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The Plane Pricing Pickle. What is a fair price for what you want?

Have you ever shown a loved plane to someone who looks at you and it with a blank stare? You look at your plane with adoration and they see it as a...well a piece of iron, steel and wood. The value is lost on them but not on you, right?

I usually write about stuff that I find interesting, or stuff that pisses me off. Sometimes it's from a personal experience or sometimes from something I read on the internet, most likely Facebook. One of the things that people bitch about a lot is the price some folks are asking for common or not so common planes. Typically it seems that most of the complaints are from folks with limited experience with the item they are considering purchasing and are venting because they can't believe someone might be asking $100 for a Number 5 Bailey. I've crossed that bridge many times in my life and always thought that the answer was simple enough. If you think the price is too high, don't buy it. Perhaps however, it goes deeper than that. Please allow me your indulgence while I explain.

I (Customer A) walk into an auto dealership looking to buy a new car because my 10 year old Camry has pretty much run it's course. I find one I like and check out the sticker. After the EMTs leave, (having been called to check me for a heart attack), the kind sales person asks if I'm interested in the vehicle in question. I say I'm interested but the price is clearly too high for me and I leave. Customer B walks into the same dealership, looks at the same car and the sticker price but does not fall down clutching his/her chest. The sales person asks the same question and Customer B says "Why yes, what kind of a deal can you make me?" Why is there a difference? Well I'm no psychiatrist but it would seem that the biggest difference is that buyers have different needs, different experiences, different expectations and/or different understanding of the same set of circumstances. My infrequent experiences in buying cars has left a gap in my knowledge. Indeed, prices of cars has gone up over the past 10 years and I wasn't prepared to see that increase. In this case, Customer B had a different expectation, perhaps because they'd educated themselves, bought more cars over the past 10 years and wasn't surprised at the cost.

How does this relate to planes? Same principal, different product. It's just simple economics. I look on eBay and see a wide range of prices for a No 5 Bailey. Some are dirt cheap, some are outrageously expensive. I know that the cheap ones will probably sell. I also know that there is a possibility that the outrageously expensive ones too will sell. It just depends on the buyer. I like to say, "right time, right place, right buyer" because that's what marketing a plane or anything is all about. Hit the right chord with the right buyer you will likely have a sale. I've paid outrageously high prices for plane parts that are more scarce than the scarcest planes that I own. I needed the part to complete the project and this was the only opportunity that had been available for several years. Even though the price was high I was willing to pay it because the part was more important than the money at that moment. Spontaneous buyers buy when the opportunity arises. Careful buyers look for a good deal that may never come around due to their expectations. I'll bet that even the careful buyer would pay $5 for a bottle of water if thirsty enough, (or maybe $5 for a roll of toilet paper in March 2020).

The other half of the equation is of course, the seller. Ever been to an antique mall and walked into the booth where everything is priced higher than it sold for new? The place is packed so full you can't see it all. That's a person who 1. Is proud of their junk and wants the world to see it, OR 2. is using the space for storage. Either way the seller isn't all that interested in selling. There is no motivation to separate themselves from their junk. Their spouse probably just told them to get rid of the junk and this was a convenient way to retain it all under the illusion of trying to sell it.

Just because a seller owns it doesn't mean he or she knows its value. Sellers don't want to feel ripped off because they sold something too cheaply. I have done just that simply based on my ignorance of the item I was selling. It's a common mistake and it happens a lot. By the same token ignorance of value causes overpricing simply because the seller is convinced that the more rust the No 5 Bailey has the more valuable it is. Grandpa's crappy old Trustworthy smoothing plane has to hold the highest value because Grandpa was a woodworker and that plane that he got in 1955 has to be rare and valuable in 2020. Now, I reckon that a Trustworthy plane collector who is in search of a 1955 smoother might pay $50 bucks for it but most of us wouldn't.

Buyer/seller relationships pay dividends. Motivation of the buyer and seller marketing to the motivation is probably the most important factor in plane sales. My planes are priced higher than the average bench plane on eBay but I sell about 100 planes a year. About 90 of them will go to a new, beginning user because that's my target buyer. I sell my planes tuned up and ready to use and most of my customers have never tuned up a plane before and/or want to buy a plane that will instantly make shavings. I tell them what I have and sell them what they want at a price they are willing to pay. The other 10 percent are folks who may have some experience with planes, may need a plane but don't want to spend several hours doing the work to get the rusty old Bailey into usable and tuned condition. I do that for them. I'm guessing that my customers are generally satisfied with the product as I've not had any returned and many have come back to purchase more. Clearly, my product has matched their motivation. WIN WIN.

Setting a price is not an exact science. Most of the time the the value is not just based on the item itself. I try to buy my inventory at the lowest price possible, usually less than $25 for a common No 3, 4, 5 or 6. I typically will spend 4+ hours cleaning, tuning, refinishing wood, listing, packing and shipping. I will usually sell a small plane for $95. Ebay takes 15 percent off the top so now my gross drops to $80. Subtract the initial investment of $20 and I'm looking at $60 for 4 hours of work. Is $15/hour even minimum wage anymore? Oh, and I do pay income tax on my profit. Now, granted, most sellers don't do all that but they are marketing to a different customer.

The choice is the buyers. I walked out of the car dealership because I chose not to pay the price for a car that was probably priced reasonably for the market. Customer B drove out of the car dealership in a new car because their choice was to pay the price for what they wanted. The product matched the motivation. I know that some buyers look at my listings and the price without knowing the true value of the plane and pass on by because they think it's too much. Others see beyond the iron, steel and wood that's shaped in the form of a hand plane and recognize that labor is a major part of the price, just like a fine piece of hand made furniture that has greater value than the wood that was used to make it. However, some sellers think that the iron in a 100 year old plane has miraculously changed into rust covered gold because they don't get that alchemy is a myth. In the real world the buyer is the one that sets the value and if they believe in alchemy like the seller, they make the decision to set the value of the plane at the gold standard and not the iron standard. Isn't that what makes a Bailey split frame plane valuable?

I reckon anyone can bitch and complain about eBay prices for planes and plane parts. I'm not here to tell you not to. It's your right as a consumer to do that. In fact, I'm not here to tell you to do anything. I can tell you however that my experience as a buyer and a seller has taught me that overtly bitching and complaining about a price for something you obviously want only kind of makes you look like a whiner, except maybe to other whiners. Influencing the price of any item, especially hand planes, is generally not influenced by your public protestation but by your feet and your wallet. If you believe that the price is too high for something you want, keep your wallet closed and walk away. If enough people agree with your decision not to buy, eventually the price will come down, but only if the seller is motivated enough to move the item. Of course there also might be that "right buyer" who doesn't agree with your assessment and sets a new price point. Were you willing to spent $5 for a roll of toilet paper? A lot of folks apparently were.


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