(To increase or decrease the text size, hold down
the Ctrl key and press the + or key.)
Selling Your Jewelry
Note: I have been accused of being too negative in this article by a couple designers who have had great success selling their jewelry. Apparently, success comes quickly and easily to some people. I would like to hear your experience. If I am wrong, I will change the article. One thing I didn't emphasize in the article is how much I enjoyed designing jewelry. The experience was well worth it, even though I had some trouble selling my designs.
I thought about calling this article "How to Sell Your Jewelry", but the fact is, I don't really know how. So I've written up some observations in the hope that they may be helpful to you.
Since I am selling raw materials (beads), I assume that all my customers are jewelry designers. Some may be hobbyists, making jewelry just for themselves and their friends. Others probably the majority are hoping to sell their jewelry for a profit. If you are just getting started in the jewelry business, here is my most important advice: Be patient. It takes time to build a reputation and a following. Many new designers go into business in a big way, making a considerable investment with the expectation that their business can become profitable quickly. From what I've seen, that doesn't often happen. Making jewelry is a common hobby, so you'll be up against a lot of competition, and only the best and/or most unique designs stand out. Furthermore, beginners (if that's what you are) don't come up with their best designs right away, so it will take some time for your talent to reach maturity. To make matters more difficult, you'll be in direct competition with cheap imports. In short, the designers who are successful are the ones who have original designs, who have patience, and who stick with it through the lean years.
Today I sell beads. Twenty-five years ago I worked part-time as a jewelry designer. I was able to make money from my efforts, but it wasn't easy. I don't remember what got me started back then probably the same thing that got me started this time: walking past a store with beads in the window (in fact, in each case it was the same store, York Novelty Import on 37th St. in New York City). I've always loved minerals and colorful things, so making jewelry was a natural for me.
I started out making inexpensive jewelry from small glass and ceramic beads, and then moved on to larger and higher-quality components, including semiprecious beads, high-quality glass and ceramic beads, cloisonnι beads and pendants, Austrian crystal and gold-filled findings (I hadn't heard about Bali silver back then). Before I upgraded my components, I had very little success selling my designs, probably because they were light and fragile and not very sophisticated. I tried selling at a few craft shows, but without success. If I had tried selling my later designs at craft shows, I think I would have done better; but by the time I was using the better materials, I was discouraged with the craft-show scene. The secret of craft shows, I think, is to convince your customers that they are getting a high-quality product at a discount price. People will happily part with $40 if they think they are getting a $100 necklace. However, convincing people of that has become harder now that there is so much cheap imported jewelry available. Because of the cheap imports, many people think of all non-precious jewelry as cheap junk, even if it isn't. It helps if you find the right craft show. A craft show in an upscale neighborhood is more promising than a flea market in a poor neighborhood. If the customers are all looking for $5 items, you won't do well (unless your jewelry is very inexpensive).
Now having said all that, I should point out that I did manage to sell every necklace I made, but the sales didn't come easily. Most of my sales were to acquaintances and co-workers, and to my mother's co-workers.
After I had moved on to the better materials, I started taking my designs around to stores, but I didn't have much success. I eventually realized that my designs fell into a gray area: They were too expensive to compete with inexpensive imports, but they weren't good enough (because of the gold-filled findings) to compete with the fine jewelry sold in high-end stores. (In recent years, however, gold-filled findings have gained more acceptance.) To make matters worse, I didn't research my markets. I took my jewelry to an expensive bedroom community in Connecticut where the taste ran to gold and pearls, though all of my designs were colorful and made with semiprecious stones. I also didn't prepare properly for my sales outings. On that same trip, I didn't bother to research the layout of the town, so I wasn't able to find most of the jewelry stores!
I did manage to sell one necklace to a store in Kew Gardens, New York, where I lived. The store owner took it for $50 (on consignment) and sold it for $100. She was thrilled at having made $50 so easily; but even so, she wouldn't take any more necklaces (isn't that strange?). Finally my mother told me that she would see if she could sell some of my jewelry at her job. She put the necklaces out in the cafeteria during lunch and they sold like hotcakes. After that, I sent all my jewelry to my mother.
That experience was a valuable lesson. I inadvertently found the right market. The women at my mother's job knew her and respected her, so they felt comfortable buying from her. Because I was her son, they felt they had an inside track to a good deal and indeed they did, since they were paying my wholesale prices. In my mother's cafeteria, I had no competition (an important advantage). When she sold the necklaces, she didn't even lay them out she would just dump them on a table, each in a plastic bag, and people would start grabbing. After a couple years, my mother developed a health problem and retired. At the same time, I moved away from my suppliers, so that was the end of my design business.
