Living Well On Less

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How and Where to Sell Your Handmade Beads, Jewelry, or Art

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.

Don't enjoy a large amount of contact with the general public? Then you're probably happier at home doing the artwork than you would be out dealing with lots of people in a sales situation.

You'll probably find what you want in wholesale or online (requires some "social networking" online these days).

Love people and socializing? Social butterfly? You'll likely be happier out doing things like home sales parties, shows or a shopping service. Best to consider retail.

General Info

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. That means that this stuff sells if it's good.

Beads and jewelry still do OK in tough economic times. Probably a combination of people looking at them as portable wealth and the comfort factor of the pleasure they get from looking/at 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 earn it, or may not be suited to it.

  • 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.

  • That time and money to design and assemble has to be invested up front before you can even begin to sell.

  • Finished jewelry is best sold retail for maximum profit. Traditional retail usually 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 and paying show deposits or finding party hosts. The shows usually also involve travel and places 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 sort of 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 face to face meet the public and a lot less expense. What's the catch? you'll be spending as much time and effort 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 via social media and other online info outlets. You'll also have the (minor)expense of your place on the web and payment processing.

  • 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 and marketing work then this may be for you.

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?

1.There's always a more fun/clever/less expensive or labor intensive way. Always think about it, watch and study what's going on.

2. 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. This guy had a great life, needed/wanted very little and this was all the money he needed. For him, more work for more money wouldn't have made life any better.

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.


  • 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.

  • Large profits are possible, but all the risk is on you. The number of glass artists I know who lost money owed them 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 screw the artists we owe" manuver. Stores and shops can be quite profitable to sell to but you want to get paid up front.

  • The economy has been crashing on a regular schedule of every eight to ten years since the oil embargo in the early 1970s. 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 are game to make a lot of work. You'll be giving up at least half of what your work would sell for retail, so you'll have to make it up on many more pieces being sold. 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/Art Reps

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

They usually charge a 15% commission. 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.

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, 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!!!!

Here's a few articles with a lot more detail on the subject.

Read these articles before you contact any reps so you don't embarass yourself!!!!!!!!



These are some of the reps I've seen mentioned here and there. I don't know if any one is better than the others. There are others out there, the articles mentioned above have some ideas on where to look.

I've only talked with one of them, Fred Boulter. Fred was nice enough to explain how it all worked and what the price ranges were for what I was doing. It was a funny conversation. Fred was 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.

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

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

Suzanne Burton Phone: 707-996-0195

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 you know 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 coming on strong for online art sales. They have 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. That can get you more quality buyers from those who go there to shop.

Update: I've discovered a whole new treasure trove of info on Etsy. Turns out Etsy is waaaaaaay better than I ever imagined. Check this out here.

The Etsy Kit

Email me if you have any other questions about the book. My email is at the top right corner of the page. It's a picture so you can't copy and paste. That keeps the spammers from getting me. I've read the book and I'll be glad to answer your questions.

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

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

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

I think the younger buyers might be way more interested if they were seeing or hearing about more of that art in the places where they go with those electronic gadgets. There's a generational shift going on here. Best for you to be where the trend is going, so....

2.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 using social media, posting on blogs and being "out there" in general. 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 ot not.

That's OK, it's going to be easier than you think. There'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. Things like the online storefront, packing and shipping, pricing, strategy, etc., etc.

Click here to view more details

or go here to read a
few chapters.

Email me if you have any other questions about this book. My email is at the top right corner of the page. I've read the book and I'll be glad to answer your questions.

Jewelry/Art Shopping Service

Click Here to see more

or go here to read a
few chapters.

This concept 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 because 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.

The original idea came from a 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. Rena 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.

A few of the topics covered in the book:

  • Customizing and personalizing for this particular market
  • Strategies to increase the profit margin
  • Figuring out the local market...things like pricing
  • Logistics and organization
  • Finding clients and how-to on building a large client list
  • Marketing, refferrals, advertising and promotion
  • Tie in to your website
  • Other ways to do this that I never would have thought of
  • This technique would also work with almost any type of art that can be retailed

You can always email me if you have any other questions about this book. My email is at the top right corner of the page. I've read the book and I'll be glad to answer your questions.

To be continued soon......

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