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The Business of Lampworking

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Bead Fest Philly Report

Last week I drove up to Philadelphia to attend the Bead Fest Bead show. It’s a two-day trip both ways from here. Luckily, my friend Angie Ramey lives in TN at pretty much the halfway mark, and I was able to visit with her on the way up and the way back.  Though it really would have been much more convenient to fly. But then how would I get my gorgeous light bar and all my stuff there? The murrine bins are a particular problem. So, after mulling it over, we decided the car was the best bet.

You should see the car after Greg packs it up.The trunk and backseat are full with the light bar running the length of the car and poking out between the front seats. Hey it’s only me in the car, so who cares? Plus I can bring a cooler of food and throw in anything extra I deem necessary. Like extra bubble baggies I was able to share with a friend who ran out of packaging for her beads. Yay me! My last show I used a fair amount of another friends bubble baggies so it felt good to pay it forward.

Anyway, this was my first year at this show so I don’t have anything to compare it to. This was also the first year for the new venue: The Expo at the Oaks. Some people we not pleased, but the old venue is being turned into a casino (or so I heard). Hard to hold a bead show in all that construction. I heard some complain about the parking. Since we got there before the show opened each day I didn’t notice a parking issue. There seemed to be plenty. It is an Expo area. But since the show attendance was over a thousand people I can see how some would end up with a good walk. It doesn’t help that it thunder stormed all weekend. No one likes to walk in torrential downpours. Despite the new venue and rain, the promoter said the show attendance was up from last year.

That’s good. But how were sales? I can only speak for myself. I have a formula for what I have to do for the show to make me money: Expenses + $100 a day for all the days I am not torching (prep, driving, and actual show days).

For this show the expenses were:

$495 table fee
$110 electric
$400 travel fee (gas, I was lucky and ended up with a free hotel room)
$800 (Eight days away from the torch)

$1805 Total amount needed to make for the show to be worthwhile.

I made more than that.

For me Bead Fest Philly was successful. I heard mixed reports from other vendors. Of course, without hard numbers I have no idea what they consider successful.

Better yet, I met three long time customers of mine in person for the first time. It’s really awesome when someone stops by your booth looks at your stuff and says, “Hey this looks like Chase Designs.” Then they look up and say, “Are you Deanna?”

Pretty great right?

Plus I got to spend the weekend with my good friend Susan Sheehan. I think I may have talked her  into Bead Fest Texas in October. Hopefully she’ll be able to work it into her schedule.

Too Many Pies, Not Enough Oven Space--Lampworking Business Extras

Don’t you just hate it when you set out to make a dozen pies and you run out of time and oven space? Then the apples start to turn brown and the chocolate filling ends up curdled?

 

What? Don’t tell me this has never happened to you before. Don’t you have family over for holidays and lose your mind cooking for five days before they come over? No? Me neither. I actually live out-of-state from my family. Holidays are usually very relaxing.

But I’m intimately familiar with taking on too many projects. Like five out-of-town events in six months (four of them shows), publishing a book and scheduling another one for December, and trying to run four successful online stores.

 

Thank the powers that be I don’t have kids. As it is the dogs think my butt is permanently attached to my office chair. If I go anywhere else in the house besides the kitchen or the studio they get seriously confused.

 

Tomorrow I leave for Bead Fest in Philadelphia. I have my good friend Susan Sheehan to thank for talking me into this show while we were at Bead and Button. It’s made for a crazy two months while I worked furiously to get my book Haunted on Bourbon Street published. I’m sad to say my online venues have suffered like the oldest child left to fend for herself. Oh, I still listed stuff, but not at my normal rate.

And the sales data really shows the hit. If you’ve been reading my The Business of Lampworking series, you should know by now the best thing you can do for your business is to constantly list new items. Of course, the last four weeks I have been focused on getting my table ready for the show and holding inventory back.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure these shows are the best business strategy at this point because as hard as I work, I’m having trouble keeping all of my pie plates in the air. One was bound to splatter or at least wobble. Online sales for me are wobbling. Luckily Greg does this with me and since the shows don’t focus on his work, his stuff is selling at the usual rate.

I’ve always said which ever direction you’re looking is the direction you’ll go. I started looking at shows. The last few I did have been successful, but not successful enough to take away from my online business. I have two more shows not including Bead Fest Philly. After that I will need to run some numbers and do some evaluating.

Moral of the story? Don’t take on more than you can handle. Something will suffer. And in this case, it’s my bread and butter.

But I’m ready for Bead Fest. I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Profitability of a Bead Show-Chapter 6 The Business of Lampworking

There are all kinds of reasons for selling at a bead show. Being part of the community, making contacts, building client base, picking up wholesale bead stores, hanging out with like-minded people. But when it comes to the business of lampworking, the main and most important reason should be to be profitable.

When deciding if you want to attend a certain show you need to know just how much money you have to make in order to be profitable. Be realistic with yourself and as always, remember shows are a gamble.

Here are a few examples:

Bead and Button (I’m using approximate numbers because I don’t have everything right in front of me, but they are close):

Table fee: $895
Electric fee: $150
Hotel (Shared a room): $200
Travel (gas, I drove from LA to WI): $300

Total fee not including food: $1545

$1545 before I’ve bought one display or sold one bead. Ouch! I’m not including display costs because those are business costs that are used for all my shows, not just one. But if you plan on only do one show, you for sure need to add that cost in. They can be as inexpensive or expensive as you like. Greg made my light bar. The materials cost $150. Plus bead trays, inserts, table cloths, a banner, risers, etc, etc. More on table displays later. But those costs can add up too.

Next I need to factor in how many days I will not be working at the torch. Bead and Button is a four day show. Plus I have four travel days. Two days up and two days back. Eight days. Plus I lose the day before I leave for packing and last minutes show prep. That’s nine days total. My goal when working at home and bringing in online sales is $100 a day. So I must make at least $900 at the show just to make up for my days of being away.

$1545
+900

=$2445

At Bead and Button I must make at least $2445 just to break even.

Let’s look at another show for comparison.

Houston Bead Society Show:

Table Fee: $275
Hotel Fee: $200
Gas fees: $100

Total fees: $575

Total days away from the studio is four with one prep day=5. My formula $100×5=$500.

Total needed to break even $1075.

It’s important to run the numbers and know what your expectations are for each show you are contemplating. Everyone will have different expenses so be sure to take into account your specific situation.

I’ll be honest, with the amount of work it takes to build inventory for a show and the cost factor I’m pretty sure I’d do better just selling everything at wholesale online. I don’t do that of course. The thing is I sell wholesale to bead stores and I have to maintain price integrity. Plus, with retail online prices I make more per piece so I don’t have to work as hard with lower prices. But when it’s crunch time (like right now) I dream about it. Bead Fest Philly is next weekend and I’m not ready.

No one is ever ready for a show.

You just do what you can and try not to spend too much time doing other things, like blogging. :)

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.

Surviving the Lean Months-The Business of Lampworking Extras

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.

 

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