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#12: Pricing Your Painted and Refinished Furniture

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

What’s UP my friends and fellow busybees, I hope your day is going great so far. Today I wanted to talk about something that doesn’t really have any consensus, it’s kiiind of a guessing game and it’s ever evolving and depending who you talk to about it, you’ll likely get a different answer from every person. And that is pricing your painted and refinished furniture pieces– what to charge, how to know, and what to do to make sure you keep up with the ever-changing market.

I’m adding a disclaimer here that this knowledge I pass on to you guys is always just based on my personal experience and opinion, and a reminder that I am located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada so keep that in mind because the market where you are could be, and likely is, drastically different so make sure you’re always doing your research!

So I know that this is maybe a touchy subject for some, because a lot of people don’t like to talk money. I want to challenge that mindset and ask you why that is. Is it because your parents never talked about it? Maybe they told you that it’s rude to talk about, or unbecoming to talk about? Is it because you feel insecure about the prices you’re setting your pieces at, or because you just make up numbers randomly out of thin air and you don’t want people to judge you for it?

If any of those happen to ring true, I hope that by the end of this episode I can give you some things to think about and consider, and hopefully help you to reevaluate your stance because I do truly think that the more we talk about these things, the better it is for everyone. And that’s not just in relation to the refinished furniture pieces you’re selling, I mean in life more generally!

Personal opinion here but I do think it is a dated mindset to say that it’s rude or unbecoming to talk numbers and have an open dialogue when it comes to finances. I think that inherently brings shame into the mix, which I don’t think it ever needs to be and can lead to a severe scarcity mindset, and I think it adds a veil of secrecy to something super tangible in a language that we all speak. Like have you ever been at a job and offered a raise or a bonus or something like that, but it comes along with the request (or warning, not sure which it is necessarily) to “keep the information to yourself” and “not discuss it with your coworkers”? What’s that all about, so people can get away with paying people more money and let those who are more passive and not asking for the pay they think they deserve to continue to make way less than everyone else, because they had some trust that their employer would be equitable and transparent? Anyways, stepping off of my soapbox but all that is to say… I think everyone benefits when we talk about these things, openly and often, and are comfortable doing so. So let’s do it!

So there are definitely a lot of factors that I looked at in order to determine what to price my painted and refinished furniture pieces at. And if you are just starting out and haven’t yet set those numbers or the equation for figuring it out for yourself yet, it could potentially sound like a lot of information and work to do in this episode but I promise that once you start to set that for yourself and you know where you’re at, it’s easy peasy to adjust and figure things out moving forward once you invest that initial time into researching and figuring things out.

The first thing to take into consideration are the hard numbers like the price that you initially paid for the piece that you made over, and the cost of materials used to transform the piece. So that’s things like any paint, stain, topcoat, cleaner, sandpaper or hardware that you bought for the piece and used on the piece. And of course, there might need to be a little bit of math that goes into that– because you may only use a half of the pint of paint that you bought, or more convoluted still, trying to roughly figure out what percentage of the cleaner you used from the full bottle and how many uses you could roughly get out of it over time. Personally, I just guess-timate when it comes to those kinds of things and I think it’s totally fine to do so, but if you want to figure out a specific, more scientific and accurate way to calculate that, knock yourself out! It will only ever give you more accurate information to take into account when pricing your piece.

Another thing to take into account, and full disclosure, I am brutal at this and it’s something I’m currently trying to tackle a system for it that works for me, is factoring your time spent on the piece into the price. And really, when we think about that, that should probably encompass the time it took you to secure the piece, pick it up, plus doing the cleaning and prep and transformation, plus staging and photographing it and then if you offer it, delivery time and gas and mileage taken into account.

So.. yeah. That’s why I’m not great at it, YET, because it’s a lot of moving parts to keep track of. And since I am quite the busybee, a lot of these things I am just doing as I puts away throughout the day and I’m not typically just sitting down for like 5 hours straight and dedicating that time exclusively on working on a piece. I’ll usually be working on two pieces at a time (at a minimum.. If I’m being honest with myself, there’s usually anywhere from 3 to 5 pieces on the go in some fashion in the garage) so to break it down on how much time I allocated to one certain piece becomes hard to ascertain.

HOWEVER- I will say that now, after having done this for a little over two and a half years, I do have a relatively good idea of how long it will take me to complete a piece (not really in terms of actual hours and minutes spent, but more of a vibe of how fast I could get it completed if I had to rush it), so I use that knowledge as a guiding light too when I am pricing my pieces or providing estimates for projects to my clients I work with.

