or in a different wood, but for the same price as you’re selling the batch-produced ones you have on show… 😐

    Anyway, I’m getting there. It’s a big learning curve but I was interested to hear from other people with practical careers and experience.

    Put your Instagram on here so we can see what you do?

    I’m an annoying regular in the ‘What’s the last thing you made’ thread where you can see some bits, but otherwise, and this is not a stealth ad 😂 Google blackteaonesugar or search on insta for the same.

    footflaps
    Member

    I’ve had lots of bespoke furniture made, but the guy only charged about £10/hour (was 10+ years ago), which wasn’t much back then. I guess the market for custom furniture at £30+ per hour is quite niche, not sure I would have paid that back then. Lovely chap, vanished of the face of the planet though, otherwise I’d have bought more from him.

    mefty
    Member

    The immediate thing that occurs to me when reading your initial post is that your pitch costs are too high, I may have missed something but it sounds as if you doing a lot of design work for jobs you don’t get so this is what you should address. You need to improve your ability of ascertaining what your potential client wants more quickly so you can work out whether it is worth investing your time in. An underappreciated business skill is the ability to say no quickly.

    Premier Icon MoreCashThanDash
    Subscriber

    Interesting point re furniture and fashion. We are doing up our downstairs rooms, and want a carpet that will last us 20 years like the last one has. The carpet estimator seemed genuinely surprised that we wanted long lasting quality and had no plans to change the entire colour scheme in 5 years time.

    £1k now to last 20 years, or £500 every five years….depends on your priorities I guess.

    I’d start looking to get in with interior designers kayak. Generally, they’ll be working for people with ££ to spend but without the time to deal with you directly. Yes, you lose the direct contact with the customer which can feel a bit crap but some designers do have good ideas – often impractical but they’ll be an excellent bridge between you and the client.

    Invariably they’re jumped up pains in the arses and you have to be well versed in engaging in conversations where the amount of bullshit sprayed around is enormous but keep in mind that they’ll often be sticking 5-10% onto your rate so they’ll be annoyed if you’re not charging enough.

    Once word gets around between them all about how amazing you are, they’ll beat a path to your door.

    plumber
    Member

    Tight arse QS’ are the main crux of the construction industry and that’s why mass builds wind up with such shoddy finishes at times.

    As a career QS I totally understand your point of view. I will say however that is their job to produce shitty buildings at the behest of whomever is paying the bill.

    I do find most QS’s have a massive ego and want people to fail but there again a principle contractor/subbie should be capable of fighting back or employ someone who is

    MrSmith
    Member

    I imagine there is also something in the understanding of the per hour rate charged vs the per hour rate received as pay. Your hypothetical masseuse is charging 60 per hour, I guess many would reason “I’m not being payed 60 per hour they can jog on they must be raking it in”. As a not self employed person have no idea how much per hour my employer charges for my time.

    this is a big issue when you deal with the general public, they are often salaried and have no idea what it costs to run a business, they also often don’t realise the difference between being ‘freelance’ and running business either. (my girlfriend is a freelance art director so she buys a creative cloud subscription and a laptop every 4 years. i run a photography business and the running costs are 5-6x higher even she doesn’t really see the difference!)

    businesses don’t often flinch at day rates that would have joe publics jaw hit the floor (i’m sure thats the same in all businesses), it’s only the start-ups looking for the best quality work who look surprised when you tell them your rates.
    Quality costs money and if the pool of available talent to produce that level of work is small then rates should reflect that.

    some skills are just under appreciated like jewellery/silversmithing.

    Then the only example I know well, myself. Two years City and guilds training, 3 year degree, many years working with other makers building my craft, many thousands of pounds worth of hand and power tools, a rented workshop and a van, and yet I struggle to charge £30 an hour. In fact I’ve never charged that much.

    thats not enough! but i guess you know that already.
    its whether making the leap to charging higher rates and perhaps working a little less but making a little more is something you can try without harming the business.

    i have seen this with other makers/craftspeople where they become the go-to cheap guy who does solid work and is always busy or they can be the one who charges top money but is worth paying for so never without work.

    Premier Icon bedmaker
    Subscriber

    What deadlydarcy just said ^

    I had my first experience of working for a fancy pants London design house earlier this year, for the very bluest of blue chip companies.
    In chatting to the manager of the hotel where the work was happening when I went for a look, the figures getting bandied about were utterly ludicrous.
    I stuck in a price which was suitably daft and got the work.
    These guys are in another world to most of us.

