Hey Y’all in the northeast. Chase Designs (that’s me!) has a table at The Whole Bead Show in Amherst, Ma at the end of September. I’ll be selling beads, marbles, and some collector murrine slices. If you’re in the area please come on by. The show coordinators were nice enough to send me five VIP passes for two people each. Admission is normally $7.00. If you want one, drop me a note with your address Deanna @ chase-designs.com, and I’ll mail them to you. First come first serve. Hope to see you there!
The International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB) hosts a booth at The Buyers Market of American Craft (BMAC) every year in February. BMAC is the show gallery owners shop at to fill their stores. Members of the ISGB have the opportunity to participate in the show at a reduced rate. It’s a great opportunity for artists to get a feel for the show without a huge financial risk.
But how does an artist balance online sales with gallery sales? Many people will say galleries will not deal with artists who sell online. My question is as a modern artist: How can you not sell online and expect to be successful? The trick is to respect your wholesale accounts.
By this I mean: Do not undercut galleries by selling to the general public below your retail price. Your retail price is usually double your wholesale price. That means you should not list a piece on Etsy for one-hundred-dollars and expect to sell the same piece to a gallery for one-hundred-dollars as well. The gallery must mark your products up to earn a profit. If they can’t, why would they buy from you? And why would anybody buy a piece from a gallery for two-hundred-dollars when they can order it direct from the artist for half the price? Or worse, the person buys from the gallery, goes home and Googles the artist’s name and finds out they’ve overpaid. That gallery just lost a customer. Bad business.
So if you want to sell to galleries and maintain a working relationship, respect them and their need to turn a profit.
Also consider making pieces specifically targeted for galleries. These are pieces you do not offer online and are exclusive for wholesale accounts. That way there isn’t any danger of undercutting and the gallery can then charge whatever they want for the piece. The rule of thumb is wholesale is fifty percent of your retail price, but galleries sometimes mark things up two to two and a half times. If you’re selling it at double your wholesale, you are still undercutting them and they may choose not to do business with you.
I’ve already mentioned the BMAC show which is one way of introducing your work to galleries. Another is Wholesalecrafts.com. They are an online gallery exclusive to wholesale venders. Consider putting together a brochure and mailing it to the galleries you are interested in.
For local galleries call to set up appointments to meet with the gallery owners/buyers. Do not just show up with your work in your hands. Often the buyer won’t be in, plus you need to respect their time. Also they could feel put on the spot and that isn’t a great way to start a business relationship.
Be prepared. Know your wholesale terms. What dollar amount does the gallery have to meet in order to qualify for wholesale? Do they have to meet it again each time the order, or can they reorder less at wholesale rates after the relationship is established? Will you accept net-thirty payment terms? Does the gallery have to pay upfront? Are you willing to offer pieces on consignment? If so, have a boiler plate contract ready to go. Does the gallery pay you if items get lost, stolen or broken? What is the consignment rate? fifty-fifty? Sixty-forty?
The more professional you are, the more likely they are to take you seriously. We artists can be flaky. You don’t want to give them a reason to say no.
With all this said, I confess, Greg and I don’t sell much work through galleries. We have done some in the past and may in the future. But currently, I just have too much on my plate with online sales, shows, wholesale bead and murrine accounts, and the books I”m writing. Adding wholesale gallery accounts and doing it right is just one too many things right now. It’s important to know your limits.
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.
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.
Yep, we’re back at it. Greg will be demoing a marble tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm CST, and I will be in chat to field any questions. The last two weeks were really fun, so stop by if you have a chance.
That’s 12pm pacific, 1 pm mountain, and 3pm eastern.
The marble will be along the lines of this:
Every year there’s at least one month when I look around and start thinking: Whoa! What is going on? Sales are so slow it’s easy to start to panic. When you’re looking at having to dip into savings to pay the bills, that’s when things get scary.
Which means if you’re planning to lampwork full time as your sole source of income, you really need to have a savings account set up for just these times. Never assume when you’re having a good month, that you can and will be able to sustain your sales volume. Put some of that cash away for when things dry up.
Since we’ve been at this full time for over six years, we can see some patterns of when sales will dip. Usually between June and August sales can be inconsistent and then there’s October. I’m not sure what it is about October, but it’s usually pretty touch and go.
So, how do we survive without throwing in the towel and searching the online want ads? First of all, we realize the savings is there for just this reason. Resist the temptation to check your online sales venues every five minutes and get your butt out to the torch. Work on building up inventory, work on new designs, try new things. Think about adding something different to your product line. Put your energy into creating. Do not spend your time worrying and complaining about how slow it is. Remember my post on Looking in the direction you want to go? Creating new items and hopefully building some excitement about those pieces is a perfect example of how to implement that advice.
Keep listing items. Do not decide to just take the month off and stop listing anything new. The worst thing you can do is disappear from your online venues. Think about it. If you go to someone’s shop and they’re closed or have stopped listing stuff, what do you do? You go shop elsewhere. Maybe you even become a loyal customer to the new shop and you forget all about the first shop you went looking for.
