what we learned from your feedback: part IV, pricing

We had a strange email come in a couple months ago. Actually, we get strange emails quite often, and if you buy me a drink one night I may share some of the better ones with you. But this one has stuck in my mind because it’s related to the topic of today’s post.

This person was writing to say that she had just discovered Oliver + S patterns. She wanted to buy six of our digital patterns right away, but she didn’t want to make the whole outfit included with each pattern. She only planned to use the top or the bottom of each, so she was asking that we split these six digital patterns in half for her and sell her just the half she wanted at half the price.

When I replied that we couldn’t do this, she fired back an email asking what the problem was. They were just digital patterns; it should be easy to do! I told her that wasn’t the case, and I pointed her to the Oliver + S Singles that are available. She responded that she wouldn’t be purchasing anything from us afterall.

When it comes to shopping, there are two types of people: those who want more for less and those who recognize that less can actually be more.

This person obviously fell into the first group. When I think of these people, I think of the audience of dedicated consumers that Walmart has cultivated and trained. These shoppers care more about quantity than quality. They focus first and foremost on cost because the lower the price, the more they can afford to buy.

In the other camp are people who focus on quality rather than quantity. They’ll shop carefully, looking for the best product at the price they can afford. They’ll spend more when they spend, but they’ll buy fewer items. They’ll also take greater pleasure in each thing they purchase and will hold on to what they buy for longer, making more use of it over time.

Most Oliver + S customers fall into the second group, and that’s why this email exchange has stuck with me. That’s not how most customers approach our patterns. Our typical customer doesn’t buy six patterns at a time. She purchases one or two. She’ll spend her time working through them, and will usually sew from a pattern several times. She’ll make each of the views. She may customize the pattern and make something original. Perhaps she’ll pair one of the separates in the pattern with a separate from another pattern to make an interesting outfit. She’s not a disposable crafter. She’s a deliberate sewist. She recognizes and appreciates the quality of the product, and she values the time she spends sewing because it’s (most of the time) a frustration-free experience.

At least, that’s how we hope people use our patterns. We know we don’t sell the cheapest patterns on the market, but we’ve never intended to compete on price. Instead, we want to compete in the market (and win) on quality—quality of the product, quality of the support we provide for it, and quality of the whole experience it allows our customers to have when they use it.

I’m writing about pricing today because in our recent survey we received many comments related to it. Pricing-related feedback fell into a few general categories.

  • People commenting that the pricing on our patterns is too high
  • People not liking the fact that there is a size-range split for each style; they would like to get the whole size range for the same price
  • People not liking the fact that our digital patterns are priced the same as paper patterns

We don’t take our pricing lightly. If you took the Creativebug “Building a Creative Brand” course you heard me talk a lot about pricing—and making sure that you price your product appropriately. Pricing is one of the Four Ps, and it’s one of the most important things to figure out when launching and running a business.

We’ve always treated pricing accordingly. We look at pricing each time we release a new pattern or a new collection of patterns, but I don’t think we’ve ever shared our thinking about pricing with you. Your survey comments on pricing have made me realize that it’s time to do that.

But first, let me provide a little context. When Oliver + S launched in 2008, our patterns were priced at $15.95. For that price you received a pattern sized from either Birth-24 months or 2T-5. Each and every year since then our costs have gone up, but over the last seven years we have only increased our prices once. (And when we did that we decided to hold the pricing on our backlist patterns steady at $15.95.) We have been able to keep our prices down by finding efficiencies in our operations and through growing the volume of patterns we sell. Today for newer Oliver + S patterns you pay $16.95 for a pattern that includes a larger range of sizes than our line did in 2008. And that small increase of $1.00 per pattern is actually not bad when you factor in inflation. A $15.95 pattern from 2008 would cost $17.53 today if it had increased by the rate of inflation over those years.

So let’s turn to your comments on pricing from the survey. First off, throughout the survey many people said they thought our patterns were too expensive and they would like to see them priced substantially lower. Sure, I get that. Who doesn’t like to pay less for something? But we’re not going to be dropping our prices across the board. Our prices are in line with other top-tier, independent sewing patterns. We’re not the most expensive, and we’re not the least expensive. We are priced toward the top of the market, but there’s a reason for that.

We think of an Oliver + S pattern as being the doorway to a sewing experience. The price you pay for our patterns allows us to provide everything that goes above and beyond what you get in the envelope. We don’t charge you for the inspiration and ideas provided by our daily blog posts or make you pay to post questions in the discussion forums. We offer free patterns that get downloaded over a thousand times each day. (I sure wish we sold that many patterns day in and day out….) If you should ever email with a question or problem about our patterns, you’ll get a response in under 24 hours and often in less time than that—including on weekends. If you place an order from us in the morning, it will ship to you that afternoon. If I look across the landscape of pattern companies (both major and independent) and tally the ones that provide all these services to support their products, those companies can be counted with the fingers on one hand—with a thumb and a few fingers left over.

Even though you get all these services for free, there is a real cost associated with them. And I know what those costs are because I pay the bills for staff and freelancer time, website development and maintenance, hosting and bandwidth, warehouse services, and more each and every month. And I know that if we charged less for our patterns these things would necessarily have to disappear and the overall experience of sewing with an Oliver + S pattern would lessen.

It’s also important to us that we run a sustainable business—one that pays its staff and contributors fairly for what they do and that is operated in such a way that it will be here today, tomorrow, and well into the future. Sadly, this isn’t always the case in the world of independent pattern companies. Many are run on an ad hoc basis out of a spare bedroom as a hobby until the designer loses interest or decides it doesn’t make financial sense to continue (usually because she set her initial price too low…). Here today, gone tomorrow. And during the time we’ve been in business we’ve seen more than one burst onto the scene, get a lot of linky love in the blogosphere, and then realize that it’s harder to run a business than it seems. Again, if we were to lower prices on our patterns our ability to support them over time would see an impact.

Second, several people commented that they don’t like the fact that our patterns come in two size ranges. They would really like to be able to purchase a pattern once and sew from that style from ages six months to 12 years. Again, I can understand the thinking here. But as we’ve increased our size ranges over the years (our Oliver + S patterns are now graded into a total of 12 sizes) including them all on one pattern sheet becomes a usability issue—all those nested lines. Three or four years ago we actually considered doing this. We spent a lot of time looking strategically into whether it was a good idea. We evaluated the impact on the product, and we gathered input from people across the industry. At that time we determined that, for a number of reasons, keeping the styles split into two separate size ranges was a better idea. We haven’t seen reason to change that yet, but it’s something that we’ll continue to evaluate—along with some other specific suggestions about what is included in the package that were made by some of you.

Finally, many people said that they didn’t think the cost of a digital pattern should be the same as the cost of a paper patterns because they have to print the pattern at home. First off, I think it’s worth noting that many of our digital patterns are actually priced lower than their paper siblings. We have priced all our digital backlist patterns that do not run up to size 12 lower than they were priced when they were available in paper. And we have released a collection of Oliver + S Singles as digital only patterns that are priced much lower than any of our paper patterns.

Our more recent, front-list patterns are priced the same in paper and digital format, and that’s worth discussing. Most people don’t realize this, but the cost for us to have a copy of a paper pattern printed commercially really isn’t that much. It’s a small percentage of the retail price that a consumer pays for the product. The majority of the retail cost goes toward recouping our investment in developing the product. We spend months developing each of our styles. It’s expensive to do–both in terms of the time that Liesl puts into the process and the hard dollar costs we pay others throughout the process (illustrator, graphic designer, pattern grader, testers, photographer, etc.). These costs are the same, and need to be recovered in the same way, whether the final product is sold as a paper pattern or a digital pattern.

It is correct that when we sell a digital pattern we don’t pay the printing cost for one copy of a physical product. But assuming that all the cost of a digital pattern is borne by the consumer, and that there is no cost associated with producing and selling digital patterns, is an incorrect view. We have real costs related to the development, sale, and support of digital patterns that offset the small savings we see by not having to print another copy of a pattern commercially.

