12 Bead Show Tips for First-Timers, Compulsive Shoppers, and Non-Gym Goers



 Let’s Get On with the Show!

There’s no business like show business! I bet Ethel Merman would love bead shows. Can’t you just imagine her in all her Everything’s Coming Up Roses style, dancing to each booth, dangling strands of beads around her neck, filling up a shopping tray in grand style, and throwing in a pair of beaded cheaters while she’s at it?

Bead shows are a blast. But they can also be treacherous territory for first timers, compulsive shoppers, and anyone who hasn’t been working out at the gym.

If it’s your first show:

  • Know that there are two kinds of bead shows: wholesale and retail. If you’re a business and have the right credentials, you can get into wholesale shows to buy beads in bulk at a reduced price. These usually feature really big bead vendors and importers. Retail shows are for gals like me who just need to fluff the stash and see what’s new. They’re often made up of smaller vendors, sometimes selling one-of-a-kind, antique, and other specialty items; other vendors sell the basics, much like a bead shop would.

  • Most retail bead shows are free, but there’s also a good chance you need to pay an entry fee. It’s usually a small price to pay, but good to know up front.
  • When you enter the show you’ll see rows and rows of bead vendors, all sitting next to one another in little booths. Some of the larger vendors might rent many booths, so have a huge presence. But don’t miss out on the little booths—they often feature handmade items you won’t find anywhere else.
  • You’ll probably be overwhelmed at the variety of things to buy. So my advice is to walk the entire show before you buy anything. Each booth has a number, so as you walk around, make a note of each booth you want to revisit.
  • Check to see if the show offers beading classes. Bead show classes and workshops are a great way to be exposed to techniques, projects, and teachers you might not encounter in your area.


If you’re a compulsive shopper:

  • Review your stash and make a list of things you need before you go. It sounds a bit silly, but it really does help. It’s depressing when you get home from a show and you’ve spent $50 on something you already have.

  • A word from the wise…bring CASH! Give yourself a budget, go to the bank, and take out that amount (in $20 bills—lots of small vendors can’t make change for $100s). Stop spending when the cash is gone. Once you pull out the credit card, you put yourself in the fast lane for a shopping hangover. When I was editor of Beadwork I attended at least one bead show every month. At first I’d buy whatever caught my eye, but the credit card bills became out of control. So I wised up pretty quickly. It may sound severe, but I allowed myself only $100 for each show and made a rule that I could buy either one special blue bead or one special silver bead. When you consider I attended over 20 shows a year, it added up to over $2K—a big chunk of my income. Baby needed shoes, too.

Jean’s Trinket Chain Necklace she made after sticking to her Spartan bead show budget strategy (Instructions in Beadwork Creates Necklaces)

  • Talk to the vendors. You’ll be a more educated buyer if you do, and it will help you make better choices, curbing your natural tendency to buy on impulse.

If you haven’t been to the gym lately:

  • Drink a mocha espresso latte before you go. You’ll need the energy to walk the entire floor.

  • Grab a map before you go in. Use a pen to circle those vendors you know you don’t want to miss and beeline to them first.
  • When I’m a little heavy on my feet, I like to walk the shows solo so I don’t unnecessarily linger at booths that a friend might be interested in. When I keep moving I can stay focused and get through the show more quickly.
  • Sit down. Most vendors don’t have chairs in front of their booths, but there are often chairs on the sidelines. If the show is at a hotel, park your tookis on the fountain in the lobby. Better yet, get yourself some lunch and drink another latte.




Jean Campbell writes about beading and life every Wednesday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Jean, please post them on the website. Thanks!



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About Editor

I am the editor of Beading Daily.  My designs have appeared in a variety of publications, including Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Beadwork, and other publications.  If you have a great suggestion for Beading Daily, or just want to show off your latest project, send me an email!

