Excerpts From This Ever-Evolving Tale..... I don’t mean to drag a poor Elephant by its tail, kicking and screaming, into our bead world against its wishes. Nor do I perceive the elephant to be a threat, like you might see an Elephant in the boudoir, or the fine china store. And I don’t want you to shut your eyes and pretend not to notice that this Elephant is here, standing shoulder to shoulder with every beader and jewelry maker around. The Elephant is not a joke. And the fact that it is “Rogue” makes it more important than ever to figure out why it’s here, among size #10 English beading needles, and Czech size 11/0 seed beads, and Austrian crystal beads. It seems so worldly, yet other-worldly, our Elephant. It’s not our muse. It’s not our Cassandra. It has no secret plan or strategy. It does not depend on its size to make its point. It does not hesitate to stomp and chomp and clomp because the beads before it are raku or glass or gemstone or crystal or metal or plastic. But a Rogue Elephant in the middle of our craft room forces upon us a completely different logic, so that we can make sense of it all.| CURRENT ROGUE ELEPHANT BLOG ARTICLES Introduction Dabbling for the Business Person
GETTING STARTED IN
YOUR JEWELRY MAKING BUSINESS
Why some jewelry sells and other jewelry does not
Business Challenges – Getting Started In Business
My niece’s 6-year old daughter told me the other day, “Warren, I wish I could get a job where I can make bracelets all day!” How cute! She definitely would have a lot of fun making jewelry. She most certainly could make money doing it. But I don’t think she was old enough to appreciate the amount of work, strategic thinking, and marketing and good business sense involved, in order to succeed.
But maybe she did. Jewelry making taps into our creative souls, our artistic essence. The fact that you can make money at it, moreover, serves to heighten the experience.
Two girls – one 12 and one 13 years old – were determined to make money that summer. They had had some experience setting up a lemonade stand last year, but they were ready to make the big bucks. So they turned to jewelry. They created an attractive shelter along the side of the road, and posted clever signs – “REFRESHING SPARKLES” -- to catch drivers going and coming in either direction. Instead of lemonade, however, their customers found cool earrings, and refreshing necklaces, and yummy bracelets. And the two girls found success!
While there are many business challenges for jewelry designers, – young and old, alike -- you can most assuredly answer the question – Can You Really Make Money Selling Jewelry? – with a resounding YES. It takes some planning. Some Moxie. Some start-up money. Some marketing. And some luck. But it can be done.
For people who sell their jewelry, their art is both a business as well as a source of creativity and self-expression. To be successful, they need to bring an understanding of business fundamentals to the business, and they need to find enthusiasm for “business” in similar ways to how they found their passion for “jewelry.” There will be ups and downs, as the economy changes or fashions and styles change. They will wear multiple hats – designer, distributor, manufacturer, retailer -- and not always be sure which hat to wear when. They will need to understand marketing, pricing and selling. They will need to have a feel for reading and understanding people.
Successful jewelry design businesses today share several traits. They have a focus on what they do as a “business model”. They are comfortable working long stretches in a production mode – even though this can be very boring for the artist. They have some comfort level with both bricks and clicks. I don’t think you can have a successful business today without both a real physical presence somewhere and some on-line visibility as well.
Jewelry businesses today also must learn to quickly adapt to competition. This is not only competition from other local, regional or national jewelry designers, but from overseas, as well. Remember in the 1970s, when Asian manufacturers started selling low cost Native American jewelry, they almost put the Native Americans out of business. Today Chinese lampwork companies are wiping out the opportunities for low-end, simple, basic lampwork glass beads made in America. And “adapt” is the key word here. It may mean having to specialize in higher quality items, or relying on materials or designs unique to your locale. It may mean having to provide more educational and information materials with your products to give them a competitive advantage.
Your market today may be international. If you have images of your pieces on-line, then someone in Taiwan or France can view posted images just as easily as someone in Nashville or San Francisco. They may buy your designs. They may copy your designs. Reality, what a concept here.
Successful jewelry designers keep their work fresh and relevant. They build in evaluative components into their business. They do a lot of product and ideas research. They experiment with concepts and other markets. They acutely know their competition.
Land of Odds Begins and Evolves We went into the bead and jewelry design business so that James could have a job, and that I could jump ship from my corporate health care career. James needed to make some money, and had been having difficulty finding a job. I was burnt out on the health care field, and reached a point where money was less important than happiness.
We began our bead and jewelry design business with $11,000, and over the first 2 years, put in an additional $18,000 of our own money. Through a combination of good ideas, a strong point of view about the parts and finished pieces we wanted to sell, some determination, lots of energy, and a lot of, at least when we started, being in the right places at the right times.
