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eBay–Chapter 5 The Business of lampworking

Ten years ago eBay was the big game in town for lampwork beads. It really seemed to be list it and they will come. These days, not so much. But if you’re willing to be patient, it can pay off.

Why should you use eBay when you’ve been told (or experienced in the past) other sites like Etsy and Artifre are so much cheaper to use? I’ve got secret for you. The final listings fees vs sold items in my eBay store is often cheaper than my Etsy stores. Last time I looked, sales to fees ratio on eBay was 8.5% and Etsy across both stores was 9%. That is because eBay is now offering fifty free auction listings a month. You only pay final value fees when the item sells. This seems to be a permanent deal, but you never know when eBay is going to change things.

Fifty free listings a month! That’s a huge bonus for someone trying to start a following there, because it takes a while to get noticed.

Greg and I have five different internet stores and eBay continues to dominate our sales numbers. We have over the years tried many different sales strategies, but the one thing we have never changed is listing new stuff consistently. If you can listing something every day, that will mean you will always have an item listed under newest and one under ending soonest in the search categories. And customers will always be able to find you because your store never goes dark.

Got that?

The number one way to drive business on eBay is to list new stuff consistently.

Now that we have that out of the way, here are some ways to be seen on eBay. Have a few items listed at over $50. Many people start their search in lampwork beads by highest price in order to weed out the imported stuff. Go take a look using that search feature. At what page do you burn out and stop looking? Now look at what price those beads are going for. Strive to always have something listed above that price.

Consider adding the Buy it Now feature. Some people really dislike the auction format. They see what they want and would rather just click through to buy it. On the other hand, some people get a high off of auctions. So have a mix of listings if you can.

Here is how I handle it. All of my beads have a set retail price. For eBay I set my BINs at the retail price and the auctions start at my designer wholesale price. Around 25% off.

Every once in a while if I have a new design I feel strongly about, I won’t set a BIN on the auction, just to see what the market thinks of them. If I get lots of bids, it helps me set the retail price.

We also use the Buy it Now feature (no auction format) with the or Best Offer. I set these all at my retail price and entertain offers when they come .  Some of them are ridiculously low. Like $22 for a marble listed at $100. At that point my options are to either accept the offer, counter offer, or decline. Usually when the offer isn’t even close I will just decline it. But most of the time I will counter and we play let’s make a deal. It’s kind of fun, but you have to be prepared that if you counter, the buyer may walk. And that is perfectly okay with us. We already know how much we will accept for something. If the offer is too low, it’s just too low. Try not be insulted by low ball offers. Everyone likes a great deal.

99 cent auctions. I confess, I’ve tried this and I hate it. If you’re going to run a 99 cent auction, be prepared you may very well end up selling your item for 99 cents. I always think of the 99 cent auction as an advertising expense. But I’m not sure it’s effective among the sea of hundreds of other 99 cent auctions. I’d try to use it in conjunction with some other kind of advertising. Something like a month-long ad on a jewelry makers forum, or a blog event like 99 cent Fridays where you run one every week. Something that can help you build a following around it.

Now, if you are constantly making one of a kind items 99 cent auctions may work for you. Or if you have a huge following. Or if you are brand new and trying to build a following. I know many beadmakers who have used this strategy and have had it work for them. It doesn’t work for me. I do a lot of production work and in order to preserve my pricing the 99 cent auction just doesn’t work.

Speaking of preserving pricing, if you sell wholesale to beads stores or galleries, they are not going to like it if you are undercutting their prices on eBay. This is why I go with my retail prices and a designer wholesale start price. If I listed everything at 99 cents, that would be a huge conflict.

Sets or focals? Everyone wants to know what sells better. I can’t answer that for you. I sell both and marbles. So I think it all depends on the work you put out there. I can tell you, often what sells online does not sell as well in person and vice versa. So try different things until you find your niche.

Pictures, pictures, pictures! eBay used to charge for added pictures. Now you can add a bunch for free. I’m not certain how many because I host my own on my website. I just like having sole control over my content in case an image is hot-linked somewhere. But that’s just a personal thing. Use up as many picture slots as possible. Most customers will not read your entire description, so try to get your pictures as clear and accurate as possible.

And as always, link up your auctions on Facebook, Twitter, Lampworketc. Let people know your auctions exist. Put your link in your email signature. Send a newsletter letting your customer know you’ve started a new venue. Don’t have one yet? Time to start. Spread the word, but don’t be obnoxious about it. One post in each place is enough.