It’s time consuming and costly to produce the type of digital patterns we make; those nicely tiled pages don’t magically develop themselves. It’s not free to store those files on a server and to allow you to create a website account to download the large files multiple times. And our customer service costs to support digital patterns are far and away higher than the cost to support paper patterns. We spend hours each week helping people download files, open files, get files to print at scale, etc. These are all things that have nothing to do with the products themselves but with people’s computers, printers, tablets, and/or understanding about using the technology they own. For every one support request we receive for our paper patterns, I estimate we get over 50 support requests from people using our digital patterns. None of these requests are actually about an issue with the pattern itself, but we still provide assistance.

And if you’re still not with me on this issue, I would encourage you to do an all-in price comparison of purchasing a digital pattern vs. a paper pattern. If you do, you’ll determine that even though the list price is the same, our digital patterns come out to be less expensive than our paper patterns. The cost in paper and ink to print a digital pattern is less than the shipping and handling cost for purchasing a paper copy of the pattern. Plus, the digital copy is delivered immediately.

I’m sorry if this post has come across as sounding defensive. I suppose to a certain extent it is. We asked for your feedback, many of you told us you want to pay less for our product, and I’m saying, “No, we can’t do that for you.” I’m sure what I’ve written will make some people angry. And I would bet that this post will receive comments explaining how we really could lower our prices if we would only do this, that, or the other thing. We’re always open to specific suggestions, and I’ll be sure to read all your comments–even if I don’t respond to them directly. But I hope that this behind-the-scenes view of what goes into setting our pricing will help you understand why it is what it is.

That said, we will always continue to evaluate our pricing when we release new products, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep our prices as low as possible—just as we have over the last seven years.

I’ll be back in two weeks with my final post in this series.

Update (6/18/2015): This post has received a few comments taking me to task for being rude, “calling out” a customer, and degrading people who shop at Walmart. I’m sorry that the post has been interpreted that way. That was not the intention at all. I would never knowingly do any of those things, and I hope that those of you who know me personally and know of our company’s reputation can affirm that.

Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have left out the anecdote used at the start of this post. While it was in my mind as an example of the distinction I was trying to make while I was thinking though how to write this post, it might have artificially simplified the situation. If I had to do it over again, I would not use it because I would never want to cause offense–intentionally or otherwise.

Unfortunately, it’s too late to take it back now. So the best I can do is offer a sincere apology for any offense caused or taken. Please rest assured that there was none intended.

Update (6/22/2015): Please see this post for an additional apology to those whose feelings were hurt.

 

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91 Comments

  1. Patricia wisse

    Your patterns and best of all instructions are the best. I have learned so many helpful techniques. The blogs and discussions are invaluable ! Please do not lessen any quality. If this is what it costs so be it. If you want less expensive patterns, there are lots to be had but they do not provide what Oliver does!

  2. Erin Waters

    Not angry here…you all provide an amazing product that is worth my money. When I got back to sewing years ago I had checked out a few sewing blogs and discovered Liesl’s patterns. I bought one and was hooked – the instructions and fit provided by the pattern pieces are both superior to any other pattern I have sewn. Thank you again for this series on how things work, it’s interesting and gives real insight. I’m bummed that my oldest daughter is in a size 12, meaning she’s about to outgrow you, but I still have one younger so I’m in for a few more years to come 🙂

  3. Thank you for such an in-depth look at pricing! I’ve loved Oliver & S since well before I had my own little to sew for. I keep coming back to your patterns (and your adult patterns) because I know that I will get a professional looking garment every time. The instructions are so clear and easy to understand. I’m excited to read the last post in the series. But in all, keep doing what you do because I truly believe that Oliver & S patterns are the best out there!

  4. Rebecca

    I love that you share this. I love, love knowing how much thought and care is behind the business.

    I find it very sad to see that the Internet has provided a way for us to share feedback (often in ignorance) in ways that we would not behave in-person–and still maintain friendships and networking–yet it’s so easy to behave self-indignant and self-righteous via email or web posts.

    Thank for working tirelessly to selflessly offer such a wonderful customer service.

    P.S. I’ve been listening/watching more interactions with Ms. Gibson via CreativeBug and podcasts, and I’ve come to love her happy, passionate voice and willingness to share. It has only increased my loyalty to y’all.

  5. Brooke

    I’ve never commented before, but this post kinda hit home. My husband works in business, marketing, strategy etc. and we talk about issues such as yours a lot.

    You already know it, but what you are doing with your pricing is spot on. A business will always fail if pricing is unsuitable. You can’t sell quality for cheap (no one will really believe it’s quality at that price, plus it’s unsustainable) and you can’t sell crap at a high price (no one will buy it). If you reduced your prices, regardless of your costs, it is inevitable that people will begin to think the quality is lower.
    If you want to reduce your prices to appeal to more customers, have sales, that way you haven’t diminished the perceived value of your product, just the price for a set period.

    Anyway, I don’t think you needed this advice but just wanted to share. I also don’t think you should have to explain your pricing to customers, but I respect you for doing so. I’ve been watching and using Oliver + S for a number of years and have been really impressed with how you’ve managed your brand, identity, marketing and communications (let alone your actual fantastic products!). Keep up the great work and I wish you and Liesl the best in your endeavours.

  6. Kerri

    Happy to pay a premium for a premium product. I so enjoy sewing with your patterns, and appreciate that you are building a sustainable business. Thank you for the wonderful patterns, blog, discussion forums and service. I look forward to sewing with Liesl’s patterns for many, many decades to come.

  7. Carol Evans

    Thank you for the insight! The patterns you offer are priceless. They taught me how to sew and have given me endless hours of satisfaction. I also like the convenience of a digital pattern, and really, the paper to print them myself is just pennies!

  8. Miriana Weston

    These are great posts and it’s fantastic to see you expose the inner workings of your business. And that you’re managing it like a proper business. Personally, I’m happy to pay the premium price for your patterns as the instructions are excellent and I feel that I’m getting a sewing lesson thrown in. The issue I have with split sizing is not to do with price but with the overlap. When my daughter was 4/5 I was disinclined to buy the size 2 – 5 range as I’d only be able to make something once.

  9. Amanda

    I admit, I am one of them who does not understand why the digital patterns are not cheaper…but I’m also one who hates digital patterns. I am MORE than happy to pay a couple bucks more for the printed pattern and not have to deal with taping all those damn pages together.

    As for the pricing in general, I do admit that I balked at first. Mostly because I’ve tried far too many indie patterns that are just freaking terrible. Poorly drafted and poor instructions. I was really reluctant to spend $17 on a pattern that might be awful. I waited to a sale, though, and snagged one. I’m happy to say I was delighted. The pattern quality, both in terms of drafting and the instructions, are phenomenal. I would much rather pay a few more bucks for an Oliver+S pattern, knowing that I’m getting quality, than buy three, cheaper patterns from some random chick who started sewing six months ago and decided she was a pattern designer.

  10. Jill J

    I’ve been sewing for 30 years and your patterns are by far the best I’ve sewn with and worth every penny. I have become a more accomplished seamstress and make very professional looking pieces since using your patterns. To me you can’t put a price on that!

  11. Fantastic explanation. I’m really appreciating these posts. Quality products are harder and harder to find in all markets thanks to the Walmart Effect. I appreciate you sticking to your vision and maintaining a sustainable business producing an excellent product. Keep it up!

  12. Trish Pulvermacher

    This post is written very well. I would not change a thing that you’re doing!! Love your patterns and recommend then often.

  13. Lindy

    Sure, your patterns may cost more. But considering the return on my investment (excellent instructions, great customer service, and a wonderful resulting product due to the time put into instructions), I’ll keep coming back! I’ve wasted plenty of money on patterns, downloadables, and books that I can’t understand or are just poorly written, and everything I invested into the project is a loss. I’d rather pay for a known, even if sometimes my knee-jerk reaction gives me a little monetary guilt; you’re worth it.

