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The Business of Lampworking

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Discounts, Wholesale, and Let's Make a Deal~The Business of Lampworking

Once you start selling your lampwork, you will run into the discount question eventually. It can come in many forms: Do you offer quantity discounts? Wholesale discounts (If you do shows, make sure you have this answer handy. You’ll need it)?  I’ve spent a lot over the course of the year, do you ever offer discounts? I’ve seen this item in your store for a while now. Would you consider selling it at X price? If I buy ten of these will you give me a discount?

Let me just say right now, I have no problem with people asking for a discount. I don’t get offended, hurt, or indignant. Many times I have seen artists get riled up when someone sends them a message offering less than the asking price or asking for a discount. But honestly, who doesn’t like a deal? And keep in mind when you sell online, the market is worldwide. That’s right worldwide.

Many cultures thrive on haggling and the “let’s make a deal” method of buying goods. It’s a normal every day thing for them. Other folks are just trying to find the best deal. No harm in that.

Some of the arguments I’ve heard from my colleagues include: But we’re selling art! It’s a piece of ourselves! How dare someone ask me to sell it for less? If I wanted to sell it for $10, I would have put a $10 price tag on it!

We Americans can be so touchy. *grin*

Once you start selling your lampwork, you’re in business. Period. Expect to get questions about discounts. It comes with the territory. Try to take emotion out of it and think with your business hat. (Yes, I know, we artists hate the business end).

Okay, so how do you handle it? Do you have a discount or wholesale policy? If not, make one and stick to it. Do not deviate from customer to customer unless you have meticulous record keeping skills.

Example: early on in my lampworking business days,  I had a regular customer who bought at least once a month. I valued her tremendously and one day she asked for a discount. I said sure. I’m pretty sure I said something like, you’ve ordered so much, each time you order from now on I’ll give you 20% off. That was all fine and dandy, until she stopped ordering as frequently. She was a designer and designers move on to new things and new designs. That’s okay.

But as you might guess, I got busy with other customers and pretty much forgot all about the 20% discount. Then the customer came back to me months (maybe even a year) later and ordered stuff, and of course by then I’d forgotten all about the discount. When she reminded me, I gave her the discount, but yeah, I admit I was a little resentful I had to give a 20% discount on a small order (less than $30). And it was my own fault. I didn’t set terms. I didn’t really have a policy. I was making it up as I went along.

So I made one. A set policy I can refer back to when I get the discount questions:

Designers: 30% off a set amount.

Bead Stores: 50% off a set amount.

And that is it. The amounts vary depending on if we’re talking about beads, marbles ,or murrine. But they are always the same. So when someone asks about discounts, I have a pat answer. There isn’t emotion involved.

Do you offer wholesale pricing?

Yes, my terms are…

Do you ever offer discounts?

Yes, my terms are…

I also run a few sales throughout the year, usually up to 25% off. To be notified of future sales, sign up for my newsletter here.

I’ve spent a lot of money with you over the course of the year. Do you offer discounts?

This one gets a little trickier, because they might be thinking they’ve already spent a lot, they deserve the discount on a small order. I always answer that an order has to meet xxx to reach wholesale levels. Sales are not accumulative. I also again refer them to the newsletter for future sales.

If I buy ten of these will you offer a discount?

See designer wholesale terms.

I’ve seen this in your store, will you sell it for X amount?

This one I am flexible on. It really depends on the item. Have I had it forever and do I want it gone? Am I just in a good mood? Or do I love the piece and am not willing to discount it? Sometimes I’ll deal, and sometimes I won’t. Just be firm (but friendly) and if you do deal, be prepared for them to try it again. That doesn’t mean you have to deal again, it just means don’t be surprised when they ask again. Trust me, they will.

As I said earlier if you do go with different discounts for different customers be sure to keep good records. I guarantee after enough time goes by, you’ll forget. We have different ones for designers, beads stores, galleries, and suppliers (for murrine).  On my website I have a place for customers to sign up for wholesale. I keep all the discounts in there for easy reference. All I have to do is look up their name and there it is. (Their wholesale terms are only visible to me on the back end of the website.)

If you don’t offer discounts of any kind, that’s fine too. My response to all of the questions above would be: Sorry, I don’t discount my work. Thank you for stopping by.

Short, to the point and respectful. Remember, you’re in business now.

Bead Fest Texas Report~The Buisness of Lampworking

Hey guys! Bet you thought I forgot all about you didn’t you? Nope. I’ve just been busy writing Witches of Bourbon Street, but I’m taking a break to give you the skinny on Bead Fest Texas.

