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I Used to Hire Teachers

I had planned a different post for today but there has been a public discussion happening since last Friday. The private discussion has been going on a bit longer…years, I think. The discussion is about getting paid fairly in the fiber arts. It began with the instructors but has spread to those who grow the wool and process the fibers and dye the fibers and sell it all to you.

I’ve waited so long to get into the discussion because many people with prettier words than I have have been saying what I think. I wasn’t sure I had anything to add. But last night I realized I have a unique point of view in this whole thing.

Until 2012 I owned a fiber shop. That means my store didn’t sell yarn (except a little bit of coned yarns for weavers). I was extremely focused on spinning. 1500 square feet of spinning wheels and unspun processed fiber and around 300 fleeces straight off the sheep. I loved it.

About Soon after I bought the shop in 2006 I started to bring in teachers. By the time I closed the store in 2012 I was hiring 6 to 8 instructors every year. The instructors I hired were all nationally/internationally known. I treated them the way I treated the shepherds I bought fleeces from. There was no negotiating of price. I paid their daily rate plus all expenses.

In the beginning, staying at the home of the person who hired you was the norm. I know that because when I would talk to the teachers to find out what they needed, they almost unanimously said they would stay at my house. It wasn’t a problem. They did have a private room and a bath they didn’t have to share because I told the kids to go somewhere else. There were a few teachers who preferred to stay at a hotel and that was fine too.

Now, I’ll tell you something I sort of regret. The first couple of years we did a thing called the Fiber Shop Sleepover. I’m not gonna lie. It was super fun! The students could sleep over at the shop. It was a giant pajama party and almost every time the teacher stayed over too. I was amazed at the number of teachers who said yes.

The reason I regret it is because now that I teach regularly, I understand how grueling it is. I understand how exhausting it can be. In addition, I am a person who needs some alone time every night so I can prepare for the next day. The sleepovers wore me out and I wasn’t even teaching!

Anyway, as I’ve been reading the posts and comments about this whole #fairfiberwage issue there have been several people who have said that the prices are too high and that small shops can’t possibly afford to put these classes on. So I’m going to give you some math. I’ll use the average numbers I would figure on spending if I were hiring myself today. For full transparency, I will tell you I charge $700 per full day (6 hours of instruction) and $400 for a half day class (3 hours of instruction), plus expenses. We’re just going with the $700 for now.

2 full day classes                      $1400

Airfare or mileage                    $  500

Meals for 3 days                       $  250   (this allows for one very nice dinner and several average priced meals.)

Baggage Fees                           $   60

3 nights Hotel                          $ 350

Total Expense                          $2560

Now my shop could fit 15 students after I moved all the stuff out of the way. My goal with these classes was not necessarily to make a lot of money off of the class but I did know that getting students in the shop would increase the sales for the weekend so it was worth it. In addition I had the opportunity to learn new skills from some of the best teachers.

So 15 students total. There were some teachers I didn’t know if I would fill the class and some that I knew would sell out easily. So I based the class prices on that knowledge and honestly the number I chose almost ever time was 8. That’s half. That’s where I priced the class for a break even point.

So, $2560/8=$320 but that’s for the full 2 days. So the class would be $160 per day.

Sometimes I would do the math like that and think that the cost per day was a little high. I rarely liked t charge more than $150 per day so I would reduce the price just a bit to $140. Then I knew I’d better get 9 students.

Now here’s the thing, even 8 years ago when teachers were slightly less expensive I rarely charged less than $125 per day per student. Wanna know why? Because education is important and valuable and I wanted there to be value in the class. I wanted the students to know that the teacher I had hired was worth their time and hard earned money. I hate seeing festivals and shops charging just $50 or $75 for a full day class. In addition, I’m not sure it increases enrollment.

I had people come from all over to attend classes at my shop. Sometimes they would fly in from across the country! I just talked about it a lot on y blog and Twitter and Facebook and my newsletter. My favorite part of having my shop was hosting teachers. That’s the thing I think I miss the most.

And in 6 years of hiring teachers I only lost money on 3 weekends. This included 2008, 2009, and 2010 which were the worst years for the economy in Michigan. I never cancelled any class. Most of the teachers I hired were ones I wanted to take classes from myself and so I had them come so I could learn and so it was still beneficial to everyone.

I know there are some shop owners who will say that their customers won’t pay that much. You never know until you try.

Linky, Linky

Let me give you some links if you haven’t heard about this whole discussion and are interested in catching up.