  14. Annalisa

    What a difficult post for you to write. As always, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. It is so easy to say I would like to pay less, and sometimes because of personal changes it may be necessary, but your explanations always help us to see and understand what happens behind the scenes. I love your patterns and I was just explaining to my husband the other night that I find myself choosing to purchase patterns from the smaller independent companies because of the quality of the patterns and all the support that comes with it. Your post continues my thoughts and gives me even more information to share in the future! Thank you for caring, and for all the wonderful patterns! Happy Summer!!!

  15. I hope everyone understands your position – I think it is great and generous that you are giving insight into your business. There needs to be a step back from lots of cheap things to things of quality that last and last. (I know it has been hard for me to shift from buying many items of clothing inexpensively to spending more on items that will (hopefully) last.) Your company is set apart from many other PDF pattern companies because you’re professionals and that shows through everything you do. I wish you continued success.

  16. Chantal Block

    I completely agree with the previous posters, and thank you for the time you put into developing these patterns. I spent several years sewing exclusively from patterns made by The Big 4 and I’m more than happy to pay a little more for the difference in quality of Oliver + S patterns. I do tend to value them more as an investment, and am more likely to sew each pattern several times instead of moving on to the next pattern I bought at a 99 cent sale. The quality of my sewing has increased greatly as a result. Also, I had never considered the costs of hosting patterns on the website and thank you for going through the various expenses, because it does make a lot more sense now. I was firmly in the “digital patterns should cost much less” camp and your post has put this into perspective. And I’ve noticed how often you both contribute to the forum discussions, this is invaluable.

    Thank you again for all your hard work! Looking forward to being a customer for years to come.

  17. You have certainly hit the nail on the head regarding price vs quality. I purchase your patterns because of the quality. I know you will always deliver at or far beyond my expectations. I have heard women complain about the price of your patterns (relative to others) in my local quilt shop, and every time I have to speak up and politely give my own reasons for why your patterns are superior and worth every penny. I can generally tell very quickly whether the sewist is truly interested in a quality product or a disposable one. (By the way, love the Blondie reference. )

    I’m also glad you spoke about your stable pricing. I mentioned this exact point to my husband a year ago (maybe 2?) when I saw the price was increased only $1 per pattern. I did and still do find that to be extremely generous of the company. In fact, I have always felt that I have gotten a huge bargain when I consider all I’ve learned from O+S patterns compared to that sewing class I took 7 years ago.

    I love that you’ve put this information out so clearly. It’s easy for someone to get caught up on the selling price without realizing just how much goes into a solid, quality product. It happens every day even in my office. I just had a conversation with someone that was hung up on how great he perceived the contribution margin to be, and I could not make him understand that just because that’s what left over from the product doesn’t mean it’s all profit. I’m sure you will make a select few angry with your “defensiveness”, but I believe most will appreciate your honesty and explanation. I certainly do, and I look forward to seeing releases from all your brands well into the future.

  18. R. Wright

    Quality items cost more…it’s just how it is. Love your patterns!

  19. Laura J.

    The only reason I don’t buy more of your patterns is the cost. If it’s a simple gathered, skirt type pattern, for example, I’ll just go somewhere else and get a cheapo version, assuming I can’t make something up myself. I was a little disappointed in the Lunch Box Tee/Culottes, for example, because they just don’t seem very complex and there aren’t a lot of options for $16.95. I’m sure they’re great patterns, but it didn’t seem worth it to me. But if I want actual instruction and attention to detail, then certainly I’ll pay for it — for example the Pinwheel dress or Apple-Picking dress. It’s like paying to acquire a new skill set and a truly unique garment. I have no problem with that. I have also benefited form periodic 20% of coupons from facebook, which not all designers offer.

  20. Here are all my random fandom thoughts:

    Do I think you are a touch pricey? Sure. Do I think you are worth every last cent? ABSOLUTELY. You guys are the perfect example of you get what you pay for. PERIOD.

    The few times I’ve picked up a pattern at a local independent shop, the grandmas eye me and ask me all about it. They say… OH I’ve see that company, and they are darling, but it is so expensive, and I can’t garment sew any more and I have granddaughters, and they look all wistful.

    I tell them it is worth every penny; they won’t be disappointed. And then I whip out my phone and show them. I go to the group and show them what people do. I show them what I do.

    I was also at a shop for a machine problem and brought my Family Reunion dress to show the problem the machine was having. The very experienced owner opened up my garment and with a jaundiced eye asked, “did you really make this?” I said yes, and she told me how impressed she was with the construction. I said, “it is just following directions.” And I tell them how AWESOME your patterns are.

    And honestly, if you happen to buy a big 4 pattern not on sale, they are pretty pricey and there is no nice term to politely discuss the quality, from the tissue, to the instructions, to any support possible.

    Nope, nope. No need to justify here.

    (And FWIW, the lady who wanted to buy only parts… I once bought a pattern for the shirt. I still haven’t made the shirt. I absolutely did not intend on making the pants. I’ve made 4 pairs of the pants AND they are my favorite pants ever.)

    Don’t forget that digital doesn’t really shift the paper cost to the user. If you get the tissue, you still have to trace. If you print on paper, you don’t have to trace.

    Ok enough random thoughts. Just know that I think you are on the right track.

  21. Natalie

    I think you should go back and re read our discussion. I AM that person that is spoken of in this article. I decided not to purchase because I would be stuck with 3 separate pieces I would not sew because they are not my style. I DID say that I’m willing to pay for quality, you failed to mention that, and unfairly threw me into a category that is NOT ME. I said at least once, maybe twice, that I AM willing to pay for quality, but I was wondering if the shirt/pants could be split up and price adjusted accordingly, BECAUSE I was already having to buy BOTH size ranges because I have two girls, one in each size range. The reason I wanted to buy multiple patterns at once, is because I wanted to sew a wardrobe, and use some good, highly recommend patterns to do it. I guess it’s just easier for you to lump people into a category than to listen to them. Sad. I’m even more disappointed now.

  22. Oliver + S is definitely worth the price. I love hearing about what goes on behind the scenes and really enjoyed this and I agree with every point made. You guys do an amazing job (both with patterns and customer support) and deserve to get paid for what you do! I have loved Oliver + S since my very first pattern and will continue to support you. Thanks for all the hard work that make your patterns truly exceptional!

  23. Melanie

    I have no quibbles on price. Hasn’t anyone noticed that Vogue patterns are priced around $25? (sure we usually pick them up on sale at Joann, but still.) Plus, isn’t this really a luxury item? It’s not bread or eggs or heating. It’s a hobby we’re happy to have to get a creative break from everyday life.

    I think the cost of paper patterns is still less to the user. I have found shipping to be less than the cost of large format printing and they arrive in my mail box faster than I can get myself to the large format printing place. Plus, they’re on tissue, which is much easier to manipulate than stiff paper.

    I find it very interesting that the digital patterns cause the company so much more work than paper. just sayin.

  24. Phoebe

    Thank you for sharing this Todd. I think many people in this industry don’t realize how little the artists and designers are getting paid. Because we are in an industry of hobbyists, both on the design and the consumer end, we’ve created our own worst enemy – it is hard to make a living. So I am grateful that you stepped up and said that your patterns cost more because you actually pay people to design and grade the patterns correctly and to put the effort into the instructions. And these people that you’ve paid are probably still not making millions, but I am sure you are paying them more than minimum wage – because they’re worth it.

    On the paper vs. digital thing, I also want to lend my support to the same price for both, although for a different reason. As a buyer for a small, brick-and-mortar fabric shop, I am less likely to purchase patterns for our business when the designer is selling them as PDFs online for a much lower price. Why would our customers buy them from me if they could save 25% from the designer directly? I know that you ultimately make more money if they buy directly from you, but I believe this industry is build of an interwoven group of people, and without your retailers, you might not be able to survive, just as we wouldn’t be able to survive without the designers.

    Thanks again, Todd! (And everyone at Oliver + S!)

  25. Holly S

    Thanks for this post! It was so interesting to me to read about your process. While I obviously would love your patterns to be cheaper because I love spending less money, the price point has never bothered me much because your patterns are such a better quality than almost any other indie patterns out there! It’s like a pattern and a sewing lesson rolled into one! That said, I am always so much more thoughtful and deliberate about buying your patterns because of the price. In the end, that means I end up with a result I love and am proud of. Thanks especially for all the FREE things you offer!