And then once you have an idea, rough or exact, of how long you took or will take to complete said piece, there’s the effort of figuring out how much per hour you will charge for your time. And that is so broad and ambiguous that I honestly can’t even give you any real advice other than to just choose a number that doesn’t make you feel like “ugh, this isn’t even worth my time”. Choose a number that makes you feel good, makes you motivated to do a good job and ideally, one that will help you to pay the bills, too. This part is so hard though, I can hear the sighs already because you hoped I would have some magic formula or answer, but it’s just so different person to person. And it’s also hard too, because you may think that you’re worth a certain amount per hour, and then factor in all of the materials and the initial cost of the item then add on the cost per hour times hours worked on the piece and end up with an astounding number that you’re preeeetty sure nobody is willing to pay for the completed piece in front of you.

That’s because it can be so easy when doing this work to get super detailed or get bogged down on spending literally hours trying to fix or repair one tiny spot and you might be fighting with it and then realize how much time has gone by… so also consider that, not only when you’re actually working on the furniture pieces themselves but also when sourcing your pieces. Because if you look at something and know you can repair it but it would take an extra 4 hours compared to working on a similar piece in better condition, you might not necessarily be able to be compensated for that effort in the same way. But then again, if it makes you fulfilled and brings you joy and makes your heart happy to do it regardless, then you do you boo boo. As I always say, this is your business to run however the hell you want, you’re in charge here!

Another tip to help you nail down some tangible numbers is to take a look around your area and see what others are charging for refinished and painted furniture, particularly ones who look like they match your level of skill, expertise and attention to detail. And you’ll know it when you see it. Even better is to be able to build relationships with these other refinishers in your area because then you can chat with them to find out where these numbers they’re charging came from– and if they just kind of made them up but you determine that they ought to be higher, you can reset that standard in your area based on the current economy and all of the other factors that go into pricing a product or service. And you should also get to know those people so you can create some friendships and community with them - if you haven’t already listened to it, shameless plug to go back after you’re done this pos and read blog #10: Community Over Competition to find out what positive things can come out of that!

Another recommendation I have to determine what to price your painted and refinished furniture pieces at is to listen to your customers, because you might get some hints there in terms of if you’re meeting the mark or if your prices are too high or low. And no, I don’t mean to look at the messages that come in on Facebook Marketplace that are like “you’re asking HOW much for a used dresser?” “that’s too expensive for me, what’s the lowest you could do?”.

No. I cannot emphasize this point enough, and in the kindest way possible… fuck those people. Do not let the random one-off comments from people on Marketplace get to you or get you to start second guessing yourself. I mentioned this on the last episode, but those people are just not your target audience and the people that understand everything that goes into refinishing a piece of furniture. They think that you lived with and used this piece as is for the last 10 years and are then trying to sell it off for a high price, which is not the case. Know your worth and don’t let those messages make you insecure, and just know that there is a chance that you will get those messages.

So anticipate it, and figure out what your reply will be– maybe even write out a version of it and keep it in your Notes app so that you’re set when and if it does come in. Because we’re human, and it’s easy to have a kneejerk reaction when someone offers $50 for the newly refinished and just listed dresser you posted for $650 dollars. It’s easy, especially the first time it happens, to be like what the fuck? And maybe even get a bit offended.

But you’re a *savvy*, ~smart~, level-headed business owner with a reputation to uphold so how are you going to reply? Polite, courteous and professional, as you always do. If you don’t have a pre-written message and you’re feeling a little heated or getting in your feelings about it, just take a beat and put the phone down and go simmer down before you come back calm and level-headed to reply. And it can sound silly and it can feel silly in the moment to react that way initially, but it’s because you know how much time and care and energy and maybe even frustration and triumph and whatever else you put into transforming that piece into something that you’re proud to release into the world, just to have someone undervalue it. It can sting. But it’s okay - water off a duck’s back, not the target audience, babe.

If it’s helpful, my usual reply to those people is something along the lines of: “Thanks so much for the offer! Unfortunately I can’t accept as this is my business and so there is a lot of factors that I take into account when pricing my pieces to keep good margins, so the price is firm at this time for X amount. Let me know if you’re still interested!” or something along those lines. For some, knowing that it’s a business helps them to better understand not only why the pricing is higher than your average person selling on Marketplace, but also the fact that they’d be getting a better quality item too.

Okay so that was a bit of a tangent but I think it’s an important one because I always hear people talking about not knowing how to reply to those kinds of comments, or worst yet, I see people post their conversations with people offering low amounts and then they absolutely roast them either online or to them in the conversation and are short and rude with them aaanddd… it just makes me go “yikes!”. We’re better than that, guys!

