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First, a question.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Why do I ask?

It makes a big difference in where you'll be happiest selling your beads or jewelry.

You don't enjoy a large amount of contact with the general public? Then you'll be happier at home doing the artwork than you would be out dealing with lots of people in a one on one sales situation.
You'll find what you want in wholesale or online. You'll still have to be "social" to a certain degree but it's being social via forums, social networks and email, not face to face.

You love people and socializing? You're a social butterfly? You'll be happier doing home sales parties, shows or a shopping service...better known as retail.

Which makes more money? It's a wash. At retail prices you're getting more money per sale but you'll have at least twice as much time and work invested per sale. more on that in a minute.

The other factor here is burn out. Too much time by yourself or out in the crowds makes you nuts.
The first thing you'll need to figure out is your personal balance point, or what percentage of each will make you the happiest.

In General...

We are fortunate to be selling beads and jewelry. Apparently something deep in all of our limbic brains, or as some call it, "lizard brain" loves those shiny, sparkling objects. This stuff sells if it's good.

Beads and jewelry do OK in tough economic times, and that's a good thing, because our economy crashes every 8 to 10 years like clockwork.
The beads, jewelry and art holding value is a combination of people looking at them as portable wealth and the comfort factor of the pleasure they get from looking at or wearing them.
It's right up there with comfort food.

There can be a lot more profit in selling finished jewelry than just the beads.

Not that you won't have to work hard to earn it, or may not be suited to it.

Or, there's the "in between" ways, like this....

A lampworker I knew years back would bring his beads, some jewelry already assembled, and his jewelry tools to the beach. He would spread it all out on a blanket and begin assembling jewelry. He would do this in a high foot traffic area and almost everyone that walked by would come see what he was doing. His prices were reasonable and he was a very nice guy. People liked talking with him and watching him work. He was very good at sales so he sold a LOT of jewelry any day he set up...as in hundreds of dollars worth in cash. He didn't do it frequently enough in the same spot to get complaints, be run off, or for customers to tell themselves they could buy from him "next time" they saw him.

The moral of the story?

Getting Paid

Best to set up however you decide to sell so that you get paid up front or on delivery and avoid commission deals...as in "you'll get paid for it when it sells".
Commission usually involves dealing with art galleries, stores, catalogs and shops.


Selling Your Beads and Jewelry Wholesale

As we said, this is for those who prefer to spend their time making a lot of work.
You'll often be giving up at least half of what your work would sell for retail, so you'll have to make it up on volume. This worked great for me when I was making furnace beads because you do that at a "factory" scale of output anyway. Your mileage may vary.

Bead, Jewelry and Art Reps

These are people who "represent" you to stores and other places that will buy your work.

They usually charge a 15% commission and I think this is very reasonable. If you actually paid yourself for all the time and expense it takes to sell your work otherwise you will come in well over 15%.

You have to be making and selling a lot of beads/jewelry/art to make this pay off. To give you an idea, you are going to get paid somewhere around $4-5 for a nice lampworked focal bead, and then you'll pay 15% of that $4-5 for the rep's commission. That's not much money per bead but a good rep can move a lot of beads and a skilled beadmaker can turn out hundreds of beads a day.

I've done production beadmaking on this scale but not through a rep. I was selling on Ebay when there were only four pages of lampwork beads (1990s, when Ebay first started) and you could sell as many as you could make. Once you get it down to a system you can make a lot of beads in a day.

Reps can get you into more geographical areas than you ever could by yourself....nationwide!

Read this article before you contact any reps so you don't embarrass yourself.


Here are some of the reps I've seen mentioned here and there. I don't know if any one is better than the others and this is old info. I haven't checked to see if they're still doing the rep thing.

I've only talked with one, Fred Boulter. Fred was very nice and explained how it all worked and what the price ranges were for what I was doing. It was a funny conversation. Fred was very cautious when first contacting me. A lot of bead artists he had talked to were highly offended at the price offered and had given him an earful about it. We had a good laugh at how they must not be "doing the math" to discover what they're really making on each bead by selling them through other channels.

New England
Fred and Roma Boulter
ph/fax: 603-903-0237

Kathy Desmond
Phone: 863-326-9428

Arizona & New Mexico
Laurel Linton
Phone: 602-999-0746

Suzy Shaw-Berardo
Phone/Fax: 770-995-8507

Suzanne Burton
Phone: 707-996-0195

Here's a little checklist to help you find reps. A lot of what's on this list applies to any situation where you're trusting someone else to sell your work:

Where and How to Find Reps

In the classifieds of:
Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist
Accessories Magazine
Crafts Report

Other jewelry or gift trade, art and craft magazines -
There's a big Standard Rate and Data book
of all magazines in every library.