  26. Randi

    While I agree with your points about pricing, I believe the beginning of your post is a bit rude. Yes there are some customers that just want quick, easy, cheap PDFs and yes there are people who just want quality. There is also a middle ground. I enjoy your patterns and believe they are worth the cost. Sometimes, I want something different and turn to the PDFs companies.

  27. liz n.

    I see nothing to apologize for in this post.

    Your patterns are extremely well done and are some of the highest-quality I’ve ever worked with. Goods of excellent quality are worth paying more.

    And I would no more expect a digital pattern to be portioned out and sold at a discount than I would expect to walk into a brick-and-mortar shop that sells paper patterns and expect them to disassemble a pattern so that I could purchase only the pattern pieces I will actually use.

    Keep doing what you do the way you do it. Your work ethic, and product, are rare and much appreciated.

  28. Rosemary

    I carefully watch your sales (Black Friday, for example) and usually purchase your patterns on sale and then try to maximize my shipping costs, plus I am helping you reduce your inventory. I have built a bit of a collection. I love the paper patterns, the covers remind of my paper dolls growing up. I am now leaping into size 5 and will purchase another batch in the larger size group next time a sale pops up. With 2 granddaughters and a 3rd on the way I will be all set for quite a while. While I find your regular prices a bit on the high side, I appreciate the work and quality, I am just a ‘sales shopper’ (hope you don’t mind) and you do a great job in that regard as well. Thanks!!

  29. I love reading these explanations! Thank you for putting time into them and explaining what you guys have learned with all of us!

  30. Brenda

    Actually your prices are less than what I was used to . In the past the nice quality patterns from Childrens Corner, Old Fashioned Baby and Petite Poche for example were $12 for 2 sizes only. Then came Martha Pullen with decent patterns with expanded sizes, then yours. So, no, the pricing is fine and the newer patterns at CC, OFB, and PP have size ranges like yours. Folks will always find something to complain about.(and thanks for the coupons via fb and email. If folks followed and supported you instead of complaining they would discover those ways to cut some costs!)

  31. Maresea

    That story is seriously hilarious and I would buy YOU a drink to hear some of the “best of the worst” email requests and comments you have had over the years.
    In my experience, most people are clueless when it comes understanding the reality of entrepreneurship and how incredibly challenging it is to walk that high wire with no safety net.
    A sense of humor is definitely a plus, and as good old Jimmy
    Buffet sang: “if we weren’t all crazy we would go insane!”

  32. One thing that’s not really touched on is that many of your patterns have 2 items of clothing included in them. Which cuts the price in 1/2. This puts Oliver+S much cheaper than many pattern companies (Indie or Big 4.) Then there is the fact that each time we sew a pattern, the price is cut in 1/2 because we didn’t have to repurchase the pattern. I honestly can’t believe the price of Oliver+S patterns isn’t higher!

  33. I appreciate your candor in this post. I don’t understand why creative entrepreneurs have such a hard time making a decent living, but I think that maybe more information like this will help to educate the general public on just how much things need to cost to support the work that goes behind the scenes.

    Keep up the good work.

  34. I agree with the above comments that for some reason the internet gives some people the feeling they can say things they wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

    I am more than happy to pay for quality, and your products are by far the best, digital and paper. Not only the quality of the pdf or paper copy, or even the instructions, but the fact that I know I can rely on the measurement chart to be accurate and that the garment will fit. Your proportions and details are always spot on, I love that Liesl is actually trained in this field, it obviously makes a difference. Sure, I am occasionally distracted by something shiny and buy a pattern from other companies, but I usually am disappointed and head straight back to get my fix.

    I would shout your praises from the rooftop if my neighbors wouldn’t think I am crazy, instead, I make sure to always cite and recommend your products because I believe in them and their value. If I ever hear anyone complain or mention your pricing, I always point them to your free patterns so they can see the work and effort that goes in to each one.

    I am so glad I found your company and it’s website, I have made so many friends here and communicate with them regularly through other means too. The community you have created is amazing; I can honestly say, I don’t think I would be sewing as much or have come as far as I have with out it. Every one is so supportive and helpful.

    Sorry for the rambling love fest, but I wanted to add my voice to the others, that we think you are doing the right thing and you don’t owe any one an explanation.

  35. carol

    Wonderful post!

  36. Jenny

    I 100% agree with this post. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like to save a few dollars (at least I do) but I have been willing since 2008 to pay a higher price for you patterns because they are hands down worth the money. I haven’t counted my “Liesl + Co” patterns recently but I’m sure I’m up to over 20 (and I do care how much they cost so I only tend to buy one or two at a time and usually not more than twice a year). It is well worth the extra money and I think that in general, anyone that sews with your patterns agrees. It is unfortunate that you feel like you have to justify your reasons–is it reasonable what some designers charge for clothing? In my opinion, no. So I don’t buy it. I guess the same goes for those that buy your patterns. If you don’t like the price, don’t buy it. But I guess that is just because I am the consumer, not running a business.

    I have enjoyed the singles and have appreciated that I could purchase some staple items for a reduced price. I also have loved the mid-season patterns you have released in the past such as the Forest Path Cape (I can’t tell you how many compliments I have gotten on that for my girls). I, like others, also tend to wait for sales if I want more than one pattern but not always. I have even had my husband purchase patterns for me for my birthday and Christmas!

    Lastly, I SO appreciate the personal attention and feedback your company gives. Back in 2010 I was living in Connecticut and was looking for some specialty trim for a baby christening gown for my almost newborn daughter. I emailed Liesl asking for advice on where to shop in NYC but didn’t really expect a reply. I was tickled when I received a reply within a day or two. It really meant so much to me. We even ended up naming our daughter Liesl (after her aunt–sorry not after you:)) and I always have thought it was fun that you had a part in helping me make the dress for her christening. I will keep shopping with you for as long as you are around. THANK YOU!

  37. Sian

    Ah, great post – very interesting. I think Oliver & S patterns are great value. We are expatriated in the Middle East right now and the fact that I can download a pdf pattern of such a high quality, sew it multiple times, receive support and feedback, browse the Flickr page for inspiration…. Well, it really adds to my quality of life here.
    Thank you xx

  38. Sharon k

    First off wonderful post! I think the patterns are more than worth the cost. I have sewn from each pattern I have bought several times and every garment always comes out so lovely! Quality is always much better than quantity.

  39. Wonderful post Liesl and isn’t it amazing that no matter what you try to do there are always those who want to explain to you why you should do it differently, remember Taylor Swift-Shake it off! Your patterns are wonderful, styling is amazing and the cost is cheaper than we all realize-you get what you pay for!

  40. krystina

    Thank you for this thoughtful and informative post. By way of background I have quite a few O + S patterns and fully appreciate the careful attention to detail you all obviously put into the patterns. Everything I have sewn from your company has been easy and the results beautiful. As a consumer I generally do not mind paying a premium price for a premium product.

    That said, I fall into the camp of disliking the split in size ranges offered by O+S. There are so many quality children’s pattern companies that offer a full range of sizing options (off the top of my head, Figgy’s, Sis Boom, Rae) that don’t seem to have problems with “all those lines.” Another user said something similar above, but I know I for one have hesitated in recent years to buy O + S patterns because my daughter would have fallen in the “in between” area of size ranges. So, for example, I would choose a Figgy’s or Sis Boom pattern over O + S because they gave me more flexibility (sorry!).

    Also, because of the split in sizing, people who are sewing for multiple children who fall in different sizes (like I am) will be investing $34 into a pattern, not $17. I think most sewers would agree that $34 for a pattern, no matter how special, is a bit much. That is something I’m sure many people consider when comparing you to other brands.

    For that reason I usually do not buy patterns when they are released, choosing instead to wait until there is a sale!!!!