The internet has changed things. In the past all jewelry designers sold their designs in the ways that I did (stores, craft fairs, friends, co-workers, word of mouth), but today many designers go straight to the internet. Yet the internet is not always the best place to sell jewelry. If, for example, you sell your designs on eBay or another auction service, there is a huge amount of competition (as I said, jewelry design is a popular hobby). If your designs don't stand out, they won't sell. In addition, auction buyers are invariably looking for bargains, so you have to keep your prices low, often too low to properly compensate you for your time. Having said that, I should say that some jewelry designers manage to sell thousands of dollars worth of jewelry on eBay, but I honestly don't know what their secret is. My best guess is that they are selling items which are unique and different, and that they'vve developed a loyal following.
If, on the other hand, you create your own web site, it will take time to get a steady stream of traffic to it. Just because you've opened a site doesn't mean that anyone knows about it. But if your products are good, you will eventually develop a base of repeat customers. The best ways to promote your site are (1) to get listed with Google and other search engines, (2) to exchange links and banners with other sites, (3) to join a jewelry designers' web ring, (4) to make yourself visible to other people in the jewelry business by participating in online discussions (bulletin boards, newsgroups and forums), and (5) to tell all your auction customers about your site. It is important that you work hard at your web site. If the site looks sloppy, amateurish, unsophisticated, or poorly proofread, all of those factors will affect your sales. Also, large, clear pictures are a must. Unless you are particularly adept at creating and maintaining a highly professional site, I believe that you will have more success selling your jewelry in the traditional ways.
Wearing Your Jewelry
There is a method of selling that I have never tried because I can't, being a man, and that is to wear your jewelry. If your jewelry is good, other women will notice it and ask you where you got it. If you also have your jewelry with you, you can then whip it out and make a sale. On a jewelry forum on the internet, a forum-member described such an experience. She went to a restaurant with a friend and sold jewelry to the waitresses, and then was asked to return with more. When she went to her dentist, the dental receptionist asked to see her jewelry and then asked her to return with more so that she could show it to the other workers in the building. Another forum-member told of wearing her jewelry to a small social gathering at which she sold $500 worth (she had the foresight to bring a box of jewelry with her).
You needn't carry a lot of jewelry with you. Jewelry is very compact, and if you carry a medium-sized purse, that should be big enough to fit a dozen pieces into it (along with your other stuff). I don't know much about purses, but I'm sure you can find one with compartments just devote one compartment to the jewelry.
Another method that I haven't tried is to throw a jewelry party. Being the designer, you don't throw the party yourself. Rather, a friend throws it for you in exchange for some free jewelry or a cut of the proceeds. The guests that are invited are not your friends, but hers you are presented to the group as the artisan, the designer. The guests should know ahead of time what kind of party it is, since you don't want them to be offended when they are asked to open their wallets. The party has to be a fun event. Snacks and refreshments should be served, and a door prize makes it more interesting.
Instead of just putting your jewelry on display, you can make the party a beading party. You should have all the ingredients on hand beads, beading wire, findings so the guests can make their own jewelry. They would, of course, buy the beads from you, and presumably each participant would make at least one item (bracelet, necklace or earrings). You should factor in a profit for the raw materials, but don't price the materials so high that the participants feel taken advantage of. Certainly, the cost of the components to make, say, a bracelet should be less than the cost of one of your finished bracelets. Bring adequate supplies, as some participants may want to buy enough to make jewelry at home. Have some beading magazines on hand to give the participants design ideas. It also helps to have little boxes with tags, so that each new "designer" can tag her creation and take it home in a nice box. With all of your finished designs on display, the likelihood is that some of them will sell. Ask people to sign a register, and then add them to your mailing list (with their permission). Security is important: don't leave your jewelry unattended, and don't just hand out the beads and collect the money later ask for payment at the time the beads are exchanged. I've been told that "product" parties of this type are very popular and a lot of fun, and also lucrative for the designer.
Let's say, however, that you just make it a jewelry party in which you display your designs (not a beading party). Be sure to have a lot of jewelry on hand. If ten people show up, have 40 items for sale (at least). That's not to say that each person will buy four items, but you want them to have a choice. Each item should be marked with a number and price, and you should have a record of what you brought. If you sell very little at such a party, what does it tell you? Unless economic times are bad and half the attendees have just lost their jobs, the message is clear: Your designs may not be interesting enough, or unique enough, or varied enough. As I discuss below, many designers fall into the rut of making the same type of design over and over again.
