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Pete Howlett
11-20-2009, 09:50 PM
On a radio feature today a dry stone wall builder earns about £30K - £50K a year and a farrier £70 an hour. I thought: "I'm in the wrong job!" However, both of these professions are hard physical labour that leaves you physically wrecked by the time you are 50. Most luthiers go on until they drop so I am not so envious of those high paying trades - you have to make your money while you can.

Sven
11-21-2009, 01:52 AM
It's a choice I guess. Make money or make ukuleles. My choice many years ago was to make good money or make [some] money doing something good. I'm stuck with the consequences of choosing the latter, a nice profession but no car, no house, no nothing.

That was before I started building instruments, which doesn't get me any money either but keeps me sane. Sort of.

Sven

GrumpyOldMan
11-21-2009, 02:26 AM
I've always worked in the printing industry and until fairly recently could easily make 25k upwards. However times change and technology replaces old skills, younger people come along with different, more up to date, skills. A recession comes along and you suddenly find yourself in a bit of a dark hole. I was made redundant earlier this year but was lucky enough to find some temporary work driving a van. I now have a decent enough job back in the print industry but I earn about the same as I was earning 10 years ago. But looking around I am one of the lucky ones.
In my opinion the minimum wage was the worst thing that happened in the workplace ever. Employers became aware that there are people desperate enough to work for under £6 an hour even though that is nowhere near a living wage. Nowadays everyone wants, expects even, to buy things for next to nothing and one of the ways to make things available cheaply is to pay minimum wage. Our own greed is causing this. It is possible to go to a supermarket and buy jeans for £4, kettles for under a fiver, microwaves for £20. But even at the luxury end it still goes on. A friend of my daughter works as a hairdresser at Tony and Guy where the MINIMUM you will spend on a haircut is £30. He gets paid the minimum wage.

Sven, believe me you made the right decision. I have reached 51 and although I have a decent house and a collection of very nice guitars (my pension fund I should add!) I have no feeling of satisfaction. I don't feel I have contributed anything of value to the world and that is something I regret far more than you (probably) regret missing out on the material things.

Ian.

6stringconvert
11-21-2009, 04:38 AM
Ian,

all that cheap stuff in the supermarket is made overseas, by damn near slave labour, and a min wage in china is a hard life indeed.

Pete,

have you thought about expanding the business? Maybe run a economy line with plain cheaper woods (like brueko)? I'm guessing though the labour is the real big cost, which is understandable with your beautiful instruments.

6sc

Pete Howlett
11-21-2009, 05:03 AM
6sc - there is no way I or anyone else who needs to put food on the table could build them any cheaper.

What needs to happen in Europe is for ukulelists to put their hands in their pockets and spend the money on a quality [ edit out for John - hand built] individual luthier built instruments instead of sponsoring Asian ukes, bigging them up in clubs and on forums to the status of hand builds thus making the few of us who do this for a living in Europe left with a begging bowl in our hands!

For my USA friends - this is how the market is in the UK. Some of you think I am somewhat a legend, others a pariah. However my phone isn't ringing off the hook for Howlett ukulele and neither is my email account stuffed with enquiries. It is a regretable fact that most people in Europe do not buy 'craft'. I have recently seen a YouTube video about British designer furniture makers. The pleas of the documentary makers was that there is beautiful stuff being made in the UK but people don't know about it. I struggled in that field for 7 years to get noticed and as I completed a back breaking dining table, 8 chairs and a buffet with no other comissions on the horizon I gave up. This is my third attempt at making it full time as an instrument maker and I am just about making a minimum wage. Thank goodness Mrs Howlett still works!

RonS
11-21-2009, 05:42 AM
It is a regretable fact that most people in Europe do not buy 'craft'.

It's the same in the USA
When they "look" at craft you can hear them say "I can buy it cheaper in Walmart.


Edit In.
I just reread this thread, everything that was mentioned sounds like it could be said here in the States too.

Timbuck
11-21-2009, 05:46 AM
As popularity of the uke expands in the UK..I have noticed a few dealers and Rep's are now turning up at the club meetings, and making a sales pitch with mostly Asian made instruments.

ukantor
11-21-2009, 05:56 AM
Pete, I'm interested to learn how your ukes are any more "hand built" than those coming out of Asian factories.

I accept that a skilled craftsman, working on his own, seeing the process through from beginning to end, has more control over the standard of the finished product. What you are talking about is the difficulty a small scale maker has in completing with bigger producers who are able to make economies of scale, and pay very low wages.