  41. “Too expensive” is a value judgment, and an economist would tell you that if you are selling your product and growing and paying your bills, the product is not “too expensive.” That said, I’ve wondered if your location in one of the most expensive areas of the country might contribute to high overhead costs …

    I’m going to be honest and tell you that your prices are on the high end of what I’m willing to pay for a pattern. That’s just the truth. If a pattern starts to edge closer to $20, I usually won’t pay. So you’re walking the line. The fact that I’m buying them means I do hugely value the quality of the product and the community you’ve created here – it’s not meant to disparage your wonderful product or to say anything about how hard you work! It is just meant to be honest – your prices walk the line for me, and a significant price increase would potentially be a turnoff for me. That’s useful information to know, right? It’s not intended to disparage your work – I also work hard for my money and wish I got paid more than I do so I have to be careful with it! No value judgment here, just facts!

    On a different topic, if inflation has gone up so much since 2008, why haven’t I gotten a decent raise in that time? Effing recession. LOL.

  42. Catherine L

    I’ve been sewing for over 20 years and think these are hands down the best patterns ever. I’m kind of a pack rat with patterns and I’ve found that the Oliver and S patterns are the ones that get the most use by far. My mother used to always ask me why don’t I just draft the patterns myself. My answer was that it was worth it to buy a good pattern so as not to spend a lot of time fussing with proportion and fit. I would have that much more time to construct the garment.

    I completely understand why you have to charge the same for PDF as for paper: we’re paying for content, not the medium. I have 5 children in private schools and have seem the same dynamic with textbook pricing as they move to digital content.

    Finally, my 2 cents on the size range question: some styles are not suitable for children of certain ages. I can see how it may not be effective to grade every pattern to every size.

    Keep up the good work. My youngest is 5 and I hope to get a lot more years out of your wonderful patterns.

  43. Margie

    I have to admit, I also balked at the price of the patterns at first, because I was so used to buying the big 4 on sale at Joann’s for half nothing. But, what a difference! I have maybe 5 of your patterns and have made three of them (one several times). Each time i finish the garment it looks SO much nicer than ANYTHING I have ever made from any of the Big 4. My last Oliver and S was a family reunion dress for my friend’s little girl who was turning one. It came out Amazing and I am insanely proud of it.
    I would GLADLY pay 16.95 for someone to ooh and awe at my sewing like my friend did when I gave her the dress.

    My daughter JUST outgrew most of the patterns that I had bought when she was born. I bought her a few more to make in the bigger sizes. For those on the cusp of the sizes, I always did feel that Oliver and S sizing ran a tiny bit big, so maybe that 4 would fit after all.

    Finally, in any instance, I am usually willing to pay extra money to support a local businesses. In a world that is ruled by big corporations that have most of their jobs overseas, it’s really the one socially conscious thing that we can do to make a difference.

  44. I have the Field Trip in both sizes. I bought it on clearance, and I *think* it was half off (and for my own personal happiness, I will continue thinking it even if I am not remembering the sale correctly).

    I don’t buy patterns as often as I might if they were cheaper, but to be honest, I think I probably DO sew the same amount as I would if patterns were cheaper. I buy patterns I want to make a million times. For a sewing who’s looking to create an entire wardrobe for a child or two of different ages, I would recommend a year’s subscription to Ottobre magazine and a couple high quality patterns with great instructions to help you get over the rough spots.

  45. Marcia

    As a fellow small business owner I entirely agree with all your points. I too have found that there are customers who want more for less, and then customers who want true quality. I early on made a business decision to appeal to the “I want quality” truly motivated customers. Kudos to you for asking the questions and then directly addressing them with frank answers!

  46. Laura

    I think the prices set offer excellent value for money. I thought I could sew before I put together my first o+s item. How wrong I was! I have learned so much from each of the many patterns I own, they have really helped develop my skillset. I would be lost without them!

  47. As someone who learned to sew a long time ago but still needs her hand held through complex pattern instructions I say your patterns are worth every penny. Also for $17 you can get a pattern to make over and over in many sizes, not so hard to get your money’s worth, really.

    Also I really appreciate knowing why the digital patterns are priced the same as paper. I didn’t know how insignificant printing costs are at your end and hadn’t thought about the customer service component when you’re selling more digital patterns, either. I personally can’t decide which I prefer. On one hand printing out those pages and taping them up can be annoying but it’s nice to print out as many as I need (for mistakes, changing sizes, etc) without worrying about wearing out one single copy.

    Have you considered selling bundles? This is common for knitting books where you can buy an e-copy along with the printed version (price wise more than either of the individual components but less than buying both individually). Then one is a backup for the other…

  48. I think your pricing is very fair. How many pairs of pj pants have I made by now? Too many to count. I got my money’s worth.

  49. mc

    I spend $20/half hour for my daughter’s piano lessons, $17.50/half hour for my son’s swimming lessons, and $25/45minutes for my husband’s guitar lessons….just to name a few places I spend our money. $16.95 + supplies for a much longer sewing lesson (b/c really that is what your patterns offer) AND a finished product seems like a bargain to me.

  50. Rebecca

    I FULLY AGREE with the majority of these comments!! I have acquired quite an assortment of patterns over the years for my daughter and THESE are the ones I come back to over and over again! I shy away from sewing anything else. I have a few big 4 plus some other indie patterns and ottobre magazines. These are the ones that get used mostly! The sizing is GREAT and rarely have a problem with anything being too big/little. I cannot say the same for any other pattern company. I can count numerous times when I’ve used finishes/techniques on other patterns that I have learned from O&S. O&S has helped me learn how to create a better finished product that my husband, who was always very kind and not tell me how much my earlier stuff stunk, has now really started requesting items for himself because he’s always so impressed with what I churn out.
    This is ALL because of your company!! Between the tutorials, instructions and forums I have learned so much! I will gladly pay the price for a pattern that I believe I can use over and over again. The styles are timeless and can be adapted to multiple ages. My daughter is 8 now and the day she outgrows O&S will be a sad one for me. O&S has been with our family through many milestones, birthdays, first days of school, first communion, Christmas celebrations, etc. With that being said, I hope in the future there will be more Liesl & Co and Lisette she can fit into! 😉 Thank you for all that you do!

  51. Trish

    I’ve read lots of the comments and am so pleased to see all the positivity. I really appreciate the quality of your patterns and absolutely love what you guys do and the way in which you run your business. You’ve taken me from a ‘very nervous’ sewer, to a ‘I can’t believe I made that’ sewer – ha! I’m so grateful. Thank you!

  52. amy

    Well, I did leave a comment asking about the digital pricing being exactly the same, because you described in detail in a post how much the paper patterns cost to store! It seemed like a logical question. I’ve bought 2 or 3 digital and one paper (it was on sale when you wanted to clear out storage, actually!) and I’m happy with what I’ve sewn so far, so I’ll keep buying. That’s the true test for any customer–you have a good reputation, I tried a pattern based on a recommendation, and I was happy. I also definitely feel we get what we pay for, in general. Free patterns are hit or miss and usually something I can put together myself anyway.

    The first pattern of yours I bought was the digital family pack of the bus stop t-shirts. I’ve made my daughter 5 dresses using the t-shirt as the base, and 2 shirts for myself. It’s well worth the money and I tell people so. Oh, and she has matching leggings for many of her dresses from one of your patterns as well. 😉

  53. Sarah

    Just the other day I got a compliment from my daughter’s teacher – she called me an “excellent seamstress.” I can’t really take much credit, though. Oliver+S can make anyone look good!

    I do agree with Miriana on the in-between sizes. I would love to see a cross-over size (i.e. 6mos – 4, 4 – 12). Wishful thinking, I know:)

  54. Rachel

    Thank you for your insight into your pricing. Your patterns are a delight to work with, thank you for your hard work & professionalism!

  55. Anne

    I’m with all the others that have said this already. I don’t mind at all paying a little more for your high quality and very instructional patterns. Thank you for the illuminating look into your business. I am so glad to support a small business so dedicated to a great product.

  56. Phyllis in Rocky Bayou

    I’ve really enjoyed each of your posts on the survey, Todd. I’m a firm believer in “you get what you pay for.”

