A couple of weekends ago Marie and I went to tour a show home in an exclusive gated community of Asheville North Carolina. Not because we had any desire or aspiration of owning a home there; at prices of between 1.5 and 4 million dollars per home these were way (way, way) out of our financial reach. We went because this particular show home was built with a lot of “green” building techniques, used reclaimed and Earth-friendly materials and was furnished entirely with furniture and art works provided by local artists. This last point was our main interest, but seeing the latest techniques of “green” building is interesting too.
Nearly all of the furniture displayed was quite beautiful, and very well made. One particularly striking piece of furniture was this secretary desk. I was impressed by the careful attention to detail in its construction, the French Walnut veneer and the absolutely flawless finish. Marie looked in the guide book to see who had made it and what the price tag was. I fell right out of my shoes when she said that the price was $52,000.00! No, that’s not a misprint. My initial reaction was to think, “Are you out of your mind!?” I know that “Art Furniture” carries with it a high price tag but Fifty Two THOUSAND dollars? As I was putting my shoes back on I wondered how long something like that has to travel around the country being displayed before it strikes the fancy of someone with deep enough pockets that the price tag seems reasonable.
Probably not as long as I might imagine. Just because it is way out of my range doesn’t mean someone else won’t snap it right up, maybe one of the folks living in those multi-million dollar homes. And I’m sure a lot of long hours were put into building it. The finish alone probably took weeks. It must be nice to be able to say that your work can command such a price tag. I will never know that feeling, or so I thought.
Monday morning I received the following e-mail:
On 11/2/08, Brenda wrote:
> I can’t tell you how excited I was to find your website. My parents have
> been looking for TV trays with a lip on them. They are VERY hard to find
> anywhere anymore. But I made it my mission for this Christmas to find them
> some- imagine how thrilled I was to see you made them. They are, no doubt,
> made well, nice and sturdy being made of wood(no cheapo trays from the
> past), and (YAY!!) have a lip. I WAS excited until I saw your pricing. I
> understand that these are hand made. I understand that it takes someone
> much time and devotion to make the finished product. But over a thousand
> dollars-are you out of your mind?! I am not unfamiliar with the woodworking
> process as my grandfather loved woodworking and had a shop set up. There is
> no way you could ever justify that price for 4 measly TV trays-not for time
> spent or the price of the wood or any other reason. I am deeply
Déjà vu? Having just so recently felt the incredulity of what I considered to be an outrageous price, I could not very well be offended by this message. It is a matter of perspective – and financial status. I replied:
Thank you for taking the time to share your opinions. May I ask what you would consider to be a *fair* price?
Over the ten years that we have offered these tables more than 300 people have purchased them. They are in fact our best selling product. Most of these people also wrote afterward to tell us how pleased they were with their tables.
It is true that there is only about $150 worth of lumber in a set of these tables, but we also invest a little over 45 hours of skilled labor into producing each set. Out of our labor fee we have to pay the mortgage, utilities, taxes and operational expenses that all businesses must pay and of course there is the small matter that at the end of each week I need to take home enough pay to put food on my family’s table and pay the household bills.
Smoky Mountain Woodworks does not sell mass produced, orient made furniture. We take pride in the fact that our furniture is hand crafted by skilled American artisans from solid, natural woods. As such, it will not suit the needs, or budget, of everyone.
I’m sorry you were disappointed and wish you the best of luck with your quest.
As I worked that morning I was mulling over this strange twist of fate and was reminded that we are in fact taking steps to address our rising prices. One such step is the newly added Simple Shopping section of our web site. Here we post the most popular items we sell, preconfigured with the most popular woods, finishes and hardware so a shopper need make no decisions about these features, just click the Add To Cart button and check out. The thinking is that the next step will be to make limited production runs of a particular item – say 12 sets of TV Tray Tables in 3 different woods — to take advantage of the time savings that can be made by cutting parts for multiple items once each tool is set up and tuned for that cut. Then see how much we can reduce the price through this labor savings over building each piece one at a time.
It won’t slash the price in half or anything, and it will mean that each of these items will be sold on a “what you see is what you get” basis – no changes because they are already made up, boxed and sitting in a store room waiting to be addressed and shipped out. If shoppers want to make changes, we will still offer the Custom versions of these items. But because these are made up one at a time and built to your specifications, they will cost more than the “batch” made versions.
So I feel a need to thank Brenda for making me feel like a maker of outrageously priced “Art Furniture”!