Hire an Agent
As I said above, my mother sold most of my jewelry at her company, so she was effectively acting as my agent. You can hire your own agents. If you have a friend or relative who works at a large company, offer her 20% to sell your designs on her lunch hour. If she is as poorly paid as most American workers are these days (in this horrid "global" economy), she'll be glad to make $20 for each $100 sold. It has to be a friend that you can trust implicitly, as she'll be holding your valuable jewelry. Your friend should tell her co-workers that they are getting quality jewelry at a good price (which they are!). As a security measure, your friend should keep the jewelry in a locked drawer when she is at work, and she should always bring the jewelry home at night. You should also decide ahead of time who will take responsibility if the jewelry is lost or stolen.
Although I touched on craft shows above, let me say a little more.
Craft shows can be great if you select shows with customers who are appropriate to the kind of jewelry you make, and if there aren't too many jewelry booths competing with you. If you make expensive jewelry, avoid flea markets altogether. Most shows are recurring, and I suggest you attend a show before you sign up so that you can evaluate the attendance and the quality of the customers. Ask the promoter how many other jewelry booths there will be, but don't be surprised if you don't get a straight answer. A common complaint at such shows is that there are many more jewelry booths than the designer expected, and that many booths sell cheap imported jewelry. Even at many juried shows, where vendors must meet artistic standards, complaints about booths selling cheap imports are common. The promoter should advertise the event, but don't be surprised if the advertising is minimal, since advertising is costly (the promoter makes his money from the vendors, not the public). Buying a booth in a show which has never been held before is particularly risky.
Selling on Consignment
Leaving your jewelry on consignment with jewelry stores is probably the best selling technique, since stores already have an established customer base. The chief problem with this is that the store will add a substantial mark-up, thus increasing the price of your jewelry and making it less affordable. (Of course, if the proprietor felt that your jewelry couldn't be sold at the higher price, he or she wouldn't agree to carry it.) A secondary problem is that some proprietors are not entirely honest, and designers occasionally get cheated out of their money. For that reason, you should (1) never do business with a proprietor who strikes you as slick or dishonest in any way, (2) never leave your jewelry on consignment with any store which is too far to reach by car (the fact that you can show up and make a scene is enough to keep many proprietors honest), (3) always get your agreement with the proprietor in writing, (4) get a receipt for every piece of jewelry that you leave with the store. Obviously, I don't recommend long-distance consignment agreements. Leaving jewelry on consignment and not getting paid for it is an awful experience, just like being robbed! On the other hand, consignment relationships can be very rewarding when they work. The store takes over the task of selling, so you can focus on designing.
Location Is Important
Location is important. It is easier to build a reputation if you live in a small town and "everyone knows everyone". Living in an upper-middle-class area will help, since people will have money to spend. It will also help if there are not a lot of jewelry designers in your area and the local stores are not inundated with sellers. Of course, many of these factors are not in your control, and that's the point: Fortune and luck play a big part in one's success. If you make fabulous jewelry that isn't selling, you may simply be in the wrong location. In that case, you may have to travel to other communities to sell your jewelry.
I hate to say this, but not everyone makes equally beautiful jewelry this is especially true of beginners. It takes time and practice to reach one's full creativity. Some designers get into a rut; they come up with one or two styles that are attractive and easy to make, and they keep repeating them. One designer I know makes necklaces that are thin and spindly with chunky accent beads. For her to be successful, all of her customers will have to like that look. If she made her necklaces in five styles instead of one, she would sell more. Variety is the key.
If your designs aren't selling, then I suggest that you look at other designers' work and emulate their styles. There's nothing wrong with doing that (although you shouldn't copy someone else's designs exactly). Imitation is the norm in the fashion industry.
The most important thing is to enjoy what you are doing and not expect too much from it. If you are focussed too much on the money-making aspects of jewelry-making, you will become frustrated if you don't get sales right away, and your love for designing will suffer. Focus on the pleasure of creating. If your designs are good, the success will come.
eBay (ebay.com) has the highest fees by far. It has both insertion fees (the fee you pay when you first post an auction) and final-value fees (an additional fee if the item sells). eBay's auctions run for 7 days, after which you have to repost the item and pay a new fee. In addition to the highest fees, eBay also has the most traffic, but the competition is fierce.
JustBeads (justbeads.com) is for beads and jewelry only. Their fees are a little lower than eBay's, but they also attract fewer customers.
Yahoo (yahoo.com). It appears that Yahoo has given up their auction business. You can still buy things on Yahoo, but they no longer use an auction format.
iOffer (ioffer.com) is a fairly new site which isn't quite an auction house (because the customers just buy items and don't bid against each other), but they do use an auction format. I haven't used iOffer in years, and when I did, I sold almost nothing through them. My recollection is that it was free to list items, but the final value fees were high.
I haven't used auction sites in many years, so I am sure there are new auction sites out there that I don't know about.
Your Own Web Site
I have written a separate article on creating your own web site; it can be found on the home page.