5 Shopping Tips for the Tucson Bead Shows

Heading for Sunny Tucson

Usually the weather in Minnesota at this time of year makes people cuss and throw things. But I’m happily whistling away as I pack up beading kits and my Bermuda shorts. You see, I get to join 60,000 of my rock, gem, and beading enthusiast buddies and head down to Tucson, Arizona in a couple weeks! 

This year I’ll be teaching a class for Swarovski and then heading up to the Glendale Bead Museum to teach a couple more classes. I purposely slated in a couple shopping days to visit some of the 40+ venues involved in this mammoth event, but alas, with our current household finances matching the economy’s, my budget director has given me orders: no deficits on this trip; surpluses only. (Who appointed this guy, anyway?)

Tracking Every Penny

My budget director doesn’t know about the Budget Shortfall Fund (i.e. the Rainy Day Dollars I’ve been squirreling away all year), so those shopping days I booked won’t be spent watching free HBO in my hotel room. I’ll need to be very judicious with my purchases, though, so will keep track of every penny I spend. Here’s the plan:

Make a list of the important materials I need that I won’t be able to get elsewhere. Stones and pearls are the most plentiful in Tucson, so those will be at the top of my list.

Pick up a copy of the Tucson Show Guide. It’s a free publication online or you can find it in the lobbies of many of the show venues. (If you're not attending the shows, you can purchase a copy.  With a directory of thousands of suppliers and products, it's a handy year-round reference.)  The Tucson Show Guide contains maps, contact information, exhibitor information, and even individual show floor plans. The cool thing about the online version is it has an interactive show planner, where I can drag and drop the events I want to attend into a single file. I’ll print my show planner out before I go so I don’t do a lot of extra driving around while I’m in Tucson.

Put several copies of my resale certificate, business license, and business cards in a plastic sleeve. I’ll bring a copy of each to the wholesale shows I attend. This will make getting into the shows a lot quicker. 

Bring a permanent marker, plastic baggies of all shapes and sizes, and a calculator. When I’m finished shopping for the day, I’ll transfer the individual bead strands I purchase into baggies. I’ll label each baggie with the bead type, strand cost, cost per bead, and vendor. It sounds a little anal, but if I do it right away while the information is still fresh, it’ll get done. Then, when I get back to Minnesota to incorporate the beads into a project or kits, it’ll be easy to figure out what my bottom line charge needs to be.

Bring my Budget Shortfall Fund and that’s it. When the fund is depleted, I resort to the free HBO.

New:  Win a $1,000 Tucson Shopping Spree

As a quasi-employee of Interweave Press, it’s too bad I’m not eligible to enter the Tucson Spree. Thinking about that $1,000 prize money while I shopped would make the challenge to keep within the budget even sweeter, and that Budget Shortfall Fund might be used for something else really important . . . like a few new pairs of Bermuda shorts. (Okay, I guess that’s why I have a budget director!)

Are you heading to Tucson? How do you stay within your budget at a bead show? Share your tips on the website.  

Michelle's Tucson Blog:  It will be my first time at Tucson and I'll be blogging it about it on the beadingdaily.com website beginning Monday, February 2, 2009.  I'm hoping to share some photos–new trends, cool new beadmakers, and my own bead purchases.  Check out Michelle's First Trip to the Tucson Bead Shows–maybe you can give me some packing advice before I leave!–Michelle Mach, Beading Daily editor.

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.

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Beading Daily Blog
Michelle M.

About Michelle M.

I was the founding editor of Beading Daily (2007-2009) and my now a freelance designer/writer/editor.  My designs have been published in Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Jewelry Gifts for the Holidays, Creative Jewelry, Beadwork, and other magazines. I enjoy stringing, bead embroidery, wirework, metal work, mixed media, beadweaving—pretty much anything that involves beads or jewelry.  I also enjoy exploring new crafts like pottery and felting.  I write a personal blog if you want to see more of my work. 16+ Free Beading Projects: A list of the free projects I created for Beading Daily. Contact Info If you have a question regarding Beading Daily, please contact customer service at beadingdaily@interweave.com or the current editor, Kristal Wick. If you'd like to contact me, you'll find my info on my website:  www.michellemach.com.  You can also follow me on Twitter at:  http://twitter.com/beadsandbooks Pictured here is a pair of earrings I made for the Spring 2010 issue of Stringing in an attempt to get over my fear of designing with the color orange!

12 thoughts on “5 Shopping Tips for the Tucson Bead Shows

  1. I live in Tucson and attend the gem show every year. With the I-10 cinstruction going on, it is still a tremendous convenience to take the shuttle, saving lots of time and trouble. Parking and walking at each site is exhausting, if you can even find a place to park within reasonable walking distance. The G&L shows are by far the best for variety and price. I get to one of the shows by nine to get a good spot, then shuttle the rest of the day. Feel free to contact me at coyotecountry@comcast.net if you have any questions I can help you with,

  2. Although we can’t attend this year, I want to warn you that in all liklihood you won’t be getting much use out of your bermuda shorts, so please make sure you pack for all seasons. Also, several of the larger shows you can pre-register on line, therby saving precious time. By all means make lists of what you want but be advised that you will overspend by huge amout s, you get caught up in it and can’t help yourself when you see banquet tables piled with literally tons of pearls of every description and every bead and gem stone you’ve ever dreamed of. Another thing I had to learn the hard way is that although i’m normally a comparison shopper, be aware that most likely if you snooze, you loose. what you want is also desirable to thousands of others, so grab it when you see it unless you know for a fact you can get a better deal elsewhere. I’ve kicked myself dozens of times for not remembering that fact above all others. have fun and wear sensible shoes and carry water bottles.