    I got lucky there though, it fell in my lap.
    If I was further South, I’d be thinking of ways to actively chase work from these sorts though.
    Could comfortably work one month of the year at those rates!

    scotroutes
    Member

    This could as well relate to many retail outlets, including bike shops. “Qualifying” the genuine customers from the tyre-kickers is important, or you just waste time on the wrong folk. If you have an album of previous work, with final costs, use that up-front to drive away those who will suck your time for no payback.

    I’ve paid for bespoke furniture (to match some existing pieces). I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap but I also enjoyed the process of selecting wood, dyes etc.

    I have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.

    As a serious post, I think people in general have simply become so used to mass market ‘bash em out by the million’ type tat that they categorically fail to comprehend the amount of work that goes into a bespoke hand made thing, there is just no frame of reference for them to go from.

    All that said, I’m not buying artisan trousers.

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    I’ve paid for bespoke furniture (to match some existing pieces). I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap but I also enjoyed the process of selecting wood, dyes etc.

    Exactly. That’s what it’s all about and there are a few people who appreciate that and really enjoy the whole commissioning process and getting exactly what they want.

    I’ve had lots of bespoke furniture made, but the guy only charged about £10/hour (was 10+ years ago)….Lovely chap, vanished of the face of the planet though, otherwise I’d have bought more from him.

    Probably died of starvation! 😂😉

    Bunnyhop
    Member

    Kayak23 – Thanks so much for bringing up this subject.

    DD is correct. If you can get on board with some interior designers (which Is what I do) then you’ll have regular work. Also as he said you will get used to the way they work (which is unbelievable in some cases).

    As you, I was often going out in the evenings after a full days work and measuring customers homes. Giving out estimates, tweeking their needs and then, surprise, surprise, you get ‘Ooh I didn’t want to spend that much’ or, hear nothing at all.

    In my many years I’ve built up a regular base of customers and now only work for them or recommendations, thus weeding out the time wasters.
    I am properly trained and don’t just do this from home for pin money or something to do. It’s my job, my living and luckily something I love.

    Give it time and you will start to get used to the time wasters, the customers who have no idea what is involved. Then, you can be a little more selective and hopefully get paid what you should be paid for time involved and costs.

    I have seen all the things you put up on the ‘what’s the latest thing you’ve made thread’. Your workmanship is fabulous. Good luck and keep going.

    brownsauce
    Member

    The worst thing you can do as a self-employed tradesman is work directly to the public – they know the price of everything & the value of nothing.

    And if you must , then at least try and build a small portfolio of “high end” clients whom happily pay extra for a quality service – trying to earn a living from your average joe bloggs in his office job whom spends all day researching on the internet , squeezing every penny out of your labour & materials estimates is just a tedious suckfest.

    been there , got the t-shirt , moved on

    my current business plan is to be expensive as fk in the hope that those who aren’t put off initially from a high quote think ” ooh he must be top notch at those prices…”

    and I am.

    the rest of the budget barry’s looking for a bargain basement job can piss off , they’re usually shit payers anyway.

    Sui
    Member

    This is always a hard one. Having built my own house i see who does have a skill set that takes years to learn, vs those that are frankly blagging their way through life (roofers and scaffolders). I’ve ended up learinging a lot of stuff so i could save some money, but that’s generally on stuff you can’t see (bar tiling) so it doesn;t really matter how neat and lovely it looks. However it’s still really hard to fathom where £5K for a relatviely simple bespoke size (2m wide by 2.6m high – everything else boggo stnadard) wardrobe is dreamt up. It’s now got me thinking, sod it i’ll try myself – it may end in tears.

    don’t get me wrong, i see and fully appreciate what fine furniture makers are capable of, truely stunning from some peeps i know and i know it takes them months to make, but there never seems to be a diference between “standard/generic” vs proper special..

    footflaps
    Member

    my current business plan is to be expensive as fk in the hope that those who aren’t put off initially from a high quote think ” ooh he must be top notch at those prices…”

    We had a CEO who judged everybody by how much they were paid / charged, no matter how good / useless they were.

    bet they were popular

    brownsauce
    Member

    We had a CEO who judged everybody by how much they were paid / charged, no matter how good / useless they were.

    A common outlook from those continually preoccupied with money & their own personal wealth…..

    😉

    I have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.

    Yeah, whatever.

    I reckon I can get a perfectly good assassination for less on the internet.

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    Thanks Bunnyhop. Means a lot from another craftsperson 😊👊

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