Friday, August 6, 2010

To Bargain or Not to Bargain

The hubby and I were recently in Toronto. We had a lovely visit with relatives and then spent 2 ½ days exploring the city. One of my favorite stops was the newish distillery district. I dream of such places. Shops. Galleries. Restaurants. How can you beat that? With an art and craft festival!

The family perused tent after tent of mostly upscale goods. Jewelry. Painting. Wood. Pottery. What joy to be on vacation at an arts festival in a cool district in a great city. Then I was brought down by two ladies who thought it would be great fun to bargain on someone’s artwork.

We were all admiring the painted wood objects of a friendly female artist. Her booth was filled with handpainted bowls, framed monoprints, and other fun and functional wood-related objects. There were two women who had handpainted coasters in their hands. I believe they cost about $20 for four. Seemed very reasonable to me. Without talking to the woman about her crafts, or making any other small talk, one walked up to the artist and stated that she would give her $15 for the coasters. The artist politely declined. The woman then said another amount, going just a bit higher. The artist again declined, saying that they were already reasonably priced. The bargainer went up another level. The artist shared a bit of information on her complicated technique and stated she could not drop her price, but would waive the sales tax. Not good enough for the women, who then went up just a bit higher. I left the booth hearing the artist state that “NO”, she would not bargain for her work.

I’ve only done one festival show. I fear doing another. I would not be nearly as patient as the artist in this situation was.

So, if there are any art “consumers” out there reading this, here are some pointers for your next visit to an arts festival. Actually, one pointer.


I have had people do this to me when purchasing through the internet. It has worked successfully and unsuccessfully. I’ll tell you why.

One customer purchased five items at once. I offered her a small discount (5%). She drove several hours out of her way to pick up the pieces and meet me. She was given a small discount on her next purchase. In talking to this woman, I knew that she had a connection to my work. I also knew that she was not a rich woman and her hard-earned dollars were spent on my work. Several months later, I added an older piece on Ebay and was selling it at a discount. This piece had been sitting in my drawer for several years. She wrote and told me how much she and her daughter loved it. She wanted to buy it for her daughter who was going off to college but could not afford it. I was asking $125.00 and she asked to buy it for $75.00. Since I had a history with this woman who had bought more expensive pieces, I was not insulted. We agreed on a slightly higher price and the deal was done.

I have been asked buy people who have never purchased anything before to give then deep discounts. I tell them nicely that I won’t. If I’m contacted by someone who has purchased from me before, I will offer a small discount.

Generally, if you are buying several pieces at a time from an artist, they will offer a discount. If they don’t, I feel that the buyer can (politely) request a small discount. This has a better chance of working if the buyer requests a small discount or elimination of sales tax rather than stating the amount they are willing to pay, especially if that amount is nowhere near what the artist is asking.

My husband and I purchased a painting at the last Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. The artist had two pieces that I loved. We purchased one and left. The next day we came back to look at the other (wasn’t gonna happen, though). We were offered what would have amounted to a 15% discount on both pieces. We would have asked for a small discount if we had bought two, but the artist offered a substantial discount without being asked.

There is a jewelry artist I usually purchase something from each year. Often, I’ll purchase more than one piece at a time. Since I am a repeat customer, I am automatically offered a discount. I don’t go in expecting one, but each time it is a very nice surprise. I love her work and feel it is reasonably priced. I would buy it without a discount. I can’t imagine going into her booth and demanding a discount.

I wonder how those haggling ladies would like it if each time they went into work, their boss attempted to bargain with them:

“Good morning. I’ll give you 12 dollars an hour today instead of 16.”

“How about $12.50 an hour then?”

“I’ll give you 14 dollars an hour and no medical benefits today.”

“O.K. then, 15 dollars, but no breaks for coffee or lunch.”

And don’t even get me started on those folks who go into a booth, get information on how to make something and then tell the artist they’ll go home and make the same thing, but it will only cost them two dollars to make it.


paula said...

good one kim.
the worst part is haggling for a cheaper priced piece of art. i had someone want a discount on an $18 vase on etsy. she wanted to buy a few and asked for a discount. i dont mind people asking i guess but do not make me feel like i'm being difficult. like you said, you think it's so wanna go walk around a scrap yard in 110 degree weather and lug home steel and spend a week to make a vase, be my guest.

Susan said...

I have never really thought about asking for a discount at an art festival, but I will do it at a flea market. What would really bug me if I would ever sell anything at a show, is someone coming up and saying that they could create what you made for a lot less.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Bravo, bravo!
So very well said.

Rita Vindedzis said...

OMG Kim you nailed this on the head. Thank you for speaking your mind!! I have done my share of art fairs and outdoor art shows and have no patience for them anymore. As artists we provide a service and a product. To these people that bargain at such a show I'd just like to say "would you say this to your dentist, doctor or lawyer?" That you'll only give them x amount for their services!! never!! I do believe in discounting for returning customers and I've even taken care of the taxes so as not to lose a sale, but I am so fed up with those that treat artists as flea market vendors. :-0

jason said...

Oh, sheesh...I'm too intimidated to even think of trying to "bargain"....with anyone.
I can't imagine anyone having the nerve.

But one day I do hope to be able to afford some bargaining involved.

Ellen said...

man that irks me. I sort of blame places like Home Sense and the entire Chinese `handmade in factories` market for the mentality of cheap arts and crafts. People who haggle and don`t get how insulting it is are people I woulndn`t want owning what I make honestly.