One thought on “12 Bead Show Tips for First-Timers, Compulsive Shoppers, and Non-Gym Goers

  1. with “tookis” goes “schlep”, Jean you are a “hoot”, Your free form expression is wonderful. Lorna Carfano

    Comment by: Lorna C | April 2, 2008


    “tookis” goes with “schlep” goes with any trade show. I really enjoy your wednesday emails. Lorna

    Comment by: Lorna C | April 2, 2008


    “tookis” goes with “schlep” goes with any trade show. I really enjoy your wednesday emails. Lorna

    Comment by: Lorna C | April 2, 2008

    Good advice but just one more – if you find a great deal (and are in the business), don’t underbuy if instinct tells you it will be a good seller. Also, I took my beading class for a “field trip” to a small local show. It was an excellent educational opportunity for all of us and a nice bonding opportunity.

    Comment by: Mary P | April 2, 2008

    I love that Trinket necklace! It’s really great! I stopped and studied it for a long time! Thanks! Jean Yates

    Comment by: jean y | April 2, 2008

    I took some friends to their first big bead show and they were overwhelmed. It does help if a first timer has someone with them to keep the spending under control. Barbara

    Comment by: | April 2, 2008

    You should also mention that because of all the bright lights, layering is a good idea, as venues can become hot quickly, and also, drink LOTS of water, as lights (and the mochas) can quickly dehidrate,

    Comment by: nancy b | April 2, 2008

    One more tip – if you’re going to buy, then you’re going to have to carry it around and beads can get heavy and hard to manage when you’re still shopping. I bring a small knapsack on wheels to hold my purchases. It also holds my supplies when I attend classes at the bead show.

    Comment by: Nancy M | April 2, 2008

    I think that Jean Campbell has some great advice that translates well to first time bead shop shoppers as well! I teach classes at a local bead store and I try to instruct my students on how to shop in a bead store for the first time. Many of them are overwhelmed and appreciate the advice on how to navigate the store and choose their beads and other tools, materials and findings wisely! Once they take a class they are hooked for life!I know all bead addits out there like me can relate to that!

    Comment by: Darlene J | April 2, 2008

    I went to my first bead show last year and was hooked! This advice would have been helpful to me then – but hey – better late than never!

    Comment by: Doreen R | April 2, 2008

    Good to write about bead shows. Thank you. At my first bead show I took $50 and said that when it was gone, so was I. I spent it 5 minutes, left, picked up my daughter from school, went to the ATM and withdrew $300; saying to myself that $200 would be for pearls and $100 for groceries. I returned and bought the pearls then saw a booth with beautiful blue opal beads sold by weight. I picked out the smallest nicest strand I could find costing $90. I stood there with this strand of beads in my hands thinking, “Oh Janine, you can’t do this with your grocery money. Absolutely not! No way!” At that point a young man started speaking loudly to the crowd quoting a Biblical source saying that adorning the body was sinful and that we should all change our ways and repent, talking quickly before the security guard took him away. I watched him in amazement but then returned to the blue opal beads in my hands. I looked at the vendor, smiled and said, “I’ll take them.”

    Janine W. Bokman

    Comment by: Janine W | April 2, 2008

    I love your humour and your great knowledge is very helpful. Greetings from Switzerland.

    Comment by: Elke T | April 2, 2008

    I can’t imagine better advice for doing the shows. My first show, I had the $100 cash and the cards (mistake). However, I did travel lite, sat alot, Starbuck’s nextdoor, and I brought my digital camera – I asked if it was ok to snap a few pics, some vendors were fine with it. My feet hurt any way, and I’m still paying off my first bead show. I should have subscribed sooner. Thanks for the tips. Joanne

    Comment by: Joanne B | April 2, 2008

    Making a list is what you need bwfore you go to a show is essential. I learned that the hard way. Now I take a note book of patterns I want to make. I clip an index card on each pattern with what I need. Many vendors have commented on how organized I was (if they only knew). I have the picture of the project and can change the bead, color or style since I have the picture and pattern right there and can’t find what it calls for. I can make an educated choice about the beads I need to buy. I hope this makes sense. With just a list I wouldn’t know what the bead was for and wouldn’t be able to make a change. Thanks for your column…I always learn something from it. Bonnie Nagle It’s hard fpr me to write in such a small space so I hope I’ve made sense.

    Comment by: Bonnie N | April 2, 2008

    I have one more suggestion. We have a great many bead shows in the Los Angeles area, and many vendors come back several times a year. Others do not. You see them once, and that’s it. So — collect business cards like crazy and keep them in a file at home. That way, you can order more beads online or by phone later (if they sell at places other than bead shows), whether or not they return to your area.