Many Asian ukes ARE excellent instruments, and they come at very attractive prices, and they are built by people who use their hands.

John Colter.

Pete Howlett
11-21-2009, 06:07 AM
John - you won't draw me...[see ammendment above]

I've also played some very good quality ukulele from Asia and plenty of rubbish - just like non-Asian built instruments. I think you'll find the thrust of my argument lies elsewhere.

Ron - when I worked in the US there was a greater dertermination to want to afford a quality product and an ability to recognise it. I had regualr work both building, teaching guitar and performing. It was paradise for me because in the UK I had to chase every bit of business - in Akron it just walked through the door. It's a pity my wife didn't want to live in Hawaii because I was offered workshop space there and a guaranteeed flow of business. Oh well - 20 years too late :(

nic579
11-21-2009, 06:40 AM
It's the same in the USA
When they "look" at craft you can hear them say "I can buy it cheaper in Walmart.

RonS this is too true and than add in the guys making IKEA quality work and selling it as heirloom quality work and the craftsman is marginalized that much further. Although if you have an uneducated market this is a great way to make money, but not for me.

Pete Howlett
11-21-2009, 06:44 AM
I like some IKEA and have it in my house. I'd prefer Alvar Aalto tho fi we are talking Scandinavian...

ukantor
11-21-2009, 06:46 AM
"What needs to happen in Europe is for ukulelists to put their hands in their pockets and spend the money on a quality hand built instruments instead of sponsoring Asian ukes, bigging them up in clubs and on forums to the status of hand builds thus making the few of us who do this for a living in Europe left with a begging bowl in our hands!"

That's what you said, Pete. I'm saying that the difference between the best Asian ukuleles and a "quality hand built instrument" is not great, but the difference in cost IS great. You seem to be saying that ukulelists in Europe have a moral obligation to buy your ukes, in order to keep you from the bread line. I don't agree.

If I wanted to buy a motor car (automobile?) made by craftsmen in a small workshop, it would cost me a fortune. That's why I drive a car made by a huge multinational company using robots and various other computer controlled machines. That's why none of my furniture is hand made, very little of my cutlery was made in Sheffield, and I no longer go to be measured for a suit, which will then be cut and stitched by hand.

It is tough for the little guy to compete with big producers, but you are in competition with other ukulele makers. That's just the way it is.

John Colter.

RonS
11-21-2009, 07:25 AM
I like some IKEA and have it in my house.


What needs to happen in Europe is for ukulelists to put their hands in their pockets and spend the money on a quality [ edit out for John - hand built] individual luthier built instruments instead of sponsoring Asian ukes, bigging them up in clubs and on forums to the status of hand builds thus making the few of us who do this for a living in Europe left with a begging bowl in our hands!

Interesting contradiction Pete, have you considered how the cabinet makers in the UK are feeling?


Ron - when I worked in the US there was a greater dertermination to want to afford a quality product and an ability to recognise it. I had regualr work both building, teaching guitar and performing. It was paradise for me because in the UK I had to chase every bit of business - in Akron it just walked through the door. It's a pity my wife didn't want to live in Hawaii because I was offered workshop space there and a guaranteeed flow of business. Oh well - 20 years too late :(

A lot has changed in 20 years and I fear it will get worse

nic579
11-21-2009, 07:29 AM
I like some IKEA and have it in my house. I'd prefer Alvar Aalto tho fi we are talking Scandinavian...

IKEA is great if you are paying for it but not if you are paying for hand crafted, with hand fit joinery, fine finishing, ect. Don't get me wrong here I am talking about the misrepresentation and what I would call fraudulent sales practices I have seen around the good USA where the uneducated buyer would have been better off buying IKEA. many IKEA items are great, till you have to move.

Pete Howlett
11-21-2009, 07:48 AM
Difference is Ron I am not buying it against that of hand built furniture or expecting a bespoke furniture maker to make me a piece for the price of an IKEA item. I bought IKEA because I like it and believe you me, as a former cabint maker I made that choice very carefully as I did the items, their intended use and location in my house. I also modified them where becessary which is what you have to do with IKA if you want it to last...

Besides, because I live in humble circumstances it would be ostentatious to have in my lounge a chest by La Trobe Bateman, a display cabint by Williams and a sofa by Makepeace with tables by Peters (read Wendell Hall, Malloof, Pollaro for USA).