This one is from Abby Franquemont – Spinner https://medium.com/@abbysyarns/what-does-it-cost-to-hire-top-talent-in-fiber-arts-im-glad-you-asked-6f2b25c12cb4#.tm9or81mh

This one is from Mary Beth Temple – Crocheter. https://hookedforlifepublishing.wordpress.com/2016/09/03/the-great-teaching-kerfuffle/ 

This one is from Miriam Felton – Knitter http://www.miriamfelton.com/risk-vs-reward-the-true-costs-of-fiber-teaching/

Here is one from Laura Frye – Weaver. http://laurasloom.blogspot.com/2016/09/labour-day.html?spref=fb

Annie Modesitt – another Knitter. http://www.modeknit.com/2008/03/show-time-teacher-compensation-at.html

Beaders! http://www.beadbiz.org/beads-fibers-and-ideas/whats-the-deal-with-fairfiberwage

Jacey Boggs – Magazine Entrepreneur. http://plymagazine.com/2016/09/fair-fiber-wage-look-side/

And if after that reading you still want more just put #fairfiberwage into the search of Twitter or Facebook and there is a whole bunch more discussion.

 

16 Responses so far.

  1. Whoot! Thanks so much Beth. I appreciate the transparency and your perspective so much. I have struggled as a teacher with my contracts for shops. I frequently get the response from shop owners that they can’t afford my rates (currently $600/day). I fill almost every workshop I teach, so I think if they just raised what they charged the students, they would certainly fill the workshop and make a little profit to boot… but they don’t see it that way. Thank you for saying it can be done.

  2. Amy Niezur says:

    I miss those sleepovers! 🙂 And I appreciate all the work you put into to bringing in such great teachers too. Those were the days.

  3. […] more eta: And here’s Beth Smith’s view on it. She used to hire teachers when she had a shop, now she is a travelling teacher: “I Used To Hire Teachers“ […]

  4. Ann Murphy says:

    I am amazed at the cost of courses in the US. In the UK we pay a lot less and still get very good quality courses. Here is a webpage which advertises weaving/spinning course in Hampshire, where I live when I am not in Egypt.
    I used to work in a fabric/yarn shop in Winchester and we ran courses too but rarely were any of those courses over £75. people just couldn’t afford to learn at the prices you charge in the US.
    http://www.craftcourses.com/categories/textiles/weaving

    • Beth says:

      If you convert 75gbp it’s about $100 US so not that terribly different. In addition, maybe I wasn’t clear that I was using the high end of expenses.

    • Beth says:

      Another thought, local teacher’s classes would automatically be cheaper because there are no travel or food costs. If I were teaching a 2 day class locally the cost to the shop would drop to just $1400 for the 2 days. That would mean a cost of less than $90 per day per student at the break even point of 8 registrants. So less than your quote of $100.

  5. Lara says:

    Thank you for adding to the discussion, Beth! The classes that I attended are still full of value today, and I wish that I had found my travelling legs for spinning classes sooner.

  6. I am SO HAPPY to see this. I am not an instructor but I am a fiber artist and I have just opened a shop on Etsy. In the shop I sell batts ( and my needlefelted earrings plus some other handmade items that are fiber related). I make these products using very good quality materials. I am 63 years old, talented and I bring a lot to the table. I charge more than most folks on Etsy. I am determined to educate fiber consumers about the difference in quality from one site to the next. People under price…and they make it very difficult for others to price fairly. I am not making much on my products but I love what I do. What I offer is not available anywhere that I have seen. Yet people are put off by the price. If you have ever tried to blend Flax and wool and add ins on a drum carder you will know that it takes skill, I’m not pusing a “bunch of stuff” through quickly and calling it an art batt. I am really creating luxurious and spectacular spinning experiences. I have a category called “Bunny Tummy” where I create batts using luxurious fibers. I also have a category called “So Sheepy” where I feature conservation breeds. Underpricing and underpaying artists drives me nuts! I also live in NYC so my expense are high. Hurray for you for getting the truth out there. I applaud you!

  7. Valerie says:

    Hi Beth, Great post. I thoroughly enjoyed every class that I took at your shop (and at least one after you closed the shop). One of the things I appreciated was that they were high quality, nationally known instructors. If you hadn’t brought them in, I would have had to pay to travel to take their classes elsewhere….so your rates were well within reason.
    I am also appreciative that anyone is willing to travel to teach. Travel is grueling…especially if an airport is involved.
    So thanks for all the great experiences.

  8. Laurel Haring says:

    I’ve been a writer and editor for 30+ years, and I can tell you that haggling, low balling, and all sorts of shenanigans have been attempted by other over the years. I believe that everyone — and I do mean everyone — should be paid a fair wage. I’m completely willing to pay the rate asked of a top-notch teacher and wouldn’t think of haggling. Just as I won’t provide my professional services out the the goodness of my heart, I sure don’t expect a fiber instructor to foot the bill for [insert whatever element you like here], either. A rising tide lifts ALL boats, and I extend a fist for a bump of solidarity. I, for one, and very happy that this conversation is taking place.

  9. JoAnne says:

    I haven’t been able to spin since 2007. I had been hospitalized and when I came home, I’d forgotten how to spin, had much difficulty knitting and have lost the ability to organize except for now and then in spurts. Then my husband died a year ago and things went farther downhill. I’m considering selling my Ashford single tread spinning wheel. Any advice? Any takers?

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