Sunday, January 29, 2012

Basics of Bead Show Bargaining - Part 1

First of all, let's not get our panties in a twist  - this is not about racism!  I'm going to be talking about societies and cultures, and politeness and expectations on both sides.  If I mention X nationality, I do NOT mean "every single person from X country, in every single situation, EVAR."  This is just my experience, OK?

Well, now that that's out of the way, let's get started.  Bargaining and bartering are the very first form of commerce known to mankind (and among the higher apes as well).  Ayn Rand said it best "Value for value".  Something is only worth as much as the other person is willing to pay for it.  Anyone who's seen a tacky beer mug go for $2,000 on Ebay knows exactly what I'm talking about.

First up, we're going to discuss Arabic cultures.  Bartering may be prehistoric, but it took the Semitic peoples (Jews, Arabs and Bedouin) to bring it to a high art form.  (More on dealing with Jews later.)  The term "Camel Trader" oft comes to mind.

"For you my friend, special price!"

Yes, they really do say that.  And it's true, you are their friend.  Everyone who walks into the booth with cash is an instant friend.  It's part of the culture of hospitality.  If you were in their home, no matter how they felt about you personally, they'd still offer you a cup of strong mint tea.  It's a matter of personal honor.  Smile back, and start admiring all the pretties.

The Middle East offers some of the most gorgeous gemstones in the world.  For example, the best lapis lazuli comes from Afghanistan.  The Arabic people are fiercely proud of their country's products, so don't be afraid to praise the items often, and loudly.  Sigh wistfully, turn things this way and that against the light, comment on the color and clarity with awe.  When you're done, put the most expensive items down and start to walk away, but look back at it over your shoulder as if you were taking leave of your lover. 

The proprietor is sure to take note of this, and will start trying to get you to reconsider that strand of beads you just abandoned.  Look at what you have in your hands that you are willing to buy.  Agree with him that his wares are worth every penny, and regret that it is simply not in your budget.  Watch carefully as his eyes light up.  In Arabic cultures, if you do not bargain, they have no respect for you - you are an idiot.  The harder you bargain, the more they love you.  It's a bonding thing.  It's like playing chess against the master.  There's no animosity here, so don't feel like you're being rude or insulting, quite the opposite.  Keep smiling, and LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

Now, here's the basic formula.  I'll try to keep the numbers round, because I'm horrible with math (another good reason to bargain).

What you have in your hand comes to 78.00  What you want to add to that costs 100.00, so together that's 178.00.  So far, we're looking at retail (or wholesale, if you're in the dealer's room, even better!)  Try to knock the price down to around 30% less or so, so let's say 140.00 even.  He says he can't possibly go that far, and offers 160.00.  You tell him that the piece is gorgeous, and certainly worth it, but after all, you have to stick to your budget and that you're pushing it already.  You offer 145.00, he offers 155.00  You say 150.00? and give him a BIG smile.  He smiles back and agrees. 

You're not done yet.  If he pulls out his calculator to start figuring taxes, you give him the big blinky eyes and say "No tax?" and then stare him down, but keep smiling until he puts the calculator away.  You are NOT encouraging him to commit tax fraud,  you're just asking for another percentage off of the final sale.  He'll take the tax out of the back end of the sale at the end of the day.  If he offers his hand, shake it.  If you're a woman, he may or may not offer.  Go with the flow.

BIG TIP:  Do not ask if they have a catalog or online shop until you are DONE with your bargaining.  If they think you're just wasting time in the booth, and you may or may not order online at a later time, they will go and assist someone else.  Vendors hate "lookie loos".  Accept any promotional brochures as you leave, and assure him that you look forward to building a business relationship with him in the future.  Use the word "relationship", it's another good key word in their culture.

Bonus round:  If you're brought a friend to the show, and you've separated for a moment, make a point of bringing him or her over to the booth you just bought from, and introduce them to the owner.  Loudly praise the merchandise and prices to your friend, and tell them that they should buy here next time they need XYZ items. 

