Last year I decided I'd try my hand at selling beadwork. Oh, I'd sold a few pieces here and there, but nothing at a shop. What happened is a whole lot of learning and not so many sales. (Read my short piece "Beads for Sale!" if you want to relive my experience.) I’ve since decided I like writing about beadwork, not selling it!
Here's a list of what I learned:
- Have a long, hard think about whether you really want to do this. Selling beadwork isn’t glamorous. It’s sales. Research, marketing, production, fulfillment. If you’re into beadwork for the creative outlet only, this gig may not be for you.
- If you decide you’re up for the challenge, visit lots of shops and galleries, especially those with a textile bent if you’re selling off-loom work. Don’t even bother with the large retail places--most only take high-volume production work from major manufacturers.
- Once you find a place or two that feel right, fully research the shop’s stock. Is your stuff too similar to what’s already there? Is it so different that it wouldn’t fit in? Don’t be afraid to look at the prices. This will help you set your own prices to compete with what’s already there.
- Make an appointment with the gallery owner. Never barge in. These people are busy running their business.
- Once you have an appointment, dress nicely and come totally prepared to present your wares. Think about it as you would if you were making a presentation at the office. You’re selling a whole package—yourself included—since you and the gallery owner will have a relationship of sorts.
- Bring a variety of samples and know your prices down pat. Talk frankly with the owner about what sells well in the shop.
- Know that your work probably won’t be accepted at the first place you try. You may have to make appointments all over the city, and it’s possible that you’ll need to send digital images if you need to solicit shops farther away.
- Once you’ve been accepted, clearly discuss the terms for payment. Many small shops don’t offer a contract, but contracts are important! So if they don’t offer one, simply hammer something out that outlines your discussion about payment, how the work will be displayed, how long the pieces will be held, and who will be responsible for returning the pieces. Also include a clause about damaged or missing pieces—some shop owners are less friendly with their wares than others.
- When it’s time for delivery, come armed with dozens of pieces for the owner to choose from. Have each labeled with a price tag. You could even include little gauze bags or other doodads to make each piece a more attractive buy. Attach your business card to each piece. (The shop owner might remove all this extra stuff, but it’s worth a try and makes you look like a pro.) Oh, and don’t forget that contract for the owner to sign!
- Check in periodically to check on your work. You can call, but it’s even better to stop by the shop and see if your stuff’s being displayed and treated properly. Talk with the salesperson or owner to see how the work is selling.
- If you’re selling the work, great! Keep doing what you’re doing. If not, and you really like the shop, strategize with the owner on what might work better and adjust accordingly. Remember owners are in it for the money, too, so they want your work to sell.
- Don’t keep your work in the shop indefinitely if it isn’t selling—there might be a shop around the corner that will turn your work over like gangbusters.
- Finally, remember that shops and galleries aren’t the only places to sell your work. One of the most successful beadwork sellers I know throws one huge pre-holiday sale in her home every year. She works for months creating high-end jewelry she knows her friends and family will love for themselves or to give as gifts. She invites everyone she knows to come, serves snacks and beverages to create a party atmosphere, and sits by the till and watches the dough roll in. She makes a quarter of her yearly income this way! You can also sell your work successfully at beauty salons, high-end clothing shops, church bazaars, school fundraisers, bead society sales, and online.
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!