5 Tips for Buying Beads at a Bead Show

Aug 11, 2011

I scooped up these hanks of cut seed beads at a gem show in upstate New York

 I can still remember the very first time I went to Bead Fest Philadelphia. I had just opened a bead shop with two business partners. I was a month away from getting married. And I had never, ever been to a bead show before.

To say that I was overwhelmed when I walked onto the floor of Bead Fest Philadelphia was an understatement. There were beads EVERYWHERE! It was like a dream come true and a nightmare all at once - I didn't know where to look first, and I didn't want to miss a thing. It was a wonderful and exhausting weekend where I got to try a new kind of lampworking torch (I was heavy into glass at the time), picked up a beautiful carved frog Tagua nut bead, took two amazing classes and basked in the energy of all the wonderful bead people surrounding me.

A couple of years later, I found myself at another bead show, this time the Syracuse Gem and Mineral show in upstate New York. The show floor was a little smaller, but I still felt the same sense of being overwhelmed when my friend and I walked in the door. Beads, gemstones, and finished jewelry were everywhere! Luckily, I had come prepared for this bead show. I had packed a few useful things in a comfortable tote bag: a copy of my tax ID form (for buying wholesale, if wholesale discounts are offered), a small pocket ruler and magnifying glass, and a bottle of water to keep hydrated. (Shopping is serious business!) You also might want to bring a small notebook and a pen and something to organize any business cards you'll pick up from vendors.

If you're getting ready to head to Bead Fest Philadelphia next week, you probably want to make sure that you're prepared for the shopping frenzy that is Bead Fest! Here are a few of my favorite tips for buying beads at a bead show:

1. Wear comfortable shoes. I know it sounds silly, but if you're going to be walking the show floor for hours and hours, you want to make sure your feet are comfortable! A good pair of comfortable walking shoes will make your shopping experience a lot more enjoyable. No tired, aching feet at the end of the day means that you have more energy to play with your new purchases and to bead.

2. Do a walk-through. It's very tempting to just blow your entire budget at the first booth you see. But what I prefer to do is to take a little walk through the entire show first, making notes of the items that I'm interested in and any specials that vendors might be having. Of course, I'll sometimes see a unique one-of-a-kind bead that I just have to grab that minute before someone else gets it, and that's okay. Just make sure that you get a good idea of what's out there before you start shopping.

3. Leave your credit card at home. Because I don't want my family to have to eat boxed mac and cheese for weeks to support my bead-buying habit, I make it a rule to leave my credit card at home when I go to a bead show. It's just way too easy to spend money that I don't have when I have that little piece of plastic, so I make sure that the money I have in my checking account (with a debit card) is all I can spend at the show. (Trust me - my husband loves me for this one!)

I discovered these gorgeous handmade ceramic components by Odd Designs at Bead Fest Philadelphia

4. Take time to chat. One of the things I love the most about the experience of buying handmade beads and components at a bead show is that I get to talk directly with the artist who makes them! I'll always take a few minutes to chat with the artist about their work, where they live and how they got started in their art as I'm buying from them. It gives my beads (and my finished beadwork) a whole new dimension when I'm inspired by someone else's art!

5. Don't buy something just because it's cheap. In my experience, I've found that cheap beads are really just that - cheap. Personally, I'd rather save my money for a higher quality bead that will give me a better finished product than to have lots of low-quality beads that don't look as nice. On the other hand, stay alert for any specials that vendors might have when buying in quantity. One year, a vendor of pressed glass beads was offering a fifty percent discount on any purchase more than three hundred dollars. A few friends and I got together on that one and we walked out with some fabulous Czech pressed glass beads at a fantastic discount!

Want to make even more room for those gorgeous beads you bring home from Bead Fest? Now you can get an entire year of Beadwork magazine on CD! Each magazine on the CD is fully searchable and contains all of the ads and content in the original publication so you'll be able to find everything you need right on your laptop or desktop computer. Check out Beadwork magazine on CD today and start making room for more beads!

What was your favorite bead show purchase? Share your experience here on the blog!

Bead Happy,


Related Posts
+ Add a comment


elenmir wrote
on Aug 12, 2011 9:04 AM

I wanted to add a tip - Take a rolling bag!  Either a suitcase (if you're buying that much) or a bookbag - your arms won't get nearly as tired.  It's great for carrying/organizing your tax id, business cards, notebook, and water bottle too = )

I usually do a quick walkthrough and use my phone to take pictures of items I'm especially interested in, so I can come back to them later.  I'll try to re-visit them in order of 'how much I want these', and just keep going down the list till I run out of money!

Dita Basu wrote
on Aug 12, 2011 10:12 AM

Great post  and elenmir, you are very organized.  That's a great idea to take pics and taking time to think if you really need them.  Some times I buy beads from Bead shows and forget that I have them.  Dita from www.alankarshilpa.etsy.com

kdhoho wrote
on Aug 12, 2011 10:31 AM

My comment to what your favorite bead show purchase is EVERYTHING!  After the first time being overwhelmed, I target vendors that I purchased from in the past and know that's a definite stop the next Bead Fest.  I have to say that I stop at Grace's Beads for sure because her lampwork is phenomenal!  