  3. I too am lucky enough to be a resident of Tucson and have attended the bead show for years. However this year I turned my hobby into a business and will not only be bringing my resale certificate, business license, and business cards, but several copies of the Arizona Department of Revenue’s Transaction Privilege Tax Exemption Certificate – form 5000. This will let sellers know that my transactions do not need to be taxed. Every penny saved increases my purchasing power.

  4. Just because it is sunny remember this is the desert – so wind and cold mornings & evenings mean that layering is key!

    If you can’t make it to the show – I blog LIVE from the show with daily posts on my Tucson Gem Show – Live blog at: http://tucsongemshow.blogspot.com/

    Lots of show preview and a couple good links for housing at a discount. My favorite way to save money for gems & tools is to get a condo and split with friends…that way you don’t have to eat out as much!

    Robyn Hawk

  5. Thanks for these great tips! I’m not going to Tucson, but will be in Milwaukee in June where you don’t need to worry about the weather because you never leave the hotel. Anyway, these tips will surely come in handy.

    Oh, and how I stay on budget is to do what Judy O does- only bring cash. But I always tell my husband to expect a call from me on day two begging for more! That way it’s not a surprise 😉

  6. Clothing layers are the wise choice for February. Today it is a chilly 60F. Last couple of weeks were heavenly in the upper 70s.
    Last year we had two chilly snowy days. Hotel pools are usually heated however. Someone recommended the shuttle, and that is wise. If you park in the wrong place, the ticket is about $159 if you pay it the first day online. I live here and find that obnoxious, and it is not always obvious that your are parking “illegally.” It’s a budget buster, but there are many of lots and the fees are pretty cheap (about $5). Wear walking shoes or boots, especially if parking, but a lot of the displays are outside or in huge tents so comfortable footwear is a good idea.
    The good news is that people are very friendly and polite, and your good will is very important to this annual event. Ya’ll come.

  7. Budget? What’s a “budget”? Seriously, it is easy to spend ‘way more than you really ought. One way to avoid that is to keep running track of what you have spent. A good way is to keep a little notebook in your totebag and log every purchase. I always set a “goal” and feel very proud of myself if I only exceed it by 10 to 20%.

    Don’t ignore some of the “lesser venues” — the places out on Interstate 10 on the West side of town, for example, like the Howard Johnson’s but there are quite a few. Some shuttle routes will take you there and some shuttle drivers will drop you off there even if it is not on their route — but, to get back to where we were parked at the Holidome last year, we had to change shuttles a couple of times.

    Last year’s weather (with snow, sleet a couple of days) was unusual, but it can be chilly, even in a “normal” year. Generally, a light jacket and long sleeve shirt or blouse is all you’ll need.

    If you fly, don’t forget the very reasonable USPS flat-rate boxes for Priority Mail. I can vouch that the large boxes hold a prodigious weight when full of “rocks”. The USPS will deliver those free, so you might visit http://www.usps.gov and order yours delivered to your lodgings in Tucson so you won’t have to pick them up at your local Post Office and carry them in your luggage. I’ve sometimes been lucky and found them at the Tucson P.O., but last year when I took mine, all packed, to mail, there were people who found the P.O. was out of flat rate boxes and they were out of luck.

    Most vendors honor the show promoter’s wholesale buyers badge (for which you will need at least, your sales tax license from your home state), but some want to see your sales tax license and may ask for an additional item to confirm you are “really in business” — stationery, business card, etc.. I left my business cards at home one year, but was there a week early, and had some printed up, inexpensively, at a Kinko’s.

    Last piece of advice: take your beading supplies, whatever you aren’t likely to purchase, so you can bead “back at the room” at night. If you don’t, “you’ll be sorrrrreeee.”

  8. I too, live in Tucson. I attend the G&M Show every year. When my sister-in-law was planning a trip out here, she wanted to know where the G&M Show was at. I told her “Tucson”. It is amazing on how many venues are here, and the sheer number of vendors and buyers. It is truly amazing. As for me, I found the best way to participate. I will be working for one of the vendors. I will be paid to be at the G&M Show. Days off? Sure, but guess where I will be spending my days off.

  9. Budget?? Yikes, this year I’m going to try to be more conservative but there are so many temptations! I save on airfare by using air miles & share a budget motel with a friend.
    I keep a file folder with business cards and receipts from my favorite vendors so I can find them quickly. Priority flat rate is a great way to send the goodies back home and the P.O. on 6th Ave. isn’t as busy as the main one. Take labels & pens to price and identify your treasures back at your motel in the evenings. I also pack a small fabric suitcase in my larger one, then put my clothes in that on the way home and beads in the sturdier suitcase. Now with luggage charges it’s up to you to decide whether the airline or the P.O. is cheaper. Take inventory of what you need before you leave home and try not to spend money on non bead related items. Last year I bought a beautiful quilted jacket & an African ebony carving which could have translated into more beads! Be open to meeting all the wonderful people who attend and work the gem show. I love Tucson, see you there.

    Jamie D.

  10. Lived in Tucson for long enough to know, forget about leaving your credit card at home. Live it up. You might be stuck in Florida like me regretting that you didn’t buy those extra strands when you had the chance. But seriously, start in the corners first. It seems like vendors right by the door have the highest prices. Then if you find great deals, buy it. If it’s only okay, make a note of the vendor & location and go back after you’ve looked at other displays. And don’t forget the local bead shops in Tucson (except the ones downtown). There’s some great ones there, along with fabulous used clothing stores on Speedway. Forget backpacks and healthy back bags. Get a rolling tote for the event and keep your money / cc in an accessible but safe place like an “over the head” small purse.

  11. I use a backpack instead of a purse. Great for hands free, or use a small rolling suitcase if you plan to purchase more than you can carry. I always take water, and a pack or two of sanitary hand wipes. And Very Important – Write down where you park, I learned this the hard way.