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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

YIKES! Many Crafty Retailers are working for free! No Salary. Nothing. Nada. Zero.

OK, people...we need to talk.  There is an elephant in the room.  Seriously. I know that it is a touchy subject, but...we cannot ignore it any longer.  No Ma'am! 

It is about money.....

    ......and  the value of your time.

So lets put our big girl panties on and deal with it!

I have been talking to many Crafty Retailers lately as part of my research on Crafty Retail Superstars.  Folks have been incredibly candid, sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly.  A real pattern has might well be the biggest UGLY of all.....


There.  I said it.  Out loud.  In bold space type. ITALICIZED!

It is true.  These hard core retailers draw no salary or hourly wage. Yikes....

Of course, some are holding back as part of a concrete plan.  For example, the business is a start up and owner salaries are not in the budget until the second year.  I get that---after all, the decision is part of a thoughtful, well reasoned plan.  Perhaps the owner is aggressively paying down debt to put the business on more stable financial footing.  I certainly get that--been there, done it myself.  The painful decision was part of a solid business plan to get my company on a path to profitability.  The point is....there was a PLAN, a method to my fiscal madness.

Unfortunately, the majority of Crafty Retail Slaves are not sacrificing to meet a lofty business objective.  Nope, most of those who are "income challenged" are abstaining because the business is not profitable enough to sustain any sort of salary.  AT ALL.  Worse yet, there is no concrete plan to change the status quo.  YUCK.

When I first heard the sad tale it was the result of a retailer's verbal spew.   She volunteered the information during a casual conversation.   I  nodded and delicately changed the subject, assuming it was inappropriate to poke the wound.  I shouldn't have worried.  I ask the question of virtually everyone I talk to these days and most of the folks I ask are happy to respond to the question.  The Crafty Retail Slave is much more common than you would think.

So...I have to know...

Why are you doing it?

I have heard more than a few say that they do it because they have personally guaranteed their leases.  OK...but  then shouldn't you make the changes necessary to get profitable?  Many of these retailers are the same shopkeepers who know they should send out newsletters, but do not.  They know they should do more marketing, but don't.    Geez..... Do you love retail so much that you are happy and fulfilled to do it for free?

Really?  I don't believe you.  Your time is worth something and there are a million other ways to spend that time.  Reading, Gardening, CREATING!  What is motivating you to stay the course?    I mean no disrespect AT ALL.  I have shared many of my own weird proclivities in past posts.  Anyone remember the sock bucket?   Moreover, I too have been a Crafty Retail Slave.  But I didn't like it and I didn't want it to go on forever.

....So...just between us.....why are you doing it, really?  Share your thoughts, wisdom, perspective....there is a big sisterhood out there!  You can post comments anonymously---we would all love to hear from you!

In Other News


Calling all ETSY JEWELRY DESIGNERS, and by popular demand, ALL CRAFTY RETAILERS!

The "Crafty Retailers Create" Challenge series has proven so successful that we are launching a new Challenge geared to Etsy Jewelry Designers as well as Crafty Retailers.  We have 24 kits identical to the one pictured above.  The kit has a retail value of over $100 and is free to the lucky participants who will be chosen in a random drawing on April 15.  Send an email with your Etsy or Retail Store identified and we will enter your name in the drawing.  Check out contest details.


Short on cash?  Inventory looking peaked?
We just uploaded some yummy new sale items----BUY WIDE AND BUY SHALLOW!


  1. Hi Pat,
    Ok...neither of us work for free....but just about close. I figure I work for about 25 hours at the shop--straight selling etc.--we are open Tue-Fri (11-5) and Sat 10-3. I work another job part time--another 25 hours from 6am to noon so that I can feed myself and clothe myself and provided myself with insurance. I get into the shop at about 12:30 everyday. My mom-who is the co-owner opens up at 11am. BUT, it is all the behind the scenes work that takes more time. Creating all of the classes (at least 95% are basic techniques that I create full diagramed instructions for), ordering, working up samples and trying to plan any sales etc., sending out twice monthly newsletters, wanting (notice the wanting) to keep a blog updated at least once a month, and also updating the website. I figure that I make about $.20 an hour. My mom who only helps out at the shop for selling makes about $5.75 an hour. The shop pays for our mortgage & utilities. Neither of us are married so we live together to reduce costs. That is a whole other challenge! :-)

    I get complaints that my class fees are too high--$22 for most classes for 2.5 hours. They purchase their own materials. I spend anywhere from 4-12 hours on each instruction sheet! So I figure that it is a reasonable fee--I am right in the middle of what other shops in my are charge.

