Well, the truth is I don't know. I've spent most of the last several weeks deeply depressed. It's not just that beads aren't selling...jewelry isn't either. At least not the high end stuff that I love to make beads for.
Pendants that were for part of a custom order
Midas Wages & Walmart Shoppers
I lost my best repeat customer this year. After buying my beads and those of many other artisan beadmakers for years, she started selling her jewelry. Make that... attempting to sell.
While I found her jewelry designs to be some of the most unique, fun, edgy and amazing stuff I've ever seen... the way she combined materials would blow my mind... within weeks, she found her prices being criticized.
Mind you, she was using huge glass bead focals that run around $50 bucks and usually a nice set costing $50 - $60 in her work, adding in antique beads, fine metal findings and not to mention her precious time designing. I felt in the end she was only recouping her costs plus maybe an hour of her time at a fair wage, which, considering the cost of her materials, she should have been charging MORE.
But many told her they would only be willing to pay $30 - $50 for one of her gorgeous necklaces! Even when she explained the quality of the materials used, the opinion was still the same. So what did she do??? She shut down her Etsy shop, packed up all her beads and supplies and gave them to a friend!
This was supposed to be fun... a way to relieve stress and maybe make a little money. Not a thing to cause stress and be criticized!
Doesn't that just seem to sum up the times we live in? Everyone wants to be paid like King Midas but we all want that deal.
The gorgeous "Barbie Bead" was also part of that custom order
The Get It Cheaper Effect
Have you ever thought about how Walmart sells for less??? It's not simply that they buy in volume...no, they manipulate in volume. Michael's does something similar which is how they can afford those 40% off coupons. Walmart goes to - say a vacuum company that sells their vacuums wholesale for - say $75 and says to them, "We're going to buy 100,000 of your vacuums but we're only going to pay you $64."
The vacuum company doesn't simply just take a cut on labor...no, they go to each and every supplier: the plastic mold maker, the nuts and screws people, motor designers and (the scary part for me) the electric cord makers. The vacuum company does the same thing to each of them and says, "I'll take 100K units but, you gotta make it for 13% LESS."
To me, copper wire can only be so thin before it all blows up! As vendors, I'm sure they feel they are giving us a quality product at a great value. But as consumers, don't we all feel it??? Things break more often. The price of bleach goes up and container gets smaller... same with ice cream and sausage!
There is some illusion that things are the same, but they are not.
Color shifting glass beads are some of my faves. Sold this made to order set out of the blue last week!
Make Quality, Make it Better
I think the thing that hurt so much in finding someone I once thought highly of is selling her beads so cheaply is... our beads are the same. No, not the same same... we have different styles. But as first world artisans, the best argument we had against buying cheaper crap was: the glass is not annealed for strength, it will break; the beads are not cleaned and will muck up the the other beads and the stringing material, and often the skills were lacking in Chinese beads.
But with an American artist selling for Chinese wages, when I know she anneals her work and cleans her beads and her skills are just fine... well, it HURTS!
And while I hadn't torched in almost two months thanks to my depression, when I lit up the baby the other day, I was happy. I was excited. So no, I'm not gonna give this up.
As I sat there at the flame, trying two new ideas suggested by customers, I realized my skills had changed. This often happens to me when I'm away from the torch for a while. You would think my skills might deteriorate... but like so many breaks before... I found I was BETTER! My work was more delicate and the glass just flowed... I only made two beads... but they were the two I set out to make and they came out exactly as the vision in my head!
I realized I'm not going to lower my prices and play her game. If someone wants my beads, they better be willing to part with some paper. And isn't it strange how during this time of re-grouping and re-thinking my art, I landed my biggest custom order ever and the biggest order to a customer out of the blue??? Two huge orders just when I need a little validation! Wow!
But Stuff Isn't Selling
Nope it's not... But I'm still not willing to give my work away. I have a bottom line....which has helped form my plan. I'm not going to list my beads ad infinitum on Etsy, save for made to order designs. I'm still using them for their powerful SEO and I'm using Facebook and Ebay the same way. From now on, my sales order goes like this:
- Preview on Fan page w/ 10% discount (no listing, html or multiple photos required)
- Regular items to my glass bead website
- Timely / holiday items to Etsy
- Regular items posted to Etsy after time on HollysFolly
- Two - three rotations through Etsy and move on to Ebay
- Items not sold on Ebay = donated to Beads of Courage
In the Meantime
I still need a job... at least a part time one. I'm terribly torn... my stamp business actually makes money in the fall and I need to be around for all the last minute restaurant orders that fly in! So, I think full time is not going to work. Of course I could always hire someone to pack orders if need be. Having money again would mean I could throw money at my problem...
I have a teaching certificate for grade school. I got it two years ago, just as my school district went through major layoffs and a hiring freeze... my timing is always impeccable...NOT! But I've started teaching at a nearby town's community center. Driving there, I suddenly realized my little mountain community that is part of Los Angeles, is surrounded by THREE other school districts and they all need subs!
So, I'm polishing up the teaching section of my resume. And I'm also trying to pick up more jewelry design classes at other community colleges and craft / glass shops.
While these last few weeks have been so challenging, I realize I can only be good at what I do. I can't worry about what others do. I have a plan.I can only keep putting one foot in front of the other!
And if you are still with me on this journey... THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!