The True Cost of Craftsmanship
In late November last year, I was working on getting a woodworking business going to complement my freelance writing and photography career, when a friend of mine ordered a couple of items for his parents – a charcuterie board made of apple wood, and a set of six coasters. I took the tray and coasters to a local courier company to get delivered in time for the holidays, and I was packaging the board for shipment when the store owner took a shining to it.
He loved the rich colour and the smooth texture of the wood, and mentioned he was looking for Christmas gifts for about 30 of his best clients as a way to thank them for their business over the year. I told him I could make a whole whack of these trays for him, but they’d cost about $30 each and I’d struggle to get them ready in time for Christmas, but I could certainly try.
He said he wasn’t really interested in the trays, but he liked my craftsmanship and asked what else I could make for him – ideally with his store logo and contact information engraved or stamped onto it. He was thinking of something small that could sit on a desk, such as coasters or a business card holder, and he wanted them stained grey to give them a weathered look.
That was a whole new challenge, as I don’t have a stamping or engraving machine, but I decided I could paint the information on thanks to a vinyl printer I had recently purchased that could print virtually any logo as a stencil.
I told him I’d consider his request and look into what I could do. I contacted a local engraving service and realized that approach was out of my price range. I decided to pitch the idea of a set of wooden coasters with the logo and his information painted on.
I returned to his store with some sample designs of coasters I’d already made out of hardwoods like maple and oak, and said I could make him a set of six coasters for about $20 as a test run.
He shook his head no.
“I know what things cost. I can get it from China if I have to,” he said. “You have to give me a lower price.” I looked at him for a moment, bit my tongue, and asked for a day or two so I could further consider my options.
I went back to the lumber yard and priced out the cheapest wood I could find, pine, and figured I could do it for about $10 per set and still make a little bit of money. I told my wife and my father about my idea, but they both discouraged me from even starting the project, given his attitude toward buying something from China instead.
It made me realize that despite the push in recent years for more handmade, custom items in the marketplace, there’s always going to be people looking to save a few bucks rather than supporting local crafters.