    It always feels like I'm complaining when I say how much I work (I do love it but some more sleep would be nice) and don't have time for anything else, but if I do take time out--even just a few days from not doing shop work, it takes me weeks to get all the balls juggling. I've tried training my mom to order but it doesn't stick (she still calls me with computer questions even after 3 years of the same program). I admit that I am a control freak, too.

    I'm just worried that my business will not survive! I'm behind 13% from LAST year--and I ended the last year 4% behind the year before! I believe that I do everything that I should and I'm still passionate about what I do, but I am running out of ideas. My community is very frugal (except on beer and cigarettes). Even when I run a sale, I don't get an influx of people.

    Ok...I know this was off the original post. So back to it. I do pay myself a very small amount for the hours that I dedicate to my shop, but cannot afford to hire an additional staff person to allow me to take a break. Or to pay myself a better "salary" so that I can quit my paying job! Sad, but true.
    Thanks for listening!

  2. I know it's a hard decision to make about what price to put on our handmade products. I just posted on my blog the startup of my business and can expand if anyone has any questions. I think, while the internet is a wonderful place to sell, many sellers have priced products lower than what we should, just to get sales. And I know that it hurts the sales of brick and mortar stores. I felt it when I had a retail store. This is a very interesting area of discussion.

    I would like to sign up for the Challenge, also. I have been making jewelry lately and plan to add it to my Etsy store. Thanks for offering it! My etsy store is

  3. I fall into the startup category, so no $ for me unless we do waaaay better in the first year than I have planned. I do have a salary projected for myself in the second and following years though.

  4. Thanks for your candor, Michelle. I think it is comforting to other shop owners to hear honest talk from the trenches. Craft stores have been hit doubly hard...the economy is a nightmare (regardless of how often we hear about the recovery!) and the internet has brought the gross margin unacceptably low on many industry staples.

    I read your newsletters and have been on your website. It is clear that you are working hard and yet the future is uncertain. Why are you continuing to do it and how long will you keep going? How old are you?

  5. Sure, you can publish my post. I don't need to stay anonymous. :-) I'm 37 (just turned) and my life is my shop. I love teaching and sharing my passion for beads and beading. I get frustrated sometimes--with myself (I would love to be much more of an extrovert) and with my customers (wishing I had more creative artsy people that would come in and always having to explain prices--they want unusual items but for under $5 but have to explain that that's hard to find! and explaining over and over why we are not Fire Mountain Gems--if they would come in more, I could afford more items--but it's like talking to a brick wall).

    I have a lease that goes on for about a year and a half and owe the bank still for 3 more years or so... I've thought about picking up my business and moving to another local outside of Wisconsin after my lease is up...and that may be wishful thinking. I would love to design more and sell finished pieces to balance out what goes on in the store...but 6 hours or less a night of sleep takes it's toll. Not sure where to fit in all that I need to do now to keep my head above water.

    Ideally, if I could quit my part time job, I would have more time to get these things done. If I did have more time...what would I do with myself! After 3 and a half years, I've gotten used to my life of no time! Husband or significant other would be helpful...maybe in that I wouldn't have to work another job, but it is just me, myself and I. I do not want to fail...and because I was raised to take care of my obligations, I couldn't just throw in the towel to get out of my situation. I don't owe huge amounts of money (think nice car) and it's wonderful to see my loan obligation go down every month so I am in it for the long haul...whatever that may be.

    I love my business, but the constant toll of worrying makes me enjoy it less on some days.

  6. No doubt about it...paying off obligations is a sound reason to stay in business, provided that there is profitability at the end of the day. Craft retailers are generally creative folks with an ability to think outside the box. We will all need to refine our game plan to whether the storm! Good luck, Michelle, and thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Linda:
    I will throw your name into the drawing. Send me your contact details.

    I agree with you regarding pricing on handmade finished goods...sometimes I cringe when I see how low the pricing is on sites such as Etsy. It hurts everyone in the end!

  8. Ramona:
    Working salary free seems pretty common in most start ups---Kudos on your perseverance and good luck for a profitable 2010. FYI....I have been enjoying your blog!