This was the second year Bead Fest was held in Arlington, and my first year doing this particular show. In comparison to Bead Fest Philly it was much smaller. I’d say about a third of forth the amount of vendors as Philly.

The good:

It’s pretty close to me. It took eight hours to drive each way. Going I had my friend Susan Sheehan with me, so it seemed much shorter, especially since she drove most of the way. Our other friend Lisa Liddy was a vendor there, so for us it was kind of a girls weekend in addition to working the show.

The show was low cost (relative to the other ones I do).

I had a great day sales wise on Friday. (It’s a three day show). Easily my best one day total in a very long time. I had high hopes after Friday, let me tell you.

There were quite a few less vendors than I’m used to, so less competition which is always nice.

The bad:

We had to pay five dollars a day parking.

I had an artist’s table, which means one eight foot table (pretty standard). But all the artists tables were butted up against each other. I’d say there were twelve to fifteen tables all lined up with no room to get to the other side of the table. We had to trek all the way down to the end to get around to the other side. It wasn’t very convenient.

Perhaps the most unfortunate issue was the show was the same weekend as the World Series. The ballpark was literally right next door. The Rangers and Cardinals played both Saturday and Sunday night. To add insult to injury the Cowboys football games was Sunday at 3 pm.  Needless to say, Sunday was a snooze fest. I’m sure we lost many possible shoppers who were afraid of crowds and issues with parking. Luckily for those who did come out there was designated Bead Fest parking. However, if one didn’t brave it, they wouldn’t know that.

The good news is I made more than my formula on Friday, so the show was certainly successful for me. I’ll definitely be back next year.

Formula:

Table fee + electricity + travel fee + $100 a day I’m out of my studio (traveling, packing, manning my booth) = Amount  I have to make to consider the show successful.

Next show: Houston Bead Society November, 11, 12, 13. Only Greg is handling this one. I have a book to finish.

Online Sales and Galleries~The Business of Lampworking

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.

Good luck!

Connections and Social Networking-The Buisness of Lampworking Extras

If you’re in business you’ve heard probably heard you need a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Google+ account, be a member of forums, and possibly have a blog.

Okay, so you’ve gone out and signed up for all those things. You blog maybe once a month, you’ve head is pinning in circles at Google+, your twitter feed spits out random posts from Ashton Kutcher, The Pioneer Woman, and Sh*t My Dad Says, and Facebook changes its interface so often you can’t keep up. How is this helping your business?

It’s probably not helping at all. Unless you’re genuinely interacting with like-minded people. If you’re a gamer and the only people following you on Twitter are fellow gamers, your spam posts of what you listed on Etsy are mostly likely just a waste of time. If you only use Facebook to  keep up with your siblings and their children, that venue isn’t working for you either.

You need to be connecting with like-minded people on these sites in order for social networking to be of any use to your business. It seems an obvious thing to say right? Think about it. Are most of your friends on Facebook other lampworkers? Or are they jewelry designers? Do you have both? Are you open to your customers friending you?

When it comes to Facebook, I let anyone on my friend feed as long as they aren’t constantly sending me spam messages or arbitrarily adding me to groups I didn’t ask to belong to. On Twitter I will follow anyone interested in glass, beads, marbles, jewelry making, craft, whatever. Again as long as they aren’t spamming me direct messages.

Okay, now that we know who we should be interacting with, now what? Interact, connect, make friends. That’s the whole point. Just spamming new listings will not get you far. In fact it might get your dropped, blocked, and ignored. FYI-my lampworking Twitter feed has been sadly neglected. It currently only gets Etsy and blog updates. So don’t go looking at that feed as an example. If I was following me, I’d probably block me. I’m much more active over on Facebook.

Now, you’re friending and interacting with people who appreciate glass. Great. Now what? Nothing. That’s it. The thing with social networking and connections is you never know when someone you’ve met will post a link of yours to a private beader group, retweet a listing, think of you for a teaching gig, or ask you to write an article for a publication. All of these things are free advertising and all you did was chat with someone online.

I have a concrete example of what I mean. I’ve been a member of Lampwork Etc since Corri first opened the doors over there. One of the members, Barb, knew me from the online forums. She’s another lampworker and a few years ago at least she bought some beads from me (which totally made my day BTW). In August I met her in person by chance at Bead Fest Philly. It was great to chat with her in person. Being totally awesome, she bought some more beads and signed up for my email mailing list.

Last week I ran an after Labor Day sale and out my newsletter went. Barb, again being totally awesome, shared that newsletter with a bead group of hers online. Needless to say, my sale was a huge success and I’m pretty swamped with orders right now from a bunch of new customers who just heard about me due to Barb.