Next entry, how to deal with those clever Jews (and I should know, I am one!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Artists Survival Guide (for a down economy)

I followed a link from Timothy Adam's Handmadeology blog, to Etsy's top 1000 sellers list.  WOW.  Talk about informative.  I'm seeing a definite trend here - and realizing that I am in no way anywhere near that trend.  Time to rethink and retool!

The number one seller is Beanforest.  They make items that are easily to print and reprint, can be sent out for assembly, and don't cost over $10.  Not gonna lie, I seriously love this button. 

The second place seller has been in the top 10 for quite a few years now.  AndersonSoapCompany has beautiful photography and packaging, luscious presentation, high quality control - and importantly, these items are consumable, which means that you will run out, and have to go back to him to get more.  That's instant customer retention right there.

The third place seller has also been at the top for a long time, TheBlackApple.  Darling art prints that appeal both to kids, and adults who appreciate a whimsical, folksy feeling.  Reproduceable, low prices, original art = good formula for success. 

Fourth place is norajane, who sells scrapbooking supplies.  Hardly anything in the shop is over $5.00.  This little bird stamp is too adorable, the lines are razor sharp, and only $4.00.  It's the perfect impulse buy, and since it's not too expensive, why not get a few more and make a set?

Other sellers in the top 20 are people who make t-shirts, baked goods, and VERY simple jewelry that can easily be assembled or outsourced in bulk. Honestly, a lot of it can be found ready to sell on  Crochet and knitting patters are big sellers, because all you are getting is a pdf file in your inbox, so there is no shortage of stock and no storage, either.  Just watch out for copyright violations!

1.  Easily reproducable.  Prints, whether on t-shirts, greeting cards, custom labels or prints of original art, are HOT sellers with low prices.  They appeal to the eye, make you happy for very little money, and can be either outsourced for production or made to order.  Storage is only a hard drive away (as opposed to my bead shop, which takes up an whole room).  This is also true for patterns and tutorials that are sent in pdf form. 

2.  Consumables.  Bath, beauty, food - anything that you will use up and have to replace.  If you fall in love with a product, and know that it was handmade (or formulated and outsourced) by only one seller, then that is the person you will return to again and again.  Revlon, you can get anywhere, but where else are you going to get that perfect "pink-mauve lip gloss with the vanilla tangerine flavor" that you've had mixed up custom for you?  Loyalty is priceless.

3.  Simple jewelry.  No one seems to want to spend money on statement pieces these days.  In a bad economy, showing off a big fancy piece seems gauche, somehow.  People want "elegant chic", something that they can wear every single day, and they'd prefer not to pay over $25.00 for it.  Chinese jewelry manufacturers follow US fashion trends, and are cranking out owls, sparrows, lockets, octopi, mustaches and pin up girls faster than you can possibly imagine.  They'll even add the chain and gift box it for you, for the grand total of .89 cents per unit, as long as you order 120 pieces minimum.  Judging by how many sales this type of jewelry gets, buying in bulk doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all!

4.  Not so high up on the list, but still prominent, was factory made handbags, computer bags and clothing from Thailand and Indonesia.  Etsy truly is a "global marketplace" these days, and they seem to have lifted all restrictions on reselling manufactured imports.  I mean, sure, this stuff is handmade (sort of).  Hands had to have touched the product somewhere along the manufacturing process.  Hey, I'm not judging.  (I never claimed to mine my own metals or dig up my own gemstones.)

Here's what I'm NOT seeing in the top 1000 - intricate, well thought out, artisan handmade jewelry.  Sure, it does sell here and there, but lets face it, artisan items are a highly subjective taste.  People will either love or hate an artisan piece, but what's to hate about a little bird on a branch?  That is why the handmaking artist is starving.  So what to do, if you don't want to give up your work?

