Monday, March 30, 2009

Cultural Products Seconds

Last week was an unexpectely hectic week. I had a couple of suprise orders that had to be filled very quickly.

It got me thinking about the Cultural Products seminar two Saturday's ago. A lot of my artifact reproduction work falls under the umbrella of Cultural Products, and I know that some craft producers are curious about how they can get involved with making and selling cultural products.

The end of March is the end of the fiscal year for Federal and Provincial organizations, like Parks Canada or The Rooms. That means that the money in everyone's budget has to be spent by March 31st or they risk receiving proportionately less money the next year.

The Terra Nova Harpoon was an order that came out of year end money and last week a couple people at The Rooms found extra money in their budget that needed to be spent quickly. I had some extra product on hand that fit what they were looking for and I refered them to the Craft Council Shop in Devon House for a few more pieces. Whenever I fill an order I always try to make a small number of extra items, so that I have pieces on hand for just this sort of quick sale. I also find it more efficient to work in bigger batches and you always need product on hand for shows or surprise customers.

Some of the product that The Rooms bought could be classified as Seconds. Seconds are the pieces that don't quite meet a craftsperson's standards, but that aren't completely rubbish either. A ceramic plate or bowl that develops a hairline crack in the kiln is an example of a Second. I don't normally think of myself as producing seconds, but I do have pieces that break or are flawed for one reason or another. I tend to hang on to them, thinking that I may reuse the material down the road. In retrospect, however, I've got a lot of sales out of seconds and they tend to be in the most demand at the end of the fiscal year.

Artifact reproduction seconds work great for simulating artifacts in hands-on teaching situations. The majority of artifacts that archaeologists find are not the flawless museum showcase peices that make good reproductions for the gift shop. Most artifacts are broken and discarded objects that were no longer worth the effort to mend or rework by the people who made them.

Seconds can be good analogs for those artifacts. If a museum or university is running a hands-on program like a sandbox dig or mock laboratory program for students or tourists, they may be looking for your seconds. Its cheaper for them to fill up their programming with your cast-offs, its better for you to sell the pieces than throw them away and the programme participants get a more authentic experience because in most cases seconds are more like the damaged and discarded originals than your best work.

Pricing was a little tricky, because every piece was different. Some were broken while I was making them, some were abandoned at an early stage of manufacture, and some were complete pieces that had broken after they were finished. (As an aside, almost every artifact an archaeologist finds at a site could fit into one of those three categories, which is probably why seconds make such good artifact reproductions.) The pricing solution that worked for me was to pick an arbitrary price point and create groups of pieces that I could sell together at that price. I picked $50 for my sets. The sets ranged from a dozen small stone or antler pieces to a single unfinished soapstone lamp. Since these were seconds I didn't really consider the time that had gone into them when I priced them, for me the value of the objects were based on the likelyhood that I could re-use the material in the future. It was easier for me to think about the sets in $50 bunches and I think it made it easier for the customer to organize their selections. In the end we mixed and matched a bit between the sets, but it was an easy place to start the conversation.

It is kind of another chicken and egg scenario -- it probably hard to break into the cultural products seconds market unless you are already producing cultural products firsts. But still, its an option that exists, and in my experience its been worthwhile mentioning that I have broken or damaged pieces to musuems shopping for artifact reproductions.

Enough of that. I'm back to filling wholesale orders this week. For my office work I'm going to work on updating my website. I'd like to add Paypall and a shopping cart. From a preliminary look around It seems much easier to add check-out options to a website now that it was 5 years ago.

Photo Credits:
Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Broken Bifaces/Cultural Product Seconds
Bottom: Collecting up seconds. The little groups in the photo are $50 bunches of seconds, organized by culture.

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