    I recently bought a 36-inch roll of tracing paper from Amazon for $25. (It’s up to $33 today.) It was 50 yards long. I took it to the blueprint shop today and they printed the small size Bubble Dress, the Women’s Metro T-shirt, and the Cappucino Dress for me. First they had to roll my paper from a 1.5-inch core onto a 3-inch core to fit their printers. The total bill was $26.50. The tracing paper is much better than vellum, which they used previously. It’s thinner and more flexible, and you can truly see through it if you need to do fussy pattern placement or to match stripes or plaids. The 3 patterns used 5.2 yards. Now the roll contains about 44.8 yards left. With the vellum my print cost per pattern sheet was from $9 to $12, depending on the length. This could be a much more cost-effective way for me to get pattern sheets printed. I’ll have to see how much printing is next time, since my roll is on a 3-inch core now.

  57. Jean

    I take real issue with this post.

    First, because of the extremely derogatory and classist comment about people who are price conscious or who shop at Walmart. There are many people who are limited by what they can afford or which stores they have access to. It’s a *real* turn off to see Oliver+S snub people who are hard working and doing their very best in this way. It reads as truly self-indulgent entitlement. (I live in a small town where the only major store happens to be a Walmart, and the next closest grocery/department store is at least 30 miles away).

    Second, because it makes assumptions about your customer base that you can’t possibly know. What if the people who want split designs are asking for that because the other half of the design is something that is (for whatever reason) unusable for them? Let’s keep in mind the parents who have kids with special needs, religious, school or social standards that require a certain style of clothing, etc. You’re basically telling all of those people that you know better than they do what is best for them. And in all honesty, as someone who does some pattern design for custom dresses, it really wouldn’t be that hard to split them up and repackage them as singles. The issue isn’t the time it would take, but rather that you just don’t want to do it. (Just like you *could* package multiple size ranges into one product, either with separate files or using the PDF layering options, but… again, you just don’t want to).

    Third, what was the point, precisely, of asking for customer feedback if you’re only going to use it to explain–I mean–excuse yourself from taking any of it? It’s shallow at best, and in my opinion, pretentious. It’s a real display of ego, especially combined with the fact that Oliver+S doesn’t want anyone to sell items made from their patterns.

    If there ever was a time to embrace the everyday seamstress, it’s now, and unfortunately, Oliver+S, you’ve totally missed the mark.

    1. Jean, I think you and a few others have missed the point.

      My mention of Walmart isn’t classist or degrading to people who are price conscious or have limited options for shopping locally. I think everyone is price conscious. I sure know I am. My mention of Walmart is in reference to its decades-long (and extremely successful) business model: constantly reduce prices by squeezing the supply chain to bring in consumers and increase volume. Of course it’s possible to shop there (or anywhere) and be a conscious consumer. But, as I said, Walmart has worked very hard to train its most dedicated customers to focus solely on cost (why all the price cut banners and in-store signage that focus on low costs rather than anything else?) and to increase the volume of products they purchase. Some people are conscious of this and can shop there anyway. Others buy into the ethos, consciously or not, and purchase more and more useless junk because it looks like such a great deal. But there’s a real cost (it’s a cost that is paid somewhere else) to our focus on cost to the exclusion of anything else. See this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdLf4fihP78 .

      And, to your second point, sure I could have asked our graphic designer to remake all six PDF files especially for this one customer. But it takes a good deal of time to remake the source files, export, package, create new products in the webstore, etc. so that they can be purchased. Everyone involved in that exercise works on an hourly basis. And our cost to have them do that work would far exceed the revenue generated by the sale. And that’s a non-starter. Sometimes we just have to say no to requests. I’m sure you’ve been in situations like that before.

  58. Another great post, Todd! I really do enjoy hearing all the behind the scenes details.

    Oliver + S is one of the pricier patterns that I purchase and now that my little girls aren’t so little anymore, I really think hard before purchasing a new pattern. BUT I have yet to be disappointed in any O+S pattern I’ve sewn and I typically sew each pattern multiple times. They are an investment to me. While some patterns I’ve bought have been sold or passed on to other sewists, I plan on holding on to my O+S patterns. After all, one day (not for a good while I hope!) there will be grandkids to sew for.;)

    Thank you, Liesl and Todd, for providing a wonderful product!

  59. Well what an informative post! Thankyou for so much valuable information. Having purchased so many of your patterns, both digital and paper and in both sizes two, I know I am getting great value for money! They are all I sew with these days!

  60. T

    Calling a customer out in a very public forum …..professional!

  61. Sarvi

    Hands up, how many times has somebody marveled that “you actually made that?” or “you should be selling on etsy” or similar comments. I know full well who deserves the credit for that and it’s sure not me and my failure to understitch, or my inability to get over a thick seam without weirdo stitches. I don’t think O&S are expensive. I think 99 cent patterns are worth every cent, and so are O&S

  62. Lisa

    Thanks Todd for such a great post. The pricing of your patterns are very reasonable, the quality is outstanding and since I have started purchasing Oliver & S I have stopped purchasing patterns from the larger company’s. I don’t think that I would ever get a response from the head of 1 of the big pattern company’s telling me what a great outfit I had made. In the couple of times that Liesl has commented on something I posted on flikr made my day and boosted my confidence in sewing. The whole O&S experience really is priceless and I’m more than happy to continue supporting such a wonderful company.

  63. Thanks for this great post and all the information. I have used a lot of your free advice, patterns, inspiration, sincère I started sewing in 2009. I am very thankful for it. And I feel that with your company it´s about more than making money. I appreciate the feeling that we share a passion. I like that you don’t consider your followers only as customers. I like that you adress us as smart enough to understand your business choices. Thanks again.

  64. Samantha

    A well reasoned and thorough analysis of pricing.

    Well done on providing a peek behind your reasoning into your prices.

  65. I’m loving these posts. I don’t think you’re being defensive at all. I always happy to pay a premium price for a premium product like yours. I hadn’t considered the cost of support for digital sales… but yes that’s a time consuming task & worthy of the same price tag (if not more!) as paper. I also acknowledge the time recently spent on tagging the items in your Flickr pool with pattern numbers. A time consuming task that is another hidden cost which directly benefits us sewers. By the way the owner of the copy shop where I print my patterns in Melbourne was impressed & amazed that you provided two different copy shop paper sizes as well as print at home. My response… they’re the best in the business!

  66. The first Oliver + S pattern I bought was from a retailer in Australia where they sell for AUS$25 which is usually around US$30 Now that was a gamble as I’d never heard of the brand before and didn’t really know the first thing about sewing.
    The rest is history!
    I might have been tempted to offer the original customer the split patterns of her choice with the halved pattern price but include the hourly pay rate for the staff member who has to try and digitally severe the PDF files.
    Can a one legged person only buy one shoe and not have to bear the cost of the unwanted second shoe?
    Re the price point I feel you’re sitting nicely on the border between too expensive to sell and too cheap to feel valuable.
    And yep, I’d buy the drinks in exchange for the stories,… We get some funny ones in my industry too!

  67. Linda

    Not only is this series of posts interesting, the comments are intriguing, too. I’m getting so much out of all of the knowledge and perspectives. But – my basic reason for commenting has to do with my career – accounting professor – and the class I usually teach – managerial accounting for ALL business students. This series of posts is something that I’m considering requiring my students to read. (The guys won’t like it and, probably, the girls won’t either, but that’s life!) I’m always looking for ways to “turn on the light” about making business decisions based on a huge variety of data points – and not just on the accounting figures. I try to say that an owner MUST consider the financial aspects, but must also consider the customer. You have presented me with a wonderful case analysis – choosing what to do and what not to do.

    (And, I wouldn’t be reading your posts if I weren’t a lover of oliver and s, so I’ll just throw in the point that you are teachers, too, and d*** good ones!)

    Thank you!

  68. Randi

    I’ve always been a big fan of y’all and have always voiced my opinion about how your patterns are worth the price. I feel like your post is very rude calling out one specific person. Not something I would expect from a distinguished company like O&S. I’m going to have a hard time purchasing in the future.
    Word travels fast in the sewing world, and I’m not the only person with these feelings.