Look. I know it is hard. It’s easy to get discouraged. I’ve been there myself. Spend an afternoon commiserating with your lampworking friends. Go have a margarita. Spend a day relaxing at the beach. Take a few days off.
Then get yourself back into your studio. Take this opportunity to work on all the designs you’ve been thinking about, but haven’t had the time to develop. Have fun! Remember why you started lampworking in the first place. Because dang it, it’s fun to melt stuff.
Almost. Oh, come on. You know you aren’t surprised. I leave tomorrow for my long drive to the annual Bead and Button show in Wisconsin. It’s a two day trip and this time I get to stop outside of Knoxville to visit my dear friend Ali VandeGrift. She’s cooking and everything. It’s more than I get at home, though Greg did just ofter to make me some stir fry (oddly enough that is what Ali is cooking tomorrow), but I already ate. So, everything is packed, except my clothes. The laundry is done though. That’s something right?
To see what the display looked like just two months ago, go here. This is what my table looked like this morning before we packed it all up:
This is why I have neglected this poor space for the last month. I will be gone for a week and after I get back I have big plans of paying attention to this blog, so look for some regular posting in the near future. If you’re coming to Bead and Button, please be sure to stop by my booth 1238. I have beads, marbles, and murrini!
Over the last few months I have read more and more posts by my lampworking collegues, informing us they are closing shop, taking a hiatus, or *gasp* headed out to find the JOB. It makes me sad. Yep, times are tough. It isn’t like it was two or three years ago when all you had to do was list it and buyers will come. Everyone has needed to take a good long hard look at their marketing plan and really evaluate where they are at. I have, multiple times in the last few years.
A few weeks ago I read a blog post by a literary agent. He basically said eighty percent of the problem was just showing up. For writers if you just show up and write everyday, strive to learn everyday, and keep going no matter what, you are eighty percent there. I have completed my manuscript and am just testing the waters on finding an agent, so my opinion on this pertaining to writers is juvenile at best. However, when it comes to lampworking as a business, I am going to agree one thousand percent.
In order to succeed it is my firm belief you have to keep moving forward everyday, no matter what. But, just listing beads on ebay or etsy whenever you feel like it isn’t going to cut it. To really make this a business you need to show up everyday with something to sell. At least this has been what has worked for me. I show up every single day with something. It may not be a new design, it may not be the fanciest design, and it may not be the most innovative, but gosh darn it, I list new stuff six days a week (unless I am backlogged with orders like I am now).
Just like in publishing, this is a business. You have to make something people want to buy. If I write a novel I have feed my soul and have accomplished something very few people have. Many people talk about writing a novel, but out of all those people, very few actually complete one. It’s an accomplishment and one I should feel proud of. But if it’s on a subject no one wants to read, then it isn’t good business. Many of my colleagues make gorgeous, technically challenging beads, but if they can’t find a market for it, it isn’t good business. Good for the creative soul yes, good for the pocket book, not so much.
I do know what I am talking about here. Greg, my hubby and business partner, makes pretty much what he wants to make when he wants to make it. It isn’t the best business practice. Sometimes his marbles remain unsold for weeks, even months. But it is what he loves, so he shows up every day and makes something new. (Well six days a week.) He is eighty percent there. He shows up. And yes he has success. Some months his marbles sell fabulously and others, well…lets just say we have a lot of marbles rolling around. As a compromise, I do a lot of production, made to order stuff, and custom orders. To be honest this is what keeps us going and in business. I don’t mind. It makes me feel good when people like my stuff enough to buy it. Plus, you know, I like to keep the mortgage paid.
Still, we each keep trying new stuff and adding new designs to our repertoire. It really is true that if something isn’t selling, its time to move on to something else. Even if what you sold before was hugely popular. Here is what I do in that situation. I move on to a new design, but I keep the old design as an option for a made to order item. It works! I promise. We also try different venues. Currently I have four. The more exposure the better. But they all take effort. Make no mistake. This is a six or seven day a week job.
My advice to you, my fellow lampworkers:
Figure out what it is you make that sells well and focus on it.
Do market research and find out what is simular to that and the price points they seem to be moving out. Figure out if you can compete.
Keep designers in mind. I’ve learned my designers like to know they can come back and reorder beads that sold well for them. Reliablity is huge. Think about your own favorite vendors. Don’t you always go there first? Make it easy on them.
Try new things and keep trying new things until it sticks.
One of a kind is fabulous, but if you have ten people bidding on a set of beads, isn’t it better to sell ten sets for a decent price than just one for a great price? Remake what you can sell. Don’t get caught up in OOAK. They are beads people, not the Mona Lisa.
So if you made it this far my advice is geared toward the lampworker in it as a business. If you are just making beads for artist expression and joy of it and happy to wait for the sale on etsy whenever it may be, then carry on.
**Full disclosure, I have been making my sole living as a lampworker for five years. I do not consider myself to be an “artist”. I’d say crafts person and I am just fine with that. Greg, he’s the artist around here.