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.
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
Not that you won't have to work hard to earn it, or may not be suited
- lots of time and effort will be needed to make original
designs and assemble them.
You may not like doing a whole lot of this....I sure didn't.
Too much repetitive work kills my soul.
If you design something that goes over big, you'll be making the same
thing over, and over, and over...until...well, you get the picture.
- That time and money to design and assemble has to be
invested up front before you can sell anything.
You don't know what's going to sell well until you get to test it out.
Catch 22? You bet. You'll need a lot of different designs to see what's
hot or what's not.
- Hint: Have a lot of things $20 and under as well as some
expensive stuff. Why $20 and under? See "economy crashes every 8 to 10
years" up above. Also have things for kids to buy for a dollar or two.
- Retail means your time and effort will be spent doing
craft/art shows, home parties, shopping services...which means "meet
the public" selling, setting up your displays, paying for mobile credit
card processing, paying show deposits or finding party hosts. The shows
usually involve travel, motels to sleep, getting a show tent, tables
and on and on. Either one is a lot like bringing the circus to town,
the shows way more so. It's a big job.
- The scale of profit or loss matches the investment and
effort required. A good show can make big money, but it can also bomb
and leave you with all the expenses of being there. Home parties,
shopping services and online are relatively inexpensive to set up but
the money comes in more slowly and in smaller amounts.
- Finished jewelry, beads, or other art can be sold at
either wholesale or retail online, which does let you work from home
without all the "meet the public" and a lot less expense. What's the
catch? you'll have as much time and effort invested as "bringing the
circus" but in a different way. You'll be spending time on marketing
your work, computer tech work and making yourself known in the online
- Traditional wholesale like gallery, shop/store and trade
show sales mean giving up a percentage of the retail price to the
wholesaler. Usually 50% and up. If you would rather work at making
twice as much of your art instead of sales, marketing and "bringing the
circus" work then this may work for you. You have to be very careful.
Often stores and galleries want your work on consignment. There have
been some large losses of consigned work and money in gallery and shop
failures lately. More on that in a minute.
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?
- There's always a more fun/clever/less expensive or labor
intensive way. Always think about it, watch, and study what's going on.
- The possibility was there to expand big time if he was
motivated to do the work on marketing and sales....or...not. It's a
question of balance in your life like we were talking about in the
beginning of this article.
This guy had a great life.
For him, more work for more money wouldn't have made things any better.
- Odd fact: Street vending accounts for trillions of dollars
in the global economy and creates work for nearly half the workers in
the world. Put "Robert Neuwirth" and "Shadow Cities" into your favorite
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.
- You have to give up a percentage of the price in these
deals. Usually at least %50, often more.
- More work for you tracking sales and being sure they're
not selling your stuff without paying you. Yes, that happens a lot.
Hint: Don't sign on with a gallery or shop on consignment unless
they're close enough that you can go check on them in person. Do that
monthly. Many of the better bead and jewelry shops pay cash on
delivery. Look for those.
- Large profits are possible, but all the risk is on you.
The number of glass artists I know who lost the money owed and all
their work in a gallery/shop that went under is a very large number.
After the 2008 crash the failure rate for these type of businesses was
almost unbelievable. There are some very big chain stores that have
done a "bankruptcy and forget about the artists we owe" manuver. Stores
and shops can be quite profitable to sell to but you want to get paid
up front if possible.
- Art is one of the first areas that takes a hit in a
financial downturn. Think that has any effect on a gallery or store
that's a little over extended on their bills?
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
Read this article before you contact any reps so you don't
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
Fred and Roma Boulter
Arizona & New Mexico
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
You have to market in some new and different places and some
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
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
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
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.
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
Look up "Sunshine Artist" and "Where the Shows Are" in your favorite
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
A good one can make large amounts of money.
The show circuit can be the fastest way to get to the point of making a
good living as an artist
It gets you out of the house and away from the studio, and that's good
for creativity and original ideas.
You get to meet your customers and other artists in person.
There are often good times to be had with fellow artists after the show
day is done.
- Market research...you'll see what's selling well right
Cons for Shows
The people I know who are doing extremely well financially from shows
are running a large "machine"
Thousands of dollars are needed for application, jury and show fees
every year. You have to pay this money way in advance
and hope the weather, your health or any number of other factors are
still good come show time. Refunds? Nope
You'll have travel, food and motel expenses. Wear and tear on your car
There's some odd rule of the universe that makes all good paying shows
hundreds of miles away.
Just as you can have spectacular profits, you can have a show bomb
completely with few sales.
Welcome to the weekend from hell. You just lost a minimum of $5-600.
Theft Rude, dangerous or obnoxious people. The dark side of meet the
Having the time and money needed to have lots of inventory made in
advance. Just like we discussed earlier with my buddy making inventory
for another artist running the show circuit.
Tug and Lug - Much packing, unpacking, hauling, setting up, tearing
down. You say you're an artist? Well, not this weekend Bubba. You're a
temp in the freight hauling and construction business.
It takes years of experience, time and money down the drain to know
which shows on which weekends will turn the most profit for you.
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
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.