Beth Smith

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

This one is from Mary Beth Temple – Crocheter. 

This one is from Miriam Felton – Knitter

Here is one from Laura Frye – Weaver.

Annie Modesitt – another Knitter.


Jacey Boggs – Magazine Entrepreneur.

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.


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