Biz Miss

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Business or Personal? January 22, 2009

Yesterday I went to see the owner of a local store, who commissioned some custom plush toy samples from me.  He wanted animal shapes that could be sewn out of designer fabrics he carries.  Though this store recently stopped carrying my Sweet Meats plush, I tried not to take it personally, but rather to see it as a new business opportunity.  Clearly, they hadn’t rejected me or my taste, just one of my product lines.

I took care to design what I thought were modern, iconic forms, that would fit in nicely with the rest of the store’s collection.  I also took care to make them quick to produce, in order to keep the cost down.  In the end, each toy comes out to about $15 wholesale.  Given that their other stuffed toys start around $30, I thought this would be reasonable, especially for exclusive, handmade originals by a local artist.  But the owner immediately started trying to talk me down.

I wasn’t sure if this was simply business or somewhat personal, but I couldn’t help feeling disrespected.  I wasn’t bidding for a contract, after all, I was filling a commission.  Why would he try to lowball me?  I can only guess that he doesn’t see my work as art, but rather as manufacturing, though that seems uncharacteristic of someone with a design education.  Maybe he just feels he needs to maximize profits at any opportunity, even if it means taking advantage of a less savvy business owner.  Either way, it was clear he didn’t see me a busy, professional person.  He told me to “go get a coffee” while he waited for his partner to come back and give me the fabric.

I didn’t wait around, and I stood firm on my price, which is hard to do in the current economy.  No one wants to risk losing work.  But if I don’t believe in the worth of my own skills, no one else will, and the job wasn’t worth it anyway if it was just a sweatshop job.

The owner ordered ten to start, so I feel mildly satisfied, but I’d still like to prevent situations like that from happening in the future.  After all, if people don’t respect you, it’s your job to make them.  Here are a few things I’ll do differently next time:

  • State my going hourly rate during the very first conversation.
  • State that I will charge for the time spent developing designs and preparing samples, whether or not any are ordered for production.
  • Provide an estimate for the time above.
  • Lay out a pay schedule that compensates me immediately upon receipt of the products.
  • Put everything in a written contract before I do a single hour of work on the project.
  • Create an online gallery of other plush designs I’ve done in order to legitimize and grow this part of my business.

Despite leaving with a bad taste in my mouth, I have no regrets, because I learned a great deal from this transaction.  I’m sure I’ll continue to make mistakes, but the more I refine my system, the less these business deals will have the potential to become personal.

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