But what I DO mean when I say to listen to your clients to figure out if you’re hitting the mark with your pricing is to listen to the things they’re saying. If you’ve heard someone say “wow this is such a great deal” or “I can’t believe I got this for this amount” or something like that, chances are you’re not charging enough. One thing that was a huge wake up call for me early on in the summer of 2020, which was only a couple months into me having ever done any furniture flips, was when I was working on this little side table or night stand in the garage and our neighbour was getting some landscaping done and the contractor doing it was there for a few days so we chatted here and there for a couple days as I plugged away in the garage working on this piece and he ended up asking if I was going to sell it because he liked the look of it. When I said yeah and he asked how much, I was like “uhh.. Forty bucks?”.

In my head I’m thinking “okay, well I got it for free and spent a little bit of time sanding and painting it and used about $4 in paint on it so that seems like a profit I’m happy with” because this was one of the first pieces I ever sold, and I think he literally replied with “you sure?” which is hilarious to look back on. If you’re getting that kind of messaging from your customers, raise your prices, people! But in my mind, at that time, I was like, “how much would Ikea charge for a night stand?” and I figured being on par with that made sense. I know, I know. I’ve learned since then! But anyways, so for whatever reason I was going to be away from the house on the last day the contractor was working at my neighbour’s so I told him I’d leave the table on the porch for him to grab and just to leave the cash in the mailbox and when I got home, he had left $50. He literally paid more than asking because he valued it at more, or felt bad, or something but anyways… I took that as a preeeetty clear message that I could up my price a bit.

So I have incrementally over time, which I recommend you do as well. As you fine tune your skills, increase your knowledge of products and techniques and finesse your work as well as increase your client base and positive reviews and testimonials from others, you can up your prices. All of that expertise is relevant and indicative of the level and quality of finish you will be achieving, and it makes sense for you to be compensated for that. It’s the same in the trades, people get paid little to nothing when they’re doing their apprenticeship but then as they graduate and move their way up, they get paid more and more because you’re paying for that experience and education that they’ve spent years getting. And if there’s anyone in the trades listening and I’m using the wrong words, forgive me but I’m a social work bitch who hadn’t done more than pick up a hammer a couple years ago so I might not be using the right lingo.

And so I mentioned looking to IKEA pricing to figure out pricing for things and while I don’t necessarily recommend looking there because I do absolutely think that the quality of your pieces and their individual design are very likely worth more than the pricing IKEA can offer, I do think looking at furniture retailers is helpful. It can provide a bit of a starting point to get an idea of how much people are paying for new furniture pieces, especially if you haven’t had to purchase one lately and don’t know off the top of your head how much a double headboard or something like that goes for these days. It’s also helpful to keep an eye on those prices periodically too, because especially lately, I bet you’d notice that they’ve risen with inflation and all the other things going on in the world. Have you also increased your prices to reflect inflation and keep up with competitors, or has your pricing remained the same since 2014? Just some food for thought.

And ultimately, when it gets down to it, you also can just put a number that you think the piece is worth, and no matter how high that number is, it might sell. It also could mean that it sits for a long time first though, so make sure you have the space to hold onto it if that’s the case. It also could sit for years and not sell at that price too. It truly depends, but I am of the belief that as long as it’s relatively reasonably priced, there is a buyer for every piece of furniture you makeover. So don’t second guess yourself or lose confidence in your work if you post something and it doesn’t get scooped up within the first couple hours. Sometimes that happens, but often it doesn’t. It usually has more to do with the ebb and flow of the market and how many people are looking for what items and when, and nothing to do with your work or the price you listed it at. So sit tight and try and not think about it too much, and I can almost guarantee that a buyer will be coming your way in no time, my friend.

And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I’m going to end every podcast episode with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.

So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is: Bees don’t waste their time explaining to flies that honey is sweeter than shit.

It's so true. When we're talking about those people who are coming in and trying to get us to accept less money for the hard work that we do... don't waste your time explaining-- I mean, reply to them like I said, have that dialogue, but if they're adamant of not seeing the value in the work that you're doing and they're really trying to get a deal out of it.. Remember that the saying goes, "just because you're out of their budget, it doesn't mean that you're overpriced".

And if we also take this to a wider perspective, let's take a gander in our own lives. Are there times, are there people, that you're spending a lot of time and energy and emotion and maybe frustration trying to get a point across to that you feel in the depth's of your heart is the right perspective or the right opinion to have? And you're getting fired up or spending all of your time when you're with this person "debating" about this thing?

Bees don't waste their time explaining to flies that honey is sweeter than shit. Just leave it. Again, we're all about living our lives, staying positive and having a good mindset. And at the end of the day, does that thing really matter? Is that the hill that you want to die on?

I'm guessing probably not. So remember that as you go into this week, and beyond.

Alright, that’s it for now, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!

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