At jewelry or gift trade shows or major art or craft shows.
These shows are in major cities.
You'll need to prove you're in the business to get in.
A state sales tax certificate usually works.
Get their contact info and get in touch later.
They don't have time for anything else but sales at a show.

Local jewelry, bead, art shops or stores - ask them if a rep visits them,
see if they'll give you the contact info.

Ask other jewelers, artists or beadmakers

What you Want in a Rep

Handles jewelry, art or beads like yours
same style, price and quality range.

Is someone you can do business with.

Will keep you updated on what they're seeing that's
hot or not in sales.

Questions to ask

What's the commission rate?
What area do you cover?
How many accounts do you sell to?
How many jewelers do you sell for?
How long have you been doing this?
Do you have references?

What a rep wants from you

Written terms on sale, shipping (how quick,
free shipping?, what carrier etc.) and return policy.

Samples of your work with written inventory and
agreement on what happens if they're lost.

Artist Biography

Price List


Selling to Other Artists

One of my local lampworker friends makes beads for another lampwork artist who hits the show circuit all year. The artist hitting the shows hasn't got time to make enough beads to keep up with the demand, My friend makes $2-300 worth of beads at $4-5 per bead every week to keep this other artist on the road and selling.

There's more of this going on than you might imagine. You'll have to ask other artists who do a lot of shows to find this.

Selling Online

Online is really a hybrid of wholesale/retail because you can sell for retail prices (or wholesale on quantity) but you will also have to do a lot of marketing and tech work to make this go. More on that in a minute.

You need somewhere online to display your work that includes taking payments. That could be as simple as a website with Paypal buttons to process each sale or something more complex with a shopping cart. This takes some level of computer tech ability to set up and run. That's why the ready-to-go solutions that handle a lot of this for a percentage like Ebay, Etsy and others are so popular.

I started this way on Ebay. It would be hard to get started there now because there are over 3-4000 lampwork beads up for sale there at a time. That's waaaay too much for most people to look through, so unless you're known, or are marketing your work otherwise, you may never be seen. You'll pay about 15% to sell there by the time you pay all the Ebay and Paypal fees.

Etsy is the most popular "ready made" place for online art sales. I would suggest putting the effort into getting your own website ( update: maybe not so much anymore, I'll explain in a minute) but if you need a place to get going now this is your best bet. Etsy a very reasonable fee setup. You pay 20 cents for each item listed and then 3.5% of the sales price when it sells. You'll also have Paypal fees for collecting payment. That's the best deal I know of for online. You can have a "shop" there too with no cost for it to be there, just for whatever of their services you use. Another plus is that you can only sell handmade, vintage or supplies on there, which ups the impression of quality. Just like your having own website, you will have to do the marketing and advertising work to get people there and make sales. You will not sell anything just because it's sitting there on Etsy. Update note: Etsy has taken off since I first wrote this piece. You can begin to be very successful just working within Etsy for your marketing. The very best current info on Etsy will be from Renae Christine. Look her up and get onto her email list. She's also quite a character, so entertaining to watch.

Amazon has started something like Etsy but it's too new to know how it will do. It's pretty much a knockoff of Etsy with a different fee structure. You can pay your sales fees "by the item" but what they really want you to do is sign up for paying somewhere between $12 and $20 per month and not having to pay other fees. I hate recurring payment subscription setups like that but you may be different. When they first started they had the fees out in plain sight but now it's hard to find anything about fees. The links that are supposed to tell you the costs are a bunch of blather about how great they are but no info on what it will cost you. Not good. Selling anywhere else on Amazon is a straight 15%, so I would look for the fees for Art Fire to get up in that range eventually.

If you're looking at these sort of storefront setups be sure to hit your favorite search engine and put in whatever the online store name is combined with a word like "problems". Also search for the store name with "seller problems" and "buyer problems". It's a good idea to know where the issues and drawbacks are...or aren't.

The Most Important Things You Must Know About Selling Online

You can't put your work online and expect it to sell.

You will have to advertise and market your work or it will not sell.

This is a horrible to surprise to many people. Particularly people who were used to their stuff just selling itself online in the past.