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Online Feedback-Lampworking Business Extras

If you’ve ever bought or sold anything online you know each seller and buyer has a feedback rating. It’s expected once the transaction is completed, both parties leave feedback.

I’ve seen sellers ask when they should leave feedback. Right after the customer pays? After they receive the item? After the buyer leaves feedback for the seller?

In my opinion, after the customer pays, they have completed the transaction. Anytime after that, I will leave feedback. To me, it doesn’t matter if a situation arises later. I worry about it then, and because my policy is I will accept a return for any reason within a certain amount of time, it just doesn’t matter. Problems arise so seldom it isn’t something I worry about. Plus, it’s rude to hold feedback hostage.

As a buyer, I think it is important that if a situation arises, to give the seller a chance to make it right. Feedback is usually the first indicator of a seller’s reputation. Most professional sellers I know will happily address any problems. Just please don’t leave feedback as a way to get their attention without an email first. That said, if they don’t acknowledge you or handle the situation to your satisfaction, you have every right to leave an honest account of your experience.

On another note, leaving feedback is optional. Hounding buyers or sellers to leave it is annoying. Sellers, I strongly recommend not asking your buyers to leave you feedback. If you must, put it in your thank you email and word it something like this: If you’re happy with your purchase, please consider leaving me feedback (insert link to online retailer’s feedback page). Then leave it alone. Hounding them will only result in an annoyed customer.

Personally, I leave feedback once a month for all my online venues. It’s more time efficient for me. So if you buy something and I don’t leave feedback right away, it’s only because I haven’t gotten to it. But I will, don’t worry.

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.

Choosing Your Venue–Chapter 3 part 1 The Business of Lampworking

Have you defined success and gotten legal? Are you ready to start selling your lampwork creations? If so, you have some decisions to make. Where do you sell your work?

Online venues:

eBay
Etsy
Artfire
Personal Website
Wholesalecrafts.com

FYI: These are the ones I am most familiar with and the ones I have personally used. And the ones I know other sellers have used successfully. If you know of other successful online markets, please let me know.

Major Bead Shows:

Whole Bead
Best Bead
Bead Fest
Bead and Button
Bay Area Bead Extravaganza

Regional Bead Society Shows

Often areas have a regional bead society and once a year those groups will hold a show. I know there is one in Houston, Denver, Oakland and many more. These local shows usually cost less to do (lower table fees and no travel if you’re lucky) and are very friendly. Check your own area for more opportunities.

Local Craft shows:

Almost everyone has local craft show opportunities to them to sell their work. I personally do not do any of these shows even though there are many, many opportunities available to us. New Orleans has an Arts in the Park program that runs three weekends a month at three different parks in the city. On top of that, there is a festival almost every weekend somewhere around here and a happening Farmers Market in Baton Rouge.

You see, other than the marbles, we do not sell finished work. I can, but do not enjoy making jewelry. I prefer to make the beads and leave that task to my talented jewelry designer customers. As for the marbles, well, that is  a specialized market and not quite right for craft/art shows.

However, if you do sell a finished product, these types of shows can be advantageous. Just be sure to check out the venue first and get a feel for what sells well there.  If you make one-hundred dollar bracelets and the gal next to you is selling two dollar import, base metal earrings, it may not be the best fit.  Use your judgement or you could end up in ninety degree heat for two days with nothing to show for it but a sunburn.

Galleries:

Again for galleries, you are going to need a finished product. You are also going to need to sell wholesale or on consignment or both.

Bead Stores:

Bead stores are great if you can find ones that want to carry artisan lampwork beads. A lot of them do carry imports, but don’t let that scare you off. There is a market for both (more on this later). Again, for bead stores be prepared for wholesale and/or consignment.

Home Parties:

We’ve all been to them. Creative Memories, The Pampered Chef, Tubberware, Naughty lady parties, Mary Kay, etc. Why not one for your beads and jewelry? Work it the same way you would one of those Creative Memory parties. Set everyone up to make a simple piece of jewelry, designate a reward program for the hostess, bring some wine, and lay out your wonderful creations for sale.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be going over the pros and cons for each selling model and give you some tips on how to be most successful for which ever direction you choose. In the mean time, be asking yourself these questions:

Do I like engaging with customers?

Do I want to travel  once or twice a month?

Can I take decent photos or am I willing to learn?

Do I have the confidence to approach bead stores/gallery owners?

Do I have the technical skills to run a website or other online venue? Am I willing to learn?

