This was originally posted in the EBSQ Glass Forum (now viewable by the public!) by resident glass artist Dawn Thompson and I felt it was extremely appropos for Labour Day. If you’d like to weigh in on this conversation you can post a comment here or respond to Dawn directly in the EBSQ Glass Forum.
It’s tough out there folks! What strategies are you employing to compete?
The glass business is certainly not unique in being hard hit by China, but it has definitely been particularly hard hit, along with other labor intensive fine craft. The stained glass lamp business in the US is virtually non-existent, with the exception of repairs. In the span of 5 years, nearly every lamp maker in this country has been put out of business. Cheap Home Depot lighting has taken a product that was once considered to be truly a luxury item and reduced it to trinket trash. Of course the product itself is not trash. It takes hours of painstaking skilled labor and is intrinsically beautiful. But perception is everything. Where once, the customer was willing to pay for that beauty, now they perceive it to be “cheap stuff” and can’t understand why a lamp made by an aritsan, taking many hours and hundreds of dollars in materials, should cost any more than the one at Wal-Mart.
Panels are suffering the same plight. As are garden items, chimes, fused vessels, jewelry…..the list goes on. When I first saw Dianne’s garden stakes and Andrea’s wind chimes on eBay, I had never seen anything like them. And they were fetching good prices for their work. But in the last several years, I’ve seen similar, albeit inferior, products in the aisles at Hobby Lobby. It is a known fact that the Chinese manufacturers’ marketing teams scour the internet to see what labor intensive craft is popular and fetching good prices. Then they copy it and sell it to US marketers for pennies. Their turnaround time is staggering to me. How quickly we have to adapt!
The smaller items suffer less, as time and materials make them more affordable to the consumer, and thankfully, some consumers are still willing to spend on artisan made craft.
Add to that the massive influx of “hobbyist” competition in online sales; those who truly don’t care if they make a profit, or are even paid at all for their work, but are simply subsidizing their hobby material expenses, and the full time artisan is in a real bind.
Are we being phased out? Is there a place for us any more?
I believe there can be, but it calls for hard work and hard choices.
One choice is commission work. I don’t know of any artist that would rather realize someone else’s vision rather than do whatever moves them, but for me, it is a necessity. To get good consistent commissions, you have to develop a whole different set of skills. Patience. Making the client feel special and involved. Educating the consumer. Easy for some, tough for others.
Another tough choice; maximizing the efficiency of your operation. “Elite” materials v. affordable materials. Home studio v. outside studio. Difficult and unique products v. fast, easy and saleable products. More expensive marketing v. legwork and simply “getting your stuff out there”. This requires experimentation and is in constant flux.
Above all, I’ve found that I have to be adaptable. The moment you’ve come up with a fast, inexpensive and unique item, someone will copy it and offer it for less. You have to constantly be changing and stretching.
What are your thoughts? How are you adapting? What are your strategies to compete?
Food for thought for the long weekend!