Yeah, it used to be like that. Put it up in the right place and they would come and buy it. That's no longer true. There's way more competition out there than there ever was before, and it's all online now. You now have to expect to spend a good bit of time and effort marketing if you want to sell. Where you put your stuff almost doesn't matter, you might as well just look for the best deal/fewest problems/most benefits for a place to be...which would be your own website.

I hear my old time glass artist friends saying that the younger generation of buyers have no interest in art glass, that all they want to spend their money on is electronic gadgets.

I think the younger buyers are way more interested when they see or hear about art or jewelry via their electronics. There's a generational shift going on here. Best for you to be where the trend is going, so....

You have to market in some new and different places and some different ways.

If you're online at all you've probably heard the phrase "web 2.0". I didn't get the real meaning of this until just recently. It means that the "next generation" of web users want to have their web be interactive.

Used to be you put up a website, said what you had to say, (or sell) and that was it. That's history now. People don't want to be broadcast to any more, they want to interact with you on the web...which means being out there and available. You can do inexpensive to free things like posting on blogs and forums, writing articles, making videos, running an email list or spend money buying advertising. I hear the groans from the old timers already. I understand...the last thing I wanted was one more web thing to have to go check and participate in. Unfortunately, this is your major opportunity for the future, like it or not.

That's OK, it's not as bad as you think.

Here's someone with a whole lot of experience who has already "been there, done that", made it work, and made it into a book. The book also has a great bonus that covers how to do the most efficient set up on the physical parts of the business like the online storefront, packing and shipping, pricing, strategy, etc., etc.

Jewelry Shopping Service

This shopping service idea was news to me...it's so obvious it's easily missed. It may be one of the best ways ever to sell your work. No one is taking any commission or booth fees out of what you make, and it's retail pricing. It would take some time to get it going, but, using what you already have, you could easily start out small and ramp it up.

What is it?

The original idea came from an artist's visit to a doctors office around the holidays. The doc mentioned that he hadn't even begun his holiday shopping and, worse yet, the doc had young relatives and he had no idea what they might like. The artist jumped right in and suggested that she could make, gift wrap and deliver or ship jewelry that would be a big hit with everyone. The deal was done and the doc got rave reviews on his gifts. From there the idea was developed into how to be the "go-to" person for everyones gift and jewelry buying.

It's Showtime!

If you've never done them, my first warning about doing art shows would be about the lead time required. Ideally you would spend one show season checking out the shows you were interested in before you ever filled out a show application. Then if you want to apply to any, the applications and fees are due in many months before the show. Sometimes six months to a year in advance. How to know which ones you might be interested in?

Look up "Sunshine Artist" and "Where the Shows Are" in your favorite search engine.

There are other sources of info about shows but those two will get you started. If you're really lucky you have access to local artists who know the pluses and minuses of shows in your area. The second bit of advice would be to improvise or borrow whatever gear would be needed and do a few small local shows first and see what you think.

Even better, ask any artists you might know if they could use some volunteer help in their booth for a show. You can have the whole experience and discover what it takes without any of the months long pre-planning, financial risk or the responsibilities that go with running your own booth at a show.

I'll list my personal pros and cons with the full disclosure that I dislike doing shows due to the risk to reward ratio and the huge amount of time, money and work it takes. Which is to say I don't think the work to reward ratio lines up in a way I like either. This list assumes large juried shows that are expensive to get accepted into.

Pros for Shows

Cons for Shows

The people I know who are doing extremely well financially from shows are running a large "machine"
they've got people working for them who can do the work, run the booth at shows, do all the tug and lug, etc., etc.

A couple of my friends run a glassblowing studio and they use a small fleet of young apprentices to get it all done. The apprentices often work for room and board and the education, which is fine, because the education they're getting is amazing. The apprentices, being young and inexperienced, also learn many valuable life lessons such as "no, you're not going to act like a spoiled child" and "it's not all about you."
The fine art of attitude adjustment.

I don't know about you, but I've done enough management work for two lifetimes so I'm in no hurry to take on any more.

What most people end up doing with shows is to hit the few that are highly profitable, hopefully close to home.
As an example, there are three shows a year in the city closest to me that will always turn a good profit. If nothing else, most local artists and craftspeople hit these three.

Well, that's it for our quick list of how and where to sell your jewelry, beads and art.

Thanks for stopping by and here's wishing you the best in whatever you decide to do.