You need a day job, or you need a separate line to sell that will appeal to the masses.  Take your pick.  Don't get depressed about it.  Historically, all the great artists in the world were poor when they relied only on creating what spoke to THEM.  They only managed to earn income when wealthy patrons commissioned them to paint a portrait or carve a bust of either their wife, their mistress, or themselves.  You have to appeal to the patrons out there, and give them a reason to "support your art". 

Many jewelers I know have a bead supply shop on the side. (more on that, in my next entry).  Many knitters come up with their own patterns, or sell patterns from magazines.  Clothing designers will outsource production to keep costs down, and not get too "haute couture".  Keep it simple - that seems to be the golden rule for 2012. Remember, you are not selling your soul, you are making it possible to do what you truly love, without the burden of sales figures looming over your head.  You can place your art in galleries for commission, instead of sweating over trying to get wholesale contracts (overrated, IMHO).  Basically, by diversifying into a side business with a successful formula, you are buying your freedom to create.

Either that, or you need to marry someone rich. ;-P

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pantone Spring 2012

And the winner is... Tangerine Tango! Read all about it at the link.

Here's a preview of what you can expect in jewelry trends. These colors really make me smile, and they're a joy to work with on a cold January day.

And here's what designers like Gaultier, Missoni and McCartney are putting in the shops RIGHT NOW. Be sure to check the color cards on the left hand column of these links, and see how closely they line up with the Pantone forecast.

Now, I don't know about you, but I look TERRIBLE in orange! Don't let that scare you off. Think coral, salmon and persimmon, and keep the really hot shades for small accessories and accents. Pair it with turquoise, and you have an instant classic. With pale melon green, it calms down and becomes a citrus splash of refreshing coolness. With an unexpected accent of pale lavender blue, it brings to mind a field of wild flowers, yarrow and cornflower nodding in the summer heat.

Here's part of what my current bead stash looks like. I pulled these out of my stock to see how well the colors "play together".

I highly recommend you go through your wardrobe, yarn pile, fabric stacks, etc., and see what you can come up with in the Pantone palette. It's a great exercise!

Rose (pink) gold is emerging as the HOT new metal of the day, after decades of being considered terribly old fashioned, and only fit for Victorian watch fobs. If you follow trend sites like HauteLook or, you already know what I'm talking about. It's everywhere!

For those of us mere mortals on a budget, there's rose gold vermeil over Karen Hill Tribe silver, 14k rose gold plating over both brass and alloy, and even bright polished copper for a darker rosy look. Rose gold compliments every skin tone, whether you are a "warm, cool or neutral". Darker skin tones can really rock the bright copper look like no one else!

Be sure to check out B'Sue's Boutique for delicious jewelry supplies custom plated in her proprietary Rose Gold finish. Sure, you can find something less expensive, but once you get your hands on her pieces, you'll never go back. Rich,warm and absolutely gorgeous, with a plating so thick you won't believe it's "costume quality". Her items come in relatively small batches, so if you see something you like, grab it quick!

Less is more, so look for high quality materials and key pieces to highlight minimalist designs. "Effortless chic" is the phrase of the day, and it's harder to accomplish than you'd think. For many years now, I've been operating on the theory that if a bunch of beads is good, then a whole bunch more is even better! Now, it's a matter of finding that perfect bead, with just the right chain, and a charm that's not too big or too small. Scale and balance are everything. Even if you get all the colors right, if it doesn't "feel right" to the eye, it won't sell.

Pre-Fall 2012 will be more of the same, but with the colors more muted, softer and dustier looking. The turquoise blue will be replaced with slate blue, and sand beige will play a much more prominent role as an anchor to coral and carnelian tones. You'll be seeing more oxidized copper in earthy Tibetan style beads.

Bronze ox and brass ox will always be fashionable for Victorian romantic styles - and of course for the steampunks. You'll have to pry that oxidized brass out of their cold, dead, gear enhanced armature! The goths, in their unholy graves, will never give up their silver and gunmetal hematite. Be that as it may, if you want to be on trend for the next few seasons, do the Tangerine Tango and think PINK for your metals.

Happy creating!