I live four miles from Bead fest and this year I'm working in the Michael's booth all three days!  This is my sixth Bead Fest.  Bring it on!

lgerhard55 wrote
on Aug 13, 2011 6:27 AM

Thanks, all for the great advice. I'm gearing up to attend the Philly Bead Fest for the second time, this time taking three classes. Last year, my first time was sensory overload and I did make the biggest rookie mistake - blowing the budget at the first several stands before having a chance to take the whole show in. This year I plan to do the walk around and jot down the shops and items that I'm most interested in first and make most of my purchases without the aid of the credit card - Lord, give me strength!

redhatlady@2 wrote
on Aug 13, 2011 6:31 AM

Great post!  I too go to the show in Syracuse, NY.  I passed it up this year as I literally needed nothing!!!!

on Aug 13, 2011 9:10 AM

Bead Fest Philadelphia is my favorite show of the year! I stay for all three days. I actually wish the show was open for four days so I could really take my time at each vendor as taking classes eats into shopping time! About a month or so before the show, I start making a list of what I need or would like. I add to the list as ideas come to mind. I print out the vendor list on the Bead Fest website and highlight the vendors I want to visit first. This list is my priority, once it is complete (if there is money left over) I buy beads and findings that inspire me! I always carry a light cotton handle bag over my shoulder with a slim wallet, bottle of water, Cliff bar, calculator, pen and small ruler. I also bring clear zip close bags with me in a variety of sizes so that I can separate my beads and findings as most vendors put everything in one bag. Prevents them from scratching one another.

Holly@67 wrote
on Aug 13, 2011 5:20 PM

I have an envelope of cash that I put $ into all year long. $20 here, $40 there. it's painless. When it comes time for the Santa Fe Bead Show, I easily have $1,000 to $1500 to spend with no guilt. When the envelope is empty it's time to go home. This year's show I walked by all the booths, made notes and returned to buy what I couldn't get out of my head. This year, unlike previous years where I bought cheap stuff or blew it all at the beginning, I have no regrets for any of the purchases. Love the tips people are giving to ensure getting the "prizes" and to ensure longevity & comfort! Thanks to all.

candyT2 wrote
on Aug 16, 2011 8:11 AM

My addition would  be, bring a backpack. Unless you have a patient husband who will schlepp your stuff all over for the  whole day!

tmkrowan wrote
on Aug 20, 2011 8:00 AM

I always take "cash only" and vow to spend only that amount...then limit a charge purchase to only one item, when that money runs out! I also make sure that the beads that I'm buying line up properly on the string, so that they look good in my creations - lots of Chinese beads do not have good centered holes, and many of them have ragged edges around the holes. You have to watch for the excessive gleam created by all those bright lights - they can cause crystals to look better than they actually are.

elena74 wrote
on Aug 20, 2011 1:00 PM

Holly, I really like the idea of having an envelope and adding money to that during the year. I take a credit card and I think I'm still paying off what I bought at the last bead show. I also still have some of the beads. They're so pretty I hate to part with them. I don't wear jewelry, but I sell my "creations" and also give it as gifts. I prefer to see my jewelry on other people.

Since I am disabled and walking and standing are a problem, this becomes an even bigger problem at bead shows. I could use my wheelchair, but it's not the best way to get through the crowds or to see the tables of beads. Since I can walk for a bit, my husband bought me one of those canes with a seat attached. I can walk around with some support, then sit when I get tired or when the pain gets a bit much. I think this would be a good thing to have for anyone who has pain or simply gets tired of braving the crowds and needs a little break.

baxter6 wrote
on Aug 21, 2011 8:48 AM

I live in a large midwestern city and, believe it or not, we have only one semi-large bead show each year. Since my bead budget is very small, I concentrate on unusual and pretty pendants. Then, through the year, I design pieces around those items.  I would love to go to Tuscon or Philadelphia, but just can't fit it into the budget. I would love to have a couple of other shows here in KC, Then I could put these great pieces of advice to work! Love your website, and attention bead show sponsors, we love beading here in KC, too!

carolynnau wrote
on Aug 26, 2011 10:35 AM

Elenmir wrote to take a rolling bag and some other really smart advice.

I actually found  a small carry-on that opens at the top. This makes it easy to just flip open and put beads and receipts in. There are small wheeled shopping bags out there, but they just aren't strong enough to stand up to heavy beads. I think I got my little carry-on bag for about $20-25. This is so much easier than carrying a backpack, you have to keep taking it off to fill, and it gets heavy.

Also. Pack water and protein bars in your bag. Saves money and who wants to spend valuable time eating lunch? Although an occasional break to sit and rest feet is a good idea.

We have frequent shows here in Northern VA, so it takes a little of the stress off, I know I can get more soon. But imagine going to a show 4-5 times a year...that adds up. I tend to go 2 out of the 3 days. The first day I get the stuff on my list and some other things that jumped out. The last day I go and fill in and pick up the specialty items I saw on day one and haven't been able to get out of my head. That way if it's something unusual and spendy I have a little extra time to consider the purchase.