And finally the most import question: Do I have the  motivation to stick with whatever direction I plan to go?

Getting Legal–Chapter 2 The Business of Lampworking

Now that you have defined your success and hopefully worked out your goals, it’s time to get legal. Before you offer anything up for sale, be sure you have all your legal ducks in a row.

Every state, county, parish, and town has their own rules as to what a person needs in order to be legally running a business. I recommend going down to your county (or parish as I live in Louisiana) offices and find out what you need.

I’ve run our lampworking business out of three states. California, Texas, and Louisiana. Each have their own regulations. But these are the things you need to be aware of:

First things first. Are you going to be a sole proprietorship? Meaning you are the sole owner of your business? In a partnership with another person? Or maybe you want to be set up as a corporation. I understand there are tax and legal benefits to forming a corporation, but you’ll need to do that legwork yourself. Our business is set up as a sole proprietorship, and is by far the simplest way to go.  I am the owner, so yes, Greg works for me. 🙂

Okay, next you need to decide on a business name. If you are going to operate under anything other than your legal name, you need to file a DBA (aka Doing Business As) with your county. Years ago it was a trend in the lampworking community to use made up business names, especially ones with the word fire or flame in them. In retrospect I think those artists would have been much better off going with their own artist name. JC Herrell, Lori Greenberg, Kimberly Affleck, Andrew Brown Studios, etc, etc. All easy to remember. I don’t have to think, ‘were they Dancing Flame, Fire Diva, Midnight Glass?’. BTW, I just made those all up off the top of my head. If any of those are your business name, I apologize if I offended you.

Last month while at Bead and Button we were looking for one of our friend’s booth in the booth guide and none of us knew her business name. We knew her name, but not what she was operating under, and we’d all known her for years. After we found her she concluded she should probably just change it to her own name. Unless you are prepared to do a major branding, think about just using your own name. We’ll remember you, I promise. Greg and I use Chase Designs, since there are the two of us. But I still brand his marbles Greg Chase in every listing. Its the connection thing.

Anyway, if you use your own name you can skip the DBA.

Permits and licenses:

Business license. Find out from your state and county if you need one. For some places you do and some you don’t.It’s usually a revenue thing for cities.  Since I run a business out of my house that doesn’t have customers coming here, I do not need one. I found this out by calling my city offices and asking.

Sales and use tax permit. Almost anyone in engaged in business will need one of these unless you are in a no sales tax state. In Louisiana, I needed to register for one with the state and my parish. In California and Texas I only had to register once with the state and the one form took care of both. If you don’t know, go ask someone or call.Also find out what you need to collect taxes for. In most places if you sell on the internet and ship out of state, you do not need to collect sales tax. If you are selling in person or doing shows, yes you need to collect it. Do your homework, talk to an accountant. Know your city, county and state laws.

Also if you do shows out of state, you will need to register for a sales and use tax number for each state you sell in. Most shows will help you with getting the right forms filled out, but if not, just call the taxing authority in that state and explain your situation. They will help you out.

Resale license. If you are purchasing anything and reselling it, you want and need one of these. This little number makes it so you do not have to pay sales tax on these purchases.

It can seem overwhelming and sometimes the forms are confusing, but I’ve found all of the people at my parish offices to be very helpful. They want you to be legal and are more than willing to help.

How to answer the discount question–Lampwork business extras

Periodically I read stuff on my lampworking forums that prompts a blog post. While customer service has it’s own chapter in my series The Business of Lamporking, I couldn’t resist tackling this topic that came up a few days ago.

As a lampwork seller (or any seller) you’ll likely get the discount question at some point. It comes in a variety of forms. Everything from: do you offer wholesale? To: what’s the lowest you’ll sell this for?

The wholesale question is a reasonable one. Many of us do sell wholesale or offer quantity discounts. If you want to sell in bead stores or galleries, you will need to figure out your wholesale terms. Most of us offer a 50% discount if the buyer reaches a certain retail amount.

I’ll admit, the question, ‘what is the lowest you’ll sell this for?’ can be irritating. Especially if you don’t have a history bargaining with that particular customer. But I recommend responding just as polite as you would to the wholesale question.

Here are my standard responses.

The wholesale question:

Hello, thank you for your inquiry.  I offer a 50% wholesale discount on retail orders that reach $xxx. My lead time on such orders is usually two to three weeks from time of order to shipping date.