    Another point to consider — a lot of local stores have displays at the bead shows. You might check on them and visit their stores later, as they seldom display every kind of thing they have in stock. That way, you can focus on those who are not local or who do not sell as often at shows. (Obviously, I’m lucky enough to live in a city that has a lot of bead shops….)

    Comment by: Jan G | April 2, 2008

    Jean Campbell I have shared your journey at some of the bead shows that we have had in San Diego as well as shopping at some of the great bead stores we have here. You were totally correct about the “credit card” once I pulled it out I was a gonner. My bead passion has been the semi-precious stones and pearls. I now have plastic shoe boxes in a 6 foot high book case just chocked full of beads. However, I wouldn’t change it for anything. Sometimes just sitting, touching and planning fulfills some ancient need to express ourselves in beads. I love your articles and enjoy the newsletter. Thanks for your encouragement and honest information. Peg Marsh

    Comment by: Peg M | April 2, 2008

    I go to two shows a year that are held in Manchester, UK. Like yourself I go with a budget of £100 and take a list of what I need.

    Comment by: yvonne j | April 3, 2008

    Hi All, my comment is a question. What is a “Beaded Cheater?”

    Comment by: Gail M | April 3, 2008

    Jean,great article.I always regret not buying something I know I really want and when I don’t write down information about something that’s new to me, like the name of a stone and whether it’s a claw or tooth pendant from Tibet 🙂

    Comment by: Gail M | April 3, 2008

    “What’s a Beaded Cheater?”… They’re these great reading glasses encrusted with beads or rhinestones. Vendors often sell them at shows, and only Ethel and her ilk (that includes me!) wear them…

    Comment by: Jean C | April 3, 2008

    Thanks Jean C. You’re always right on time. I wear bifocals myself but I’d rather wear something bead encrusted. OK, now what are tookis and schlep? Ladies, I need some vocaulary help today…..~

    Comment by: Gail M | April 4, 2008

    I thought I was the only one experiencing a racing heart and an adrenaline rush at my first show 3yrs ago…….I still feel the same way, but now know there are so many of us!

    Comment by: Laila T | April 4, 2008

    I know the list says to walk the entire show before buying but that can present a problem if the show is large. You can easily get to the end, find it’s almost time to leave and go mad trying to remember and/or find the things you wanted to buy.

    Comment by: Jeanne M | April 7, 2008

    favor de contestae en español

    Comment by: Mireya S | April 13, 2008

    favor de contestae en español

    Comment by: Mireya S | April 13, 2008

    I went to a small gemstone show today and was amazed! There were lots and lots of stones I’d never even heard of, and there was an amazing amount of Lapis. I’ve never seen so much in one place before. I restricted myself to some grape beads, some azurite, and a few crystal points.

    Comment by: Rachael A | April 14, 2008

    tookis is, as a wise older Jewish gentleman told me, an ‘offensive Yiddish term for the hind end of a donkey.’ Schlepp is kind of the sound your feet make at the end of schlepping around all day.

    Comment by: michelle j | April 14, 2008

    Just went to my first bead show and loved it!!! Tried to follow the “walk the show” idea but was difficult when I found a unique item that may be gone when I returned. Enjoyed it so much that I took my daughters (who are 14 & 4) the next day, gave them $20 & watched them have a blast. I enjoy your Wednesday articles Jean Campbell! Other “beaders” I met at the show also read them every Wednesday and enjoy your sense of humor as much as I do. Keep up the great work. Sincerely – Jen B

    Comment by: Jen B | April 16, 2008

    I live in tucson which has a wonderful bead show every feb. I went to my first one 3 years ago and of course went “wild” with the debit card much to my husbands non-amusement. What can I say? I didn’t even cover half of what I wanted to see that year. This year I went back every day until I had seen just about everything there was to see that interested me the first year. I also went with the debit card, but now my husband is used to my buying the lovely’s, because he gets to see the creations I make with them first and brags to people about his wife’s talent. Do I have a swelled head??? Naw!!! BeBe of tucson

    Comment by: Beverly E. B | May 12, 2008