Online vs Shows–Ch 3 part 2 The Business of Lampworking

The big question online sales verses shows. You look around and everyone who’s anyone has an Etsy store, a website, and eBay account. They talk about the Best Bead show or Bead and Button or the selling at the ISGB Bead Bazaar, and you think to yourself, man I need to be doing that.

Some people spout how well they are doing, others say sales are dead. Now what? Where to start? My best advice is to pick one direction and give it your all. But which direction?

Pros of online venues:

Work from home.
Low cost.
Instant feedback.
Can sell work for less than you can doing shows.
Don’t have to take time off work (if you have another job) to hock your wares.
Your customer base is worldwide.

Cons of online sales:

Have to learn photography skills.
Need to learn to navigate online sales venues (though this is much easier now than it ever has been before).
Don’t get to interact with the community in person (It is certainly possible to make connections online, but there is nothing comparable to the in person connection).
Customers do not get to see work in person before buying. Each monitor is different , making it impossible to accurately portray the color of your work 100% of the time.
Have to deal with shipping. Packaging, lost mail, possible broken product, returns, and customs.
Have to build a following in a worldwide sea of other venders.

Shows Pros:

Built in customer base.
Get to see customers reaction to your work.
Can make connections you wouldn’t online for publications, teaching, demos, etc.
Get to see and interact with other artists.
Get to travel.

Show cons:

Shows are expensive. Every show you do there is a risk you won’t even cover expenses.
You need to work out a table display.
You need to travel.
May need to take time off work.
Can be discouraging watching everyone else make sales if your table isn’t getting much attention.
Need to build a large inventory.
Don’t know what customers respond to until you’re at the show.
Have to sell work for retail to cover show costs.
You lose studio time while traveling and working the show.

Our main focus for our business is online sales. It keeps us consistent with cash flow, and  the overhead is low cost. We’ve recently in the last few years started adding in shows, but that is an addition, not the focus. Also, for each show I sign up for I am prepared to accept the money put out many not be returned.

As I said earlier, my best advice is to pick one direction and give it your best effort, then worry about whether you want to expand in another area. Be prepared that either direction you go, it will take months to build a following. That means your first shows may not make you any money. It takes time to get noticed. There isn’t a magic wand.

My next few posts will focus on how to be successful with both online sales and shows. Stay tuned.

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