Although I didn’t know it then, I brought an art and design orientation to our business from the start. I had always had a strong interest in architecture, and had been originally trained as an urban designer. I fell into health care and hospital planning, and stuck with it. But my true love was always architecture. And because of this, I was trained in the art & design tradition, though I didn’t know there were different philosophies of training at the time.
So, as I was learning about all the parts and how to construct a piece of jewelry by watching James, and working closely with our customers, I was imposing my training – my design perspective – on them. I was watching closely which parts went with what. Which functioned best with what. What wore better than others. It became obvious which jewelry making tasks preceded others. Which tasks had to co-occur. Which tasks were done last.
As a result, when I made choices about which parts to carry, which not to, and what how-to-advice to give customers up front, and which advice to wait for --- it was all based on design considerations. I wasn’t only trying to make and sell beautiful things. I wasn’t trying to follow some prearranged set of steps, or sell patterns and books. I was very concerned with functionality. This included durability, wearability, moveability, and fit with social contexts. My urban design training subtly influenced how I learned how to think through and problem-solve jewelry making situations.
From our customer’s viewpoint, they felt we had a sufficient selection of parts so that they could come to one place – make one stop – and find all those things that have to come together in order to make a complete necklace or bracelet. And they felt our staff could help them problem-solve – from making recommendations about which materials would work together, and which would not, and what stringing materials would be most appropriate, and which would not, and what strategies of assembly would work best, and which would not.
One other thing that we did that I felt was critical to long-term success was that we fixed and repaired broken jewelry. Not only did this build up a loyal customer base and lots of referrals. It also let us dissect a wide assortment of pieces from a wide range of jewelry makers. We saw a lot of how things got put together and what things caused them to fall apart.
Many Jewelry Designer’s First Sales Were Unanticipated How many times have you heard a jewelry artist say that “I can’t bear to part with my pieces.” “They are too precious to me.” Or, “I only give a few pieces that I make away as gifts to friends and family.” “I’ve never sold anything.” “It would take the fun out of it.”
And then someone offers to buy a piece she is wearing, and the rest is history.
My friend Connie used to make things only for friends. She always wore the things she made. At one point, she was repeatedly approached in various stores around town by women who wanted to buy the pieces around her neck. At first, she quoted them, what she thought were outlandish prices. No one hesitated. Connie was awe-struck, but didn’t say No. I don’t know if she secretly wore a sign on her back – “JEWELRY FOR SALE” – or, somehow stuck out her cheek in such a way that people came over to her, but she was getting quite good at attracting buyers. At TJMAX, at TARGET, at MACY’s, at DILLARDS, at SEARS. She kept upping her prices each time, and no one has yet to blink!
Jona had made many things before, but had never sold anything. Then she had one of those weeks. It started in a Dalt’s restaurant. The waitress had to have them. She had to have Jona’s earrings. She had to have them now. Any price. So Jona suggested a price, the waitress laid the money on the table, and Jona slowly removed each earring from each ear, and said a silent “Good-bye.” Later that week, one of her friends was desperate. The wedding was this weekend. The piece of jewelry she had purchased for herself went lost. She remembered one of Jona’s pieces, and asked for it, and insisted on paying for it.
Elizabeth wanted to show her best friend at work the kinds of jewelry she was making. One day, she brought a box of pieces in with her to work. At lunch time, they spread all the pieces out on a table. All of a sudden, the table was mobbed by other women in the lunch room. They were grabbing, trying on, and throwing money down right and left.
Ingren had a box of her mother’s jewelry stored away in a closet. She didn’t particularly like these pieces, and would never wear them, but knew they had some value. She took pictures of each one, and placed them on EBAY to see if she could auction them off. She sold all but one within a week’s time.
Those first jewelry sales can result in a big “high”. It’s thrilling. It’s exciting. It’s very motivating. Selling that first piece feels like it can change your life.
But it’s that second sale that begins to determine if you can make a business out of it. Can you do it again? Is it as much fun? Now all of a sudden you have to think about record keeping, government forms, tracking inventory, adequately pricing your stuff. The situation doesn’t seem quite the same anymore.
Customer and Student Successes And Failures At Business A good 25-30% of our customers and students are in the hobby to make some extra money. Some see a way to supplement their current income. Some see it as a retirement strategy. Others see it as a career transition.
Cindy saw it as a career transition. She made and sold jewelry, went to craft shows and church bazaars, put her stuff on consignment all over the metropolitan area, did home shows, whatever. After about two to two-and-a-half years, she took the giant leap and quit her full-time legal aid job to be a full-time jewelry artist/entrepreneur. She was successful because she knew how to promote herself, and was very comfortable at this. Her designs were fashion-current, but not bizarre. One business that had her stuff on consignment told me how great she was to work with. My only concerns were that she often short-changed some of the quality of materials, and perhaps pushed the pricing a bit too high. But I marvel at her success. If you stick to, and are confident in yourself, you’ll get there.