If I hadn’t been socially networking with Barb years ago, would this have come about? Hard to say. She could have stopped by my booth at Bead Fest and signed up for my newsletter. But without the personal connection would she have shared my link with her bead group? Certainly our personal connection helps tie it all together.

Social networking is about making connections. Many of the opportunities we’ve been given have been a direct result of connecting with people, through a friend of a friend, direct interactions with people on the internet, or just being part of the community.

You never know when a connection is going to lead to something or if it ever will. The trick is to put yourself out there enough so you’re part of the community. If you’re only online to just sell your work, people will notice and it’s likely to backfire. Just be yourself, make friends, and the rest will follow.

Shipping and Payments for Online Sales--Business of Lampworking extras

I’ll start off with saying we’ve been selling online for over ten years and while we have received many phishing emails, we have only come close to being scammed once. So lets start by talking about what kind of payments you’ll be taking for online sales.

Number one biggest and safest is Paypal.

There are protections afforded to the buyer and the seller.  The buyer is protected because the seller has to prove they mailed the item within seven business days with delivery confirmation. For sales over $250 the seller must send the item with signature confirmation. If the item does not show up the buyer can then file a claim with paypal.

Now, if the seller has shipped to a confirmed address, sent the item with delivery confirmation, and the tracking shows the item arrived, the seller has done their job. Even if the buyer opens a claim, they will be protected. However, if they missed any of the steps, ship within seven days of payment, delivery confirmation, and a confirmed address, the buyer can and likely will win any claim dispute.

In the US, this is fairly straight forward, and it’s easy for sellers to comply to be protected. If we are shipping overseas, there really isn’t an affordable way to purchase delivery tracking. Neither Priority Mail or First Class International have a way to track packages once it leaves the US. So for those of us who ship overseas, we really are taking our chances. Insurance isn’t really a viable option with the USPS on international either. So I use a third-party insurance company, Shipsurance, to insure large value packages, just for my own piece of mind. I have used their service and it’s very easy. Fortunately for me, I have not had to file a claim, so I cannot comment on that end of the business. With all that said, overseas is more risky. But it’s worth it. We send stuff out of the country multiple times a week. We’ve had a few take a long time or go missing over the years, but not nearly enough to offset the thousands of dollars worth of sales we would have missed out on.

Credit Cards

I accept all major credit cards. It’s actually a lot more risky to accept CC than it is Paypal. All it takes is a call to the credit card company from the owner to get a charge reversed. If you make sales in person, you get their signature, so you are protected, but online or over the phone, not so much. I use Propay and customers can check out from my website using their card, I can send them an email for them to click to pay, or I can call them and get the number over the phone. I rarely get credit card payments online. Most people use Paypal.

I do get a lot of credit cards at shows though. Side note: For shows lots of people are going with the Square that lets you run credit cards through your iPhone or Droid. I, however, have not pony-upped for a smart phone, so I am still using Propay, which is actually a lot cheaper for me since I don’t have to pay a data package. However, if you have  an iPhone or a Droid already, I believe the Square is a cheaper option to go with over all. Do some research. Another side note: Etsy sellers get a discount with Propay. When you sign up or renew, just ask and they’ll take care of you.

Personal Checks and Money Orders:

I still accept both of these. First of all, I don’t have to pay any fees for this type of payment. It isn’t as fast or simple as an online payment, but if people want to give me money in these forms, I’m happy to take it. I just deposit them as soon as I get them, and then wait ten days to be sure they clear. If it’s a regular customer, I usually don’t even wait. The items just goes right out. It’s important to be sure these payments clear because checks and money orders can hit your account and appear to be cleared, but then a few days goes by and they might show as insufficient funds. It takes a few days for the banks to communicate. So be aware that just because it showed up in your account, it might still need some time to clear. In  my opinion ten days is a good amount of time. If your spidey sense goes off about anyone paying this way, do a quick google search to be sure they aren’t passing bad payments.

Are you scared yet? Don’t be. We’ve been doing this online thing for eleven years. I’ve had three checks bounce. One was taken care of by the customer ASAP. The other two were by the same person and my spidey sense was going haywire due to the details of the transaction. As a result, I never mailed the items, and I was only out the bounced check fees and some aggravation.

I have yet to have anyone open a Paypal claim. I’m sure that is partly because we have a 100% guarantee policy that anyone can return anything for any reason within ten days of receiving it. Also, if something goes missing, we either replace it or refund the amount. Don’t get caught in the it’s-the-Post-Office’s-fault trap. Think about it. If you order something and it doesn’t show up, do you care whose fault it was? All you know is you ordered some goods and they never arrived. You’re not likely to reorder from that store again are you? Take care of your customers and they will be customers for life. I promise.