The discount question:

Hello, thank you for your inquiry. I do not offer discounts on individual beads. On orders over $xxx I offer a 25% quantity discount. In addition, I do periodically run 20% to 25% off sales in my Etsy store. Sign up here for my newsletter to be notified.

If you don’t offer any discounts that is fine, too. I still recommend being polite. You never know who is on the other end of your email. There is nothing wrong with writing, I’m sorry, but I do not offer discounts on my work. Simple, easy, gets the point across. No room for negotiations. And you don’t run the risk of alienating a potential customer. Maybe they are used to bargaining. Lots of cultures do it and the beauty of the internet is it’s global.

I’ve seen many people get upset when asked for a discount. I admit I’ve gotten irritated myself. But why is it so hard to just be nice? Especially when we are selling our work online. We have the opportunity to step back and calm down before we hit the send button.

It’s my firm belief that being nice is one of the most fundamental business practices and crucial when selling our own artwork. We each have our own ideas of what is acceptable and what isn’t. But lets get real. When you get an irritating question it isn’t like you are entering a relationship with that person. You don’t need to school them on social graces. Stay polite and you won’t run any risk of harming your reputation.

But you don’t care what that person thinks, you say to me. You don’t want to do business with them anyway. Be careful here. There are pieces by lampworkers I used to covet, until I got to know them better. Now I don’t have any desire to have a piece these particular people made in my personal collection based on how they treated other people.

If you are selling your work, always remember this is a business. Your business. Don’t let one or two irritating questions get the better of you.

Bead and Button Report

I’ve been home from Bead and Button for a week and I’m just now getting back into my regular routine. I actually got home last Tuesday night and by Wednesday I was off and running with everything that didn’t get done while I was gone. I’m semi-caught up and didn’t want to forget to give you the dish on how the Bead and Button show was this year.

A few years ago when I was researching shows and trying to decide which ones to do, after each one I would scour the internet looking for a results posting. It isn’t something that is easy to find. And shows like Bead and Button are expensive to do. How’s a girl to know if it’s worth it?

If you have good friends in the industry who have done the show you might feel comfortable asking them. However, it’s awfully crass to ask how much someone made isn’t it? Usually the question is, was it a good show? Was it worth it? I’ve asked those questions myself. But everyone has a different barometer of success. And sometimes people don’t want to say they had a bad show, always putting on the happy it-was-good-face.

Once when trying to decide if I should do Best Bead in Tucson, I emailed a respected friend and colleague who had done that show for quite  a while and gave her a breakdown of what numbers I thought I would have to do in order to have a successful show and just asked if she thought that was reasonable.  That worked pretty well, but again, she’s a friend of mine, so I felt comfortable doing that.

As always, I don’t like to talk about exact figures on the internet, but I’ll give you some specifics.

Last year was the first time I attended Bead and Button. A friend and I decided to share an eight foot table to keep costs down. That gives each of us four feet of isle real estate. In hindsight, we both agree that wasn’t the best move. You see, that only leaves space for one customer at a time to browse your wears.  Now, it is my understanding the sales were down across the board last year at Bead and Button with the economy in the toilet. I don’t know anyone’s actual numbers but my own. I barely made expenses and that was only because I luckily ended up with a free hotel room. Expenses included booth fee, travel, and food. Plus the show takes up a full seven days that I’m out of the studio. Needless to say last year wasn’t a success.

Still, one bad show in a bad economy wasn’t enough for me to give up on Bead and Button, the show that everyone in the industry says is the place to be. Instead I signed up for an eight foot table, did a lot of brain storming on revamping the table display with Greg, and worked like a dog to fill that table up.

I somehow managed to fill the table, but barely. Seriously, by mid-day Saturday the table was looking woefully understocked. I should have brought at least twice as much as I did. That’s all good though, right? It means I was selling stuff, right?

Exactly.

Everything came together. My table looked gorgeous (in my opinion–Greg did a great job–and others commented on it as well), I had good real estate (a full eight foot table in a good row), and the economy didn’t seem to be as much of a factor. Of course, I’m sure the beads themselves had a least something to do with it. 🙂

I came away making four times as much as I did last year, picked up a new wholesale account, and made a contact for Greg to teach this fall. Overall it was very successful and more importantly profitable for us. We’re already signed up for next year.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t hear anyone grumbling too much about sales this year. During a bad show, when another vendor asks how things are going–and we all have a lot of free time during those shows–you usually get a crunched up face and a shrug or a slight shake of the head. This year, I got the impression most everyone was pleased with the financials, but again I only know my numbers.