Mona refurbished old pieces into new. She took old brooches, fixed them up, restored missing stones, polished or colored damaged edges. She turned them into pendants, and then created necklaces with the same sensibilities, colors, textures, bulk, and patterns to go with them. Sold like hot-cakes. She took old, gaudy belt buckles, glued on Austrian crystal rhinestones, found leather belts to go with them, and voila! She had great stories to go with each piece. She also was great at self-promotion. She was very confident. And she got her pieces into all the major stores in the area. She also formed great connections to “power-fashion-players”, including many people in the music business.
Sharon made lampwork beads, and turned these into necklaces and bracelets. She was shy. She tried to sell them to friends and family. She tried to get them into one store on consignment. She tried selling them on EBay. She’s still trying.
Debby made beautiful, elegant, dainty jewelry from bracelets to necklaces to eyeglass leashes. She put them in a few stores. She had been an airline stewardess, and frequently brought her jewelry with her to sell at get-togethers and conventions with past and current airline employees. Everyone loved her pieces. Everything she made sold. She was reluctant, however, to place them in many stores. She was afraid people would copy her designs. One person, in fact, had copied some of her designs. Debby wanted to mass-market her pieces to high end boutiques and department stores. She spent years making contacts and connections, which she was very successful at. But she couldn’t reel in the opportunities. Her fears overcame her – people would copy her designs, or they would not manufacturer her pieces to her quality expectations, or the manufacturers wanted to make pieces with more mass appeal. There’s was always something that got in the way of her making a living by making jewelry.
Larry approached Barneys New York about his line of jewelry. He had a personal connection there. He had a marketing strategy for them, which included explaining why the lines of jewelry they currently carried, were not working for them. He showed them a very full line – jeweler’s tray after jeweler’s tray after jeweler’s tray of jewelry. With each tray, he showed them photographs of jewelry displays of their major competitors in New York, as well as fashion spreads in major magazines. He kept making the point: His jewelry is better, and this is why. His jewelry is better, and this is why. His jewelry is better, and this is why. Success!
Kiki wanted to sell on-line. She knew she needed a web-site with a shopping cart. But she shied away from the $50.00 per month price tag. She knew she would have to hire someone to design her website, but again the $500.00 quoted price seemed daunting to her. She spent year after year researching “web-hosts” and “web-designers”, each time finding something that made her more and more uncertain. Virtual jewelry, virtual business.
Rosie lived in the wealthy part of town – Belle Meade. She custom made jewelry for the rich for them to wear at special occasions. She made a necklace and earring set for someone to wear at the Swan Ball. She made a very unattractive, yet very appreciated by the customer, necklace to wear at a horse race. The colors had to match the specific colors in the horse’s blanket – navy, white and rose. The rose was a special color rose associated with some Queen’s rose somewhere. On the face of things, navy, white and rose don’t usually result in something rich, elegant and status’y looking. But Rosie did a fabulous job. She would not, however, have ever worn this particular necklace herself. Rosie’s willingness to adapt to the peculiar needs of her customer base made her a success. And to her customer base, money was no object.
You don’t necessarily have to discover, seek out or bead a Rogue Elephant to be successful in business. But it helps to be able to know how.
Getting Started In Business You need to look yourself in the mirror, and be very, very, very honest with yourself. Getting started in business is a big step. It’s not all fun and games. There’s paperwork, repetition, tradeoffs to make. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself:
What type of business do I want?
What kinds of things do I want to sell?
What kind of time and energy commitment do I want to commit?
Where will the money come from to get started?
Where will you work – kitchen table? Craft studio? At a store?
What will be your business name?
Where will I get my jewelry-making supplies?
Do I want to do this alone, or with a partner(s)?
There are many different kinds of jewelry you can sell. Necklaces. Bracelets. Earrings. Eyeglass Leashes. Name Badge Jewelry. Rings. Anklets. Ear Cuffs. Body Jewelry. Jewelry for dogs and cats. Jewelry representing social causes. Beaded jewelry. Wire jewelry. Polymer and metal clay jewelry. Fabricated jewelry, such as with silver smithing techniques. Lampwork jewelry. Blown glass jewelry. Micro Macrame and Hemp Jewelry. Jewel-decorated objects like pillows, lampshades, dinner ware.
There are many different approaches and venues for selling jewelry. These include selling to friends, co-workers and family. Selling at home shows. Selling at craft shows or trunk shows. Selling online. Selling in stores and galleries, either retail, consignment or wholesale. Designing and/or Selling for special promotions and events, such as a fund-raiser for breast cancer. Doing repairs.