If you buy a uke because you like it despite its provenaence, fine. That is not my point and I think you know it you naughty boy :D

6stringconvert
11-21-2009, 07:49 AM
Hi Pete,

I've looked at the offerings out there, and your work is right up there. In terms of price they also look spot on.

I suppose what I was getting at is that premier luthers e.g. Taylor do a bottom range model at a price point of a high end medium brand like yamaha. This allows people to buy into the brand, at a lower price point, and maybe upgrade in time. He'll the bottom line Taylor isn't even solid wood, but they sell them to those drooling over a Taylor. You do a sweet line of Rolls Royce instruments. Maybe there is scope for an entry line produced by an apprentise?

If there was the same wage bill in Asia as in the west, those ukes would be twice the price. Maybe as China's appetite for western lifestyle increases, the knock on effect will drive prices up. TVs, DVDs included!

Personally, I'm in an office all day. It's warm, secure, and the money is good. But the thought of me driving a desk with a 19in monitor 9-5 for the next 30 years scares the heck out of me. The computer is more and more pervasive, there are millions of us drones single and double clicking each day.

I have so much envy of those out there with the bottle to not be a drone. I am planning to break free at some point, and realise it will involve the challenges and difficulties you are facing on a daily basis.

I think it's truely fabulous that you are making something so beautiful, and leaving such a legacy. All my suggestions are very much intended to be helpful. It's in all our interests for you to be sussessful, you are a real asset to the global ukelele community.

6sc

ps: it is important that a budget Market exists to get new players engaged. A uke for the beach is a truely fabulous thing. Brands like Kala are masters of this, but there should also be a gap for you too. It is a shame that Eric Clapton doesn't play a Pete Howlett ukulele. imagine the free advertising!

Pete Howlett
11-21-2009, 09:02 AM
Yeah but Andy Fairweather Low (used to call himself Eric Clapton's Guitarist) does... Eric doesn't like the uke.

And folks - I am not whinning... I want to make that clear. I have business and a regular flow of it and am happy to do what I am doing. Don't mistake my views for me being grumpy or 'poor me' or anything else. It's still hard making a living, but it is ever thus for those who work for themselves be they a farrier or a luthier. I've even met some consultants who are finding it hard at present...

Edit
Just read the apprentice bit. Apprentices are expensive... there must be an article somewhere about Kenny Hill and why he no longer produces his Ukebrand 'apprentice' models. I don't want to get my facts wrong but I think he ceased having his apprentices make them because it was costing him money. The only way I could get ukes out at a better price would be to have them manufactured for me in Czeche Republic like Rigk Saur of Risa instruments...

mzuch
11-21-2009, 09:26 AM
f there was the same wage bill in Asia as in the west, those ukes would be twice the price.

This issue is much more complicated than this. It's not just low Asian wages that make PacRim products cheap, but China's artificial support of its currency and the insane trade policies of many Western countries, including the United States and United Kingdom. However, this is a hot button political issue that it is probably best to avoid.

luvzmocha
11-21-2009, 10:47 AM
[QUOTE=6stringconvert;260219]Hi Pete,


Maybe as China's appetite for western lifestyle increases, the knock on effect will drive prices up.

/QUOTE]

When this becomes a fact the manufactures will simply move on to the next lower-wage countries, like Bangladesh, India or Kazakhstan.

Rising energy costs, stricter environmental rules, the elimination of many tax incentives, a dearth of skilled workers and the increasing strength of the yuan against the dollar have all pushed production costs up in China.

Pete Howlett
11-21-2009, 11:12 AM
yep, we'll all be getting quite a shock soon. Are fuel prices rising in the US?

Duddles
11-21-2009, 11:20 AM
yep, we'll all be getting quite a shock soon. Are fuel prices rising in the US?

Slowly. They are nowhere near as bad as last summer though... but I do live where the gas prices are lowest in all of the states...

nic579
11-21-2009, 02:37 PM
Slowly. They are nowhere near as bad as last summer though... but I do live where the gas prices are lowest in all of the states...

You can count on them skyrocketing once the economy starts moving.

grammy
11-21-2009, 03:48 PM
Seriously fellas, you lot do a beautiful thing i wish i had the space and time to learn it but like any product if you want to sell ukes, get your marketing together, if you can't do it yourself, get a pro to do it for you. there is always room at the top, and in the middle, and even at the bottom of the quality tree, you just have to find a way to sell it cos there are folks out there doing it.