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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.

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.

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.

I'm Packed and Ready to Go...

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!

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