  69. Nicole

    Thank you for this frank discussion of pricing. I’ve always felt that O+S patterns are worth every penny. I sew with them over and over and often use them as building block for my own mix and match designs. Thank you for all the time you and Leisl put in to pattern development and support. Oliver+S is a top notch company and I am happy to support that quality with higher pattern prices.

  70. Jessie

    This post made me really sad. I have been a huge fan of O+S patterns for years and, while I do find them expensive, they are very well done and worth the cost especially when on sale. But this post comes off as so rude and derogatory I’m going to have to look elsewhere for patterns now (there’s no shortage of pattern designers and despite what you seem to think, there are quite a few highly trained and professional designers other than O+S)

    Putting down customers and calling out one individual just feels petty, unnecessary and completely unprofessional. Sad that you decided to take that path especially after asking for customer opinions with the survey.

  71. Danae

    You already know this, but a good business model can’t satisfy every customer. Discerning consumers will find the right products for their needs and priorities. I’m still relatively new to Oliver + S but your products speak for themselves. This series of “behind the scenes” and survey feedback posts has been very informative. I don’t feel as though I am paying a premium price for a premium product at Oliver + S; rather, it seems that your prices are both competitive in your market and appropriate for your business goals and growth. I will remain a loyal customer if you continue releasing patterns with high-quality design and execution.

  72. Jean

    Todd,

    Still–you’re not outsourcing work or using sweatshops for production, so the comparison you’re making rings at least somewhat hollow. I hope what you’re saying is that those in your employ are making a living wage, so your prices reflect that? It seems, though, that more sales would be made at a (slightly) lower price-point. In the case of O+S, you are in a prime position to offer both quality AND competitive pricing. I look around and see other quality designers providing the same or similar quality and service with $8-12/patterns.

    Additionally, repackaging bundles as individuals surely would draw more than just Natalie to purchase, so your cost would possibly have been met with an increase in purchases from other seamstresses who were looking for those items as singles. I know it’s kept me from purchasing at times.

    I’m sure you’re aware that there are large sewing groups in the Facebook world, and many of those feature designers and run sewalongs. I’ve approached the admins of two different groups, with several thousand members each, and was told that they couldn’t do O+S sewalongs based on the price-point and the final-product sales terms. How sad that there are those willing to grow your business (with minimal effort from you) who can’t support you because you aren’t willing to look at whether your policies really meet the needs/wants of your customer base.

    I’m all for high morality in business, paying what someone is worth, providing an excellent, quality product… But I’m afraid that the approach O+S is taking here is undermining its place in the sewing world, not bolstering it, which is really unfortunate.

  73. Kerri

    For what it’s worth, you could have made your point without calling out a potential customer. Your points are valid, but the tone has left a sour taste.

  74. Ellen

    Todd didn’t call out one customer. He described a customer request and how it was handled. The customer chose to identify herself.

    I felt Todd’s anecdote was an excellent example of how the assumptions people have about how things are made (like sewing patterns) impact their expectations and the way they interact with small businesses. Many people assume that splitting a digital file into pieces must be no big deal. After all, I can divide a Word File or a PowerPoint presentation in seconds. They haven’t thought about all the things that are part of that file, or all the steps involved in splitting it while maintaining the appropriate instructions, layout, packaging, and sizing.

  75. Moira

    I recently used a “traditional” pattern (e.g. simplicity) and was shocked at the poor quality of the instructions and images. I’ve been using independent patterns for some time and didn’t realize how accustom I am to quality instructions. I will pay for Liesl + Co patterns for that quality and precision and typically each pattern includes a new way of doing something, so not only do I get a great pattern, I learn something new!

  76. Ren

    Well written; I am very much enjoying these survey result posts.

    I appreciate the reason for splitting the size on the patterns and I’m willing to pay for both sets, I just wish there was an overlap in sizing for custom fitting.

    My daughter is one size wide and two-three sizes taller. I’m getting better at drafting between sizes, but I am not yet comfortable drafting up the height when it isn’t on the pattern. As she comes up on 5 wide, I’m hesitant to purchase a new pattern not because I will “only sew it once” (unlikely), but because I can’t figure out how to draft up the height. I have no problem purchasing the next size on a pattern I already own (and then lining up both to re-draft the grading for my unique Peanut). I realize that sounds hypocritical — I just have a mental block about buying two of the same at the same time for one child.

    Aside: For these reasons I’d love to see cut and spread lines on the patterns for increasing/decreasing height; with an additional table of body measurements so I can figure out how much to spread. (Or maybe just a blog post or two on where best to do that for each type of garment in your library.)

    Thanks for the continuing business education. My favorite part of Oliver + S is how much I learn each time I read a pattern or a post.

  77. liz n.

    I am compelled to point out to those who are chiding Todd for “calling out an individual customer” that no name was given, the story was told to show an example of the sorts of requests customers make of O+S that the company, for various reasons, cannot fulfill, and it was the customer herself who made herself known here in the comments.

    The WalMart comparison is a valid one regarding business models. It wasn’t a jab at WalMart’s customers, but an explanation of a business model (which has been adopted by countless other companies) that has created a mindset of which most of us are not even aware we have.

    We are all free to spend our money where and how we like. I’ll continue to spend mind at O+S.

  78. Rebecca

    I will certainly agree, reading the comments has been interesting to see peoples different point of views on things. I guess I for one am not offended by the Walmart comment. I too live in a small town where people from surrounding counties come to our county because we have a Walmart, which is the biggest/main store in the area. I have to go 70 miles go get to a metropolitan area to go shopping otherwise. So yes, I am an avid Walmart shopper, but a person would have to agree that Walmart’s tactic is, buy more & pay less. So I understand why Todd is using Walmart as an example of a business model.

    As for an inside view of what actually goes on in a business, an example of everyday doings is almost necessary. Granted, I am not the person on the other side, but to say they’re “calling someone out” I feel is a bit much. It’s purely giving an example of what their business encounters. No names were given, no specifics, just an example of a request that the business felt was not in their best interest to pursue and fulfill. Just because a business can do something, doesn’t mean that what it should do for its bottom line. Without a bottom line, a business does not exist.

    There are all sorts of consumers out there, that is why there are all sorts of companies to accommodate all of them. Whether it be the overall pricing for the pattern, size range they offer, etc., there’s a product to cater to them. Every consumer has to figure out what is in their best interest. So if for instance, O&S or any other company doesn’t offer what you need, I’m sure there is a company who does. Just because a company does things a certain way, doesn’t mean that any other company should do it that way as well.

    The relationship between business & consumer is like a marriage, not everyone is made for each other and that is why there are all sorts of businesses/people in the world.

  79. I am happy to pay a little more for an Oliver+S pattern, largely because I learn a new sewing skill with each pattern. I just completed the sailboat top and now know how to make that kind of neck facing and shoulder closure. Perfect! But I already own a ton of your patterns and so my buying has slowed down considerably. I can’t justify the money to buy another dress pattern when I have so many that I’ve either not made or only made a few times. I’m also unlikely to buy patterns again in the larger sizes because I have so many underused patterns already. Since your patterns are an investment, I’ll mostly be buying things that fill wardrobe holes and are substantially different from previous offerings. A swimsuit, a sleeveless knit dress, a zip sweatshirt, a zip-up coat, for example. Also, thank you for these posts. They are fascinating!

  80. Ellen

    I think it’s so easy for people to forget (or never find out) that designing and drafting a clothing pattern and packaging it for sale is a labor-intensive process. Digital patterns have lowered the bar to entry in the pattern market, because they reduce some of the costs involved in printing and shipping.

    I’ve bought plenty of patterns that included a garment I have no intention of making. I’ve even bought patterns I don’t plan to ever use simply because they have a feature that I needed a good set of instructions for. I think of the second garment in the envelope (or the entire garment, if I just need a lesson on the one technique) as a free bonus.

    I don’t want to be dismissive of the cost. The price of O&S patterns forces me to choose thoughtfully. I don’t collect every pattern that comes out. I look at other people’s pictures of the finished garment. I think about fabrics and techniques. I consider how many children I could make the pieces for, and how well the style will age. And I’m fine with that. If I just wanted to keep costs down, I would stick to RTW.

