Custom Orders–Lampworking Business Extras

You fire up the computer, take a look at your email and there it is in the subject line: Custom order.

Now what?

When I say custom, I mean custom. Something totally new, that isn’t just a small variation on something you already know how to do. If someone asks me to make a peacock bead in pink instead of blue, that is not custom. That’s just a made to order item. Okay now that we have that straight on with the post.

I’m going to be totally honest. Most lampworkers I know hate doing custom orders. Sure, there are a few out there that like it. I can only assume they enjoy the challenge or the opportunity to work on something they hadn’t thought of doing before. But from a purely profit standpoint, we almost always lose money on custom orders. At least on that particular order.

Here is how I handle the custom order question:

If the item in question is something I think I can do and I want to do it, then I tell the customer to give me a few days (a week or whatever) to come up with something. Once I have something I like, I email a picture to the customer. At that time we talk pricing.

If it isn’t something I think I can do, or if I just plain don’t want to then I politely decline. If I know of another artist who I think can do it or likes custom orders, I will point the client to them.

Notice how I don’t ask for a deposit or even give a price until I complete the piece. This is because if it’s truly custom, I often don’t even know if I can make whatever it is the customer is asking for.

I also will only consent to trying a custom order if I think it’s something I can sell if the original buyer backs out. Or if it’s a design I might want to add to my bead line.

Look, custom orders usually take ten times the amount of time to complete than something I already know how to do. Usually it takes anywhere from five to ten beads to get the design right and that’s if I started out on the right track. So if someone wants me to make something for ten bucks that I have no idea how to do and it’s going to take me three torch sessions to figure out, it isn’t exactly the best short term business move as far as profit goes.

Now, if I want to spend some time learning and it’s a design I’m excited about, then there are more benefits than that first initial custom order. You can’t put a price on development. A few of my beads came about because I explored ideas brought to me by customers. My peacock beads are one of them.

There are lampworkers out there that require a deposit to do custom  orders. It’s a sound business move. But for me, if I don’t know if I can fill the order, I’m not comfortable taking any money in.

For my made to order stuff, items I know I can make over and over again, if a customer places an order, I do require payment up front. In full.The customer pays. I make it, then I send it out. Usually within a few days.

Custom work can be fun if it’s the right project. Greg once had a request from the adult children of one of our long time marble buyers. It was a custom marble for their parents fiftieth wedding anniversary. The style was one Greg felt comfortable with and he went ahead and took on the order. The marble came out beautiful and the family was very pleased. Greg got a lot of joy out of making that piece and I know he felt honored to have been asked to make it.

I’ve heard many lampworkers groan over custom work. I’ve done it myself. But since I started picking and choosing what I want to do and politely declining those I don’t think I can successfully pull off, I no longer cringe at the ‘Do you do custom work?’ email.

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