As makers with 20 years of experience in a very niche market, we've spent a lot of time looking at our processes, materials, and costs and working toward fair prices for you and us.
*There's a big caveat in this article: I ruined (literally, forever) my hands carving stone in a production setting. No amount of income or notoriety can make up for the fact that my hands hurt when I pick up my kid or ride mountain bike trails. As a maker, you must put yourself before income, or you will lose.
The people time
Labor is the most expensive aspect of making a set of stone plugs or other body jewelry of any size. It should be; human time is irreplaceable.
The compensation should be fair for the work and based on market reality. It should consider all the labor time involved in the production, quality review, and shipment of a set of jewelry, as well as any communication time with the customer or internal time problem-solving with materials, sizing, etc.
We charge a flat $60/hr shop labor rate at Dendrite for putting our hands on stone. That's not what any of us make personally, of course! The $60 figure covers the labor time for tasks like:
- searching for and purchasing stone material
- cutting down the rough stone into slabs
- cutting stone slabs into blanks for plugs and ear weights
- making and polishing jewelry
- verifying measurement and size specifications
- verifying surface finish quality
- photographing the pieces
- creating body jewelry listings on the website with specs, descriptions, tags, etc
- creating the promotional social posts and emails involved in selling the jewelry
- troubleshooting and experimentation to make all these things better
- administrative time for required the boring real-life business tasks
Only three of us work full-time to run this business, and we often overlap task-wise. I'm our primary decision maker, but I also carve stone and work metal. Suzanne (my wife) does detail polishing and ceramic glazing and handles office admin and shipments. Will carves stone plugs and inlays for our ear weights but also spends a lot of time maintaining machines and designing processes with me. Because we are all interdependent, and our business is so labor intensive, we choose to include everyone's work in that per hour labor rate. It also consists of a portion of the required employment taxes I pay as a business owner on every payroll.
The material costs
Makers, you must include your material costs in your pricing, or you will lose money! For the sake of simplicity, I now price material at the actual cost for the weight or area the jewelry takes up in the stone and mark it up to include additional material in the event of breakage.
It's not unusual to have a piece chip or break during production. The markup safeguards our pricing, so we don't immediately lose money every time it happens. After all, we're carving natural materials that are unpredictable, not uniformly manufactured ones.
We used to mark up materials more; if it works for your business, you should. When doing more custom work, we spent much more time and material searching out specific stone cuts for our customers. We would have been losing money without taking it into account.
The costs of doing business
People are often surprised by the actual costs of overhead if you're keeping track properly. Here's an example of what we deal with as a tiny business:
- workshop/office rent
- electricity, firewood, water
- internet access
- cellular phones
- local business licensing
- LLC status filing (lately, I use IncFile)
- monthly eCommerce store fees (we use Shopify)
- monthly software fees
- shipping and packaging costs (often from EcoEnclose)
- office supplies like printer toner, labels, etc
- workshop consumables like diamond grinding wheels (often from SUVA Lapidary)
- production machine maintenance
- marketing costs to boost posts on social media
- business debt (payments on machines, etc.)
- fuel costs (shipping, material sourcing, etc.)
- bookkeeping and CPA costs (we use Gusto for payroll and local professionals for the rest)
- a lot of coffee (our favorite is Rosedale from Blanchards here in RVA)
- many, many more things
These add up fast, and it's paid by dividing the monthly total into the estimated amount of jewelry we'll put out. Depending on the product, $25-$40 from the cost of each piece of jewelry goes toward overhead. Makers, you lose money if your product price doesn't accurately reflect ALL inputs - time, materials, etc.
I have to admit; I'm not fond of this part. I am anti-capitalist, value people over profit, and believe our economic landscape can and should be dramatically different.
We don't chase profit.
With that said, profit is necessary to grow. When we need a more extensive workshop, new machines, or another employee, profit is what makes it possible. Our pricing includes a fixed profit percentage based on the type of product you're buying from us.
Our prices for jewelry are created by adding the actual labor time at $60/hr, an appropriate amount of overhead cost, and our profit percentage. This total price is what you pay per item for all of the knowledge and skills in our heads and hands and all of the costs it took to make your jewels.
I hope this transparency helps inform your purchasing, and we look forward to making you beautiful new adornments.