An Insider Look: Working as a Vendor at a Bead Show

Jun 11, 2008

Beading Bucket List

I haven’t seen that movie The Bucket List yet, but I like the concept—you know, the one that says a person should create and execute a grand "to do" list before they kick the proverbial pail? My bucket list includes things that I’m sure are on many of your lists . . . visiting the Great Pyramids, going hang-gliding, learning the tango, helping build housing for the homeless, and learning to raise chickens (what, that last one isn't on your list?).

I have a beading bucket list, too. It includes lots of bead-related travel, of course. At the top of the list, however, is finishing up that huge Haitian-style sequined flag I started four years ago!

Life as a Bead Gypsy

One unusual item on my beading bucket list was to try my hand as a bead gypsy: to work as a vendor at a bead show. So when I recently had the opportunity to help my friends Betcey and Mark at Beyond Beadery set up, work, and tear down their booth at a bead show, I jumped at the chance.

Let me tell you, after this behind-the-scenes experience, I will forever appreciate the smiling faces behind every bead show booth I’ve ever visited. I always knew these people were a special breed but to experience it firsthand is quite a different story.

Bead show vendors often have to travel cross-country for days, sometimes in large trucks filled with wonderful wares; the tables, racks, trays, and lights to display them; plus the wide variety of tools and equipment to physically construct and dismantle that display. They work long hours with only minimal time outside a 100-foot square area. They battle fatigue, backache, convention center food, and shoplifters, hoping to make booth and travel costs. And then they pack it all up, move on to the next city, and do it again!

One realization I had during the week is that these folks continue the tradition of bead trading as it’s been for a thousand years. They are the modern-day tinkers or gypsy caravans, rolling into town to show off the newest wares and techniques. And they truly are a fluid pulse for the beading world—a great communal resource for new products and beading trends. 

Naturally, my part-time bead gypsy persona turned part-time bead shopper pretty easily, and I came home with what seems like my weight in beads. My most exciting purchases?

  • The brand-new size 15° Delica beads. I’m finding they are extremely consistent and a delight to work with.
  • Toho’s new permanent galvanized seed beads. I just can't wait to see how they hold up to my hot little hands!

Perhaps "use up my bead stash" would be a good one to add to my bucket list? Nah—not with all those beady trips I'm sure to be venturing on!

 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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Joan Tucker2 wrote
on Jun 11, 2008 12:53 PM

Jean, Thanks for the insider report; we at Off Center Productions have been on the road with our handmade porcelain for 2 years.

It is very hard work; extremely physical and yes, you do mix hard labor with customer service. I personally love the gypsy life and have found the vendors to be some of the most generous, thoughtful, funny and talented folks in my many years of working in the system.

Again thanks for your insider view. Joan Tucker, Off Center Productions

SandiB@10 wrote
on Jun 11, 2008 1:11 PM

I am also a stamper and one company offers customers from the different cities the opportunity to help set up and tear down in exchange for products - that would be a good deal for the bead shows! Little light lifting, lots of sneak peak at products and a few free things...what a deal. Sign me up!

Beads14 wrote
on Jun 11, 2008 2:20 PM

I also used to love travelling, but with much higher fuel costs added now, especially for'll be harder to compete with wholesale and even retail stores. Fuel costs here in Canada are much higher, but the US will surely quickly follow. Internet selling is becoming better, but it just doesn't have the hands on, nor the 'personality'. Talking with people is so important. I guess we're staying closer to home now, attending local markets. Wondering how others feel about the impact fuel is having on their travels.

Cath@17 wrote
on Jun 11, 2008 3:42 PM

I would like to add that with Beyond Beadery you can feel the smile behind the emails too, which I appreciate a lot.

jcjor1 wrote
on Jun 11, 2008 6:57 PM

"They battle fatigue, backache, convention center food, and shoplifters, hoping to make booth and travel costs."

Absolutely! I just experienced my first time as a vendor at a big bead show here in Melbourne. After being a musician for many years I've realised there's a lot more in common between the two professions than I could have ever thought. Only of course,  I didn't get a loud applause of gratitude each time I showed someone a bead. (not that anyone ever really did that when I sang). Gigging, touring, bead's all hard work. At least with the bead show I didn't have to share a van with five other sweaty, hairy men.



(there's more about my bead show at this blog)

MarlysL wrote
on Jun 11, 2008 7:29 PM

Actually Jean, learning to raise chickens IS on my to do list! Along with learning all sorts of jewelry making techniques and other crafting techniques.

Thanks for your wonderful newsletter columns!

Marlys <><

Moonshadow@2 wrote
on Jun 11, 2008 9:35 PM

I worked at a traveling carnival when I was in my early 20's, for one summer, it was hard work and work and work,  eating and sleeping when ever i could , and the setting up of booths and tents and taking them down. Any one who can do this for long periods of time  has my respect*, As for my time working on the road, it was an adventure.

My list is to own a big house, a couple horses, and to own my own bead buissness.


LBuser wrote
on Jun 12, 2008 7:10 AM

Nah, Jean. I have been trying to "use up my bead stash for YEARS." The result: I have more than doubled my bead stash. (argh) But I love all the colors and the feel of the beads. I do a lot of internet shopping but it just doesn't hold a candle to going to the shows, touching and feeling, talking with vendors and other beaders. I just love that.

(Raising chickens????)