Whatever the approach and venue, you need to step back, and be sure it is on a solid business basis. This means, delving into some “bureaucracy” and “administrivia.” You can’t get around this.
To get started in the jewelry-making business, you need to know how to:
1) Get federal, state, local licenses and registrations
2) Set up an accounting general ledger to track revenues and expenses
3) Set up other record keeping requirements
4) Define your “business model”
5) Understand what your costs are
6) Begin to understand your market and how to market
7) Define the pros and cons of different settings for selling your jewelry
7) Determine where and how it’s best for you to set up your business – retail, wholesale, consignment, stores, homes, craft shows, internet and the like.
1) Getting federal, state, local licenses and registrations
Approaching government offices, for many people, can be somewhat off-putting and scary. There’s always that underlying psychological fear of authorities and big brother. You don’t want anyone to laugh at you and your ideas, or put you down, or think you and your business are too insignificant.
But personal fears are not the reality.
By starting a business, even though it might be very small initially, is the American way. All these local and state and federal bureaucrats owe their jobs to people like you. In a big way, your efforts to make money selling jewelry justifies their positions. So, right off the bat, they are biased towards liking you and wanting to help you.
If they feel that you are serious about your business and determined to succeed, even if you are completely failing, again, if they believe your goals are to succeed in business, they will go out of their way to help you.
So when I filled out the property assessment form for the Tax Assessors Office, I got a call to come into the office. When I got there, one of the tax assessors sat down with me, and we re-filled out the form together. He explained what they were looking for, and what I needed to provide. No penalties. No penalizing. Just help.
And when I made a mistake on a payroll tax submission, I received a letter from the IRS to call them. I called them, and, as with the Tax Assessor, they went over the form with me, helped me correct my mistake, and waived the late penalty.
And when the state forced a change in the business tax form – a single form used to calculate taxes due to the local, county and state revenue offices, I completely missed the mark. I didn’t get anything right. Our city clerk called, and asked me to come in. We filled out the form together. She said not one person in Berry Hill had completed the new form correctly, but I was one of the few to at least put in some numbers. The following year, I returned to the clerk’s office, so that we could fill out the form together from the start. And then the third year I was able to do it myself.
This situation happened to a friend of mine. She was unable to pay the monthly sales taxes to the state. Within 3 days from when they were due, she received a letter from the state. The letter informed her that she was going to get punished for not submitting the sales taxes, why it was so unconsciousable on her part, and that a court date had been set up already. Further, she would be contacted by a State Revenue Agent.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the letters you get from these government agencies read very punitively. They sound scary. But their bureaucratic writing and tone are very different than when you deal with these people in person. The State Revenue Agent came by, and spent 3 hours with her. He went over the basic problems. He worked with her on a strategy for getting caught up in paying. He evaluated her ongoing business to identify problems and opportunities for making positive changes. No court date had actually been set. He coached her on getting back on the right track. He knew his stuff and did right by her.
Everyone in these local, state and federal agencies, you’ll find, is very helpful. If they believe you want to succeed, they will go out of their way to help you succeed.
If they think you’re not serious and merely taking advantage of regulatory laws, then watch out.
To begin, you will probably need to get registrations and licenses, like the following. Usually licenses and registrations are assigned so that you can channel money that you collect back to the requisite agency.
When you get a license or registration number, there are probably fees and responsibilities associated with the number.
a. State Registration to Collect Sales Taxes (called a “tax number” or a “resale number”)
Usually, you would get this from a state department of revenue. You get this number so that you can send in the sales tax money you collect. Some states that do not have sales taxes will issue a Business Registration number for you. You should secure this registration number, and not assume you don’t need it because your state does not collect sales taxes. This number is one way to show that you have a bona fide business, and are not just a hobbyist.
Having this number is important, not only to submit collected sales taxes back to the state. You also use this number to show that you can buy wholesale. Many businesses will offer you a wholesale discount, when you present this number. To get into wholesale jewelry showrooms around the country, you usually need to present this number. When you apply for wholesale terms, you need to present this number.
This number may cost you between $10 and $40 to get. You’ll fill out an application form. On the form, you will probably be asked if you expect to earn a certain amount of money within the next twelve months, say $4,500. Put YES. You’re not a fortune teller, and, at this point, you’ve decided you need this registration number. If you end up not earning that much money, the state periodically reviews its registrations. You may get a letter de-activating you. If you still think you will earn over the minimum in this upcoming year, you can phone the state agency and ask to be re-activated.
You will also be required to fill out forms during the year. Usually when you start a business, you fill out the forms quarterly. If your business is taking off, you’ll be asked to fill out the forms monthly. It’s OK to put in all “zeroes” when you are starting.