Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It changes how you look at everything

There is a flyer taped to a utility pole on my street, advertising a local "repair collective" of licensed, skilled workers who are available to hire for all sorts of repairs and jobs. While talking up their skills they also add the extra enticement of low rates, which they describe as undercutting the rates of their competitors.

Whoa, wait, undercutting?

If you've been in the belly dance scene for more than five minutes you've heard the stories of dancers losing gigs and other dance opportunities when another dancer, sometimes talented and sometimes not, comes along and offers to perform at a lower rate than the established performer. It's ugly. It's stupid. If you really are dying to dance go check out your local shows and haflas before stealing another dancer's job and performing for peanuts. One day you might be looking at the situation from the other side of the equation.

Though I know competitive pricing is all a part of running a business, it still made me stop to see the word undercutting used so casually. Hell, used with pride! I've been conditioned to think of undercutting as a sign of bad quality and clueless or malicious behavior. Perhaps this repair collective is made up of a bunch of wonderful, talented, hardworking people but their advertising language really turned me off. Something like "Give us a call and ask about out competitive hourly rates!" would have been a much more positive way to say, "We work for cheap!". And as someone who is about to buy a house, I am all about the cheap but not at the sake of quality and not if it screws other people out of a job.


Kim said...

I have been hearing this a lot in some of the photography forums and mail lists. But I took a different feeling from the complaints. It's usually people complaining that people are charging $500 for weddings and putting $2000 or $5000 wedding photographers out of jobs. That kind of drives me a little crazy because some people can't afford that much, and I feel like those photographers are being elitists. Like something as "nice" as photography can't be purchased for less than a premium price. Yet the tools to do excellent photography are more and more accessible.

I dunno. It's different, but I was really irate about how some professional photographers were acting. People getting their start in photography can't just go and charge thousands of dollars right out of the gate. It's not like we have medieval guilds setting prices.

Amy said...

I think there is the difference between the starting pro rate and the rate of an established professional with years of experience who is able to demand a higher amount and can afford to take only the jobs they really want. There's also the difference between the type of service. For dancers a 15 minute party show will be different than a wedding event where you may perform a few times and do something special for the bride and groom or whatever. It seems like photographers have that too, I've seen pricing on wedding jobs where it can be just the "active" hours (ceremony and reception) to photographing an entire weekend's worth of festivities!

I think, no matter what the field, the big thing is keeping out the people who will work for free (unless it's a gift/for a friend/a barter) or who undercut other people in order to steal their jobs. We have a problem in the area of a local dancer who undercuts, knows she is doing so, and has told the people's whose job she took that she doesn't care about demanding a higher rate. That sucks for everyone.