Saturday, April 19, 2014

How Much is that Grenade in the Window?

One does not get into Replica Props for money. At best, you can pay for your own habit. Tools, other props in trade, etc.

But being as this is a blog about eking a living out in the arts, I thought it might be interesting to show the economics of a replica prop "run."

I have now turned 12 prop grenades from aluminium and brass, and sold 9 of them.

Gross was $416 for the sales. Postage accounted for $62.50 and PayPal fees another $13.40. That leaves adjusted gross of $340.50 (assuming no losses or returns occur).

There's two different ways to account the raw materials. One is dividing the raw stock into how many pieces can be made from it. The other -- since some of the materials have to be purchased in amounts much greater than were necessary for the run so far -- is to attempt some form of amortization over the total predicted run. The same applies even more so to the tooling.

The raw metal falls into the first category. A $34 order from Online Metals is enough to make 8 grenades (assuming no mistakes). Which is only $4.25 each. The raw plastic caps are $30 for a box of 60, however, which is way more grenades then I would ever make. Even generously going three caps per grenade (one painted, one spare shipped to the buyer, and one lost or ruined), the divide-by-shipped doesn't accurately portray the cost to me. Ditto for paint and tape.

As a stopgap, assuming I close the run for good at 20, caps, the wrong size of caps (ordered by mistake), paint, tape, packing supplies, a size of metal I never used, etc. adds up to about $100 in stuff. Which is about five bucks per grenade, so a good estimate of costs of material is $10 per finished grenade.

Which if applied to the above would leave a theoretical profit of $250, but of course I already spent the materials for twenty or so. So in reality I'm ahead rather less than that.

This does not account for tooling, of course, and I spent over $100 on tools (lathe tools and drill bits). It also does not account for another of those interesting hidden costs; commuting cost. Each session on the lathe costs me $7.60 in BART fare, and that adds up when you realize my average is still down around three hours per grenade. I can usually get a couple hours above my reservation of four on a typical day at TechShop, which puts the "cost of labor" at about $5 per grenade.

So if I entertain the fallacy of a "typical" grenade, the monetary cost to me for each is;

$5.60 postage
$1.60 PayPal fee
$10 raw materials
$5 tooling
$5 work-related cost

= $27.20

For a suitably large number of grenades, I'd be bringing home $17.80 each, and that would effectively mean I was "earning" $35.60 each time I took BART out to San Francisco.

The musicians in the pit for the last show I worked were getting $45 a service. So this is not out of the ballpark, but it isn't exactly worthwhile wage.

My actual figures look both better than that, and worse than that. Looking backwards, I already purchased all that material and all those tools that are being so blithely "amortized" above. Which means I am out of pocket over $300 in tools and materials alone, plus it took a lot more trips to learn how to do it and get my process streamlined to the current state, meaning quite a bit more commuting costs than the above would lead one to suspect. Looked at this way the project is a pure loss.

But I achieved the original goal; to learn to lathe. I also have the tools, and a sense of accomplishment, and some social media cachet, plus I earned a free class (a $90 value on its own).

And looking at these numbers the other way, I already spent the money. Any grenade I build and sell at this point forward is essentially profit. Well, I still have to pay commute and postage and PayPal, but if I go in to the shop Monday, everything after the first $10 is money going back into my pocket.

So I've revised my offer at the RPF, and if I go on to also advertise at Aliens Legacy I'll have to offer the same terms; $50 shipped. That works down to $20 in my pocket for each one as I turn it (for a run of indefinite length and assuming ongoing replacement of tooling as it becomes worn). Or in the short term, a good day's wages every time I go out to spend six hours staring at a lathe.

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