    There’s not exactly a shortage of Oliver&S sewalongs in the sewing blogosphere. In my opinion, people who will only help promote your business if you work at a price point that is unsustainable for you aren’t really helping.

  81. Becky Yamano

    Well said! Your patterns are amazing. I have never been disappointed. They are certainly worth the cost.

  82. Becky Phillips

    Your patterns are worth double what they cost. I consider what a deal I’m getting whenever I try a new one!

  83. I tried my first O+S pattern (Tea Party dress) soon after it was released and at a time I was almost considering “giving-up” sewing – I had tried several other patterns and the results weren’t exactly what I was looking for (I don’t like sewing a garment that wont be worn because it’s not “exactly right” or looks “too handmade”).
    It was not an impulse purchase, because of the price tag (and added international shipping) and because, at that time, there was not much info on O+S. However, I never regret it and I can honestly say that I’ve sewn all O+S I own so many times that I can sew most of them by heart now 🙂
    I consider O+S patterns as an investment (like a sewing class), I purchase only the patterns I know will be used more than once and I do look for inspiration in the Flickr group and here and yes, when possible, I wait for a promotion code.
    Obviously that also means that I shop less patterns from other brands (even if they are priced much lower), but I suppose that’s a personal option and I also don’t mind sewing the same pattern over and over again …

  84. I think what I (and others) take issue with in this post is your suggestion that the only reason someone would indicate on a survey that your patterns are “too expensive” (keeping in mind you asked for honest opinions) is that they appreciate quantity over quality or don’t understand the amount of labor that goes into them. Whereas actually, the determination of what a person can afford to pay is less about YOU and more about THEM, how much money they have, how much sewing they do, and what they are looking for. It’s not necessarily personal, which is how you seem to have taken it. Someone can believe in fair wages for artists without wanting to buy a million dollar piece of art themselves. It may be “worth every penny” but the fact is, not everyone can buy beautiful art. Obviously with a $16 pattern we’re looking at a different calculus, but the fact remains – you asked your customers what they thought and people responded honestly. It may not have been the answer you wanted to hear, and it’s absolutely your call whether you should do anything differently (I can understand why you wouldn’t – after all, if people are buying your patterns you’re doing something right!), but there was no need to stereotype your customers along those lines or take such a defensive tone. I think perhaps you felt a bit affronted and I don’t blame you, but this post kind of throws it back at us as though we shouldn’t have told you what we really think. With great respect and affection, your extremely loyal and longtime customer!!

  85. And sorry to belabor the point, but the inflation calculator says it all: Prices have gone up since 2008, but as WSJ, NYT, or Economist will tell you, people’s salaries have not kept pace and I know I for one feel poorer (relatively) than I did a decade ago (of course, supporting two kids isn’t helping that much) and if I sound like a penny-pincher, I have to save money where I can so that I can afford nice fabric, microbrew IPA, and organic produce as well as pay the bills. I believe strongly in quality, but there are many demands on my purse. Let’s get one thing straight – I will not switch to cheap beer in order to buy better patterns, I don’t care how great they are! LOL! 😉

    You know I love you guys, and I’m all over the internet promoting your patterns. But your analysis of the “two types of customers” was just too reductive for my tastes! I get where you are coming from, but I think it’s a case of in print, it doesn’t come off as well as it would if were, I dunno, sharing a beer. 🙂

  86. Sarvi

    I can see where Inder and others are coming from, but I think it’s significant to note that Inder is saying one thing: I wish the prices were lower because my budget would like it better — and others are saying another: Prices should be lower because I know better than O&S what is best for the company, and it is a higher volume of sales at a lower price point. And being an armchair CEO is easy but running a business day to day with every member of your family, in a way that makes sense for your lives, is not so easy.

  87. While we think the gamut has been covered {since this post is nearing 100 comments}, we think you hit the nail on the head with this post. BULLS EYE. Coming from a “small business” family, there is often more overhead than meets the eye. For instance, recently we counted 20+ taxes that we are required to pay – not only is that money going out, but it is time spent that isn’t earning your company money. When determining how much to charge for a product, individuals often forget to account for unforeseen expenses {we had a $600 one today}, or consider how long they want to be a viable business. The vast majority of start-up businesses will not survive the first year in business. With both of your backgrounds in finance / business, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to argue with how you run your business. You are in it for the long haul and have set your pricing accordingly. As customers, we should appreciate that.

    As far as dividing the pattern up into separate patterns: if one person is requesting that you do this on a whim, it is not worth it. Todd is right! It is EXTREMELY time consuming, as most graphic design is (speaking from almost 20 years of experience). Yes, some oliver + s patterns have been showcased as “singles” in the past using this method and possibly more will continue to be featured this way, BUT it is not a snap of the fingers fix. In this respect, Todd and Liesl have to determine whether it is worth their time and energy. There are only so many hours in the day and so many opportunities they can physically say “yes” to.

    To those who are noncommittal on the pricing: consider how often you go out to eat at a nice restaurant and how much money you spend. Consider how many special days you have each year – birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, anniversary, etc. and ask for a pattern you’ve been wanting. For less than $20 you can have a sewing class in an envelope, because that is quite literally what it is. Sewing has never come naturally for me, but I feel like the oliver + s patterns have given me the confidence and “know how” to be successful without undue stress :).

    Thank you for giving us the insight into what goes on behind the scenes and what is involved in running your business. It is truly fascinating! The vast majority of the comments above speak volumes about oliver + s and are testimonials to the love the sewing community has for you!

    And, as always, we’re excited about what you have in store for us next!!

  88. Inder

    With all respect, I am saying that checking “too expensive” on a form or being honest about price does not make me cheap or someone who doesn’t care about quality or a “quantity over quality” shopper. It makes me honest, which I thought was the point of the survey. I was the first to say I’m not here to criticize a business model that works but if you ask me – yeah, I wait for sales, and yeah, the patterns are awesome but at the top of my price point. You asked, and I feel punished for being honest.

    1. Just to clarify, there actually weren’t any questions in the survey about pricing. However, since quite a few people commented about pricing in conjunction with answers to other questions, we felt that we should respond to those comments and explain why our pricing is what it is. So I don’t want anyone to think that we’re asking questions and then ignoring your responses. The truth is, we wanted to explain why our patterns are priced the way they are because many people commented about it, completely unprompted. I hope that helps to clarify the situation a bit. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. We love you!

  89. Following this discussion in the comment thread, I just wanted to say that I think Inder hit the nail on the head with all of her points. I for one was disappointed in this post. Not because I feel your pricing is unfair, but because I felt the tone of the post was disrespectful. I was one on the survey who suggested giving a discount for people purchasing a second pattern of the same design, for the reasons others have mentioned. I did not at all appreciate the negative caricature of a Walmart customer. I showed this post to my husband who is a VP at a Fortune 200 company. He said, “I get where he is coming from from a practical business standpoint, but the post really comes across as elitist-classist and why on earth would you ever write this to your customers?! It’s one thing to think it and another to put it on the Internet.” He felt it dramatically undervalued your customers.
    One reason O+S has had so much to offer customers is because of your loyal, almost cult-like following. (I mean that in the best way). Many, myself included, have spent hours editing photos giving you free advertising, spent the extra time adding our photos to your Flickr pool or contributing to discussion forums, linked up to you in blog posts. To belittle people based on their emails is disrespectful to your patrons, in my opinion. I get emails too, and sometimes people ask me things that maybe take me by surprise like, “Can you tell me how you raise 5 children, homeschool and sew in an email? Oh and also, which homeschool curricula are you using exactly? I’d like all the details.” And, that’s a little more than I can sum up concisely in an email. But rather than disparage someone, I feel for them as someone looking for a bit of advice and I write as much as I can, which some days is more than others. I’m sure this person you mentioned did not understand the ins and outs of PDF patterns.
    I know, I for one, did not understand the cost of PDF patterns, especially since you somewhat recently wrote a post discussing the high costs of housing paper patterns.

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