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An Eyewitness Report on the Jewelry Phenomenon, Pt. II

OK, Barbara is hooked. Now what?

by Mike Hartnett, (November 6, 2006)

In Part I I chronicled the 18-month transformation of my wife Barbara from a life-long non-crafter into a jewelry-making enthusiast who has spent approximately $10,000 on our industry's products. We certainly could use more Barbaras in all of our product categories.

To read Pt. I, click on the title at the top of the right-hand column. Here's a brief summary: After taking three basic classes, Barbara became an enthusiast, to say the least, and has already sold about $9,000 worth of her creations while pouring much of the proceeds into buying more beads. How she sold them is the subject of this entry.

So we're going to sell her jewelry, because she couldn't possibly wear everything she'd made, but where?

In the spring we learned about that a farmer's market would be held every Saturday morning on the river front in downtown Peoria. Crafts were welcome, too, and the price was great: $120 for the May-through-September season. We understood that a farmer's market probably wouldn't be a prime selling location because Peorians would be there primarily to buy vegetables, not jewelry. But it would be an inexpensive start for us, given that we didn't know what we were doing.

Ok, now what? First, we bought 6' folding tables at Wal-Mart, which just barely fit in our old station wagon. We lugged everything to the river front, set up the tables, and laid the jewelry on them. Hmmm. That doesn't look very impressive. Maybe we need some fixtures to display Barbara's creations. Then we looked up. Clouds. Hmmm, maybe we need a canopy/tent of some sort in case of rain.

Oh, and is there a name for this new business of ours? What about business cards? A logo? How to we accept credit cards? Did we bring enough money to be able to make change? Hmmm.

We scrambled and got all those things a canopy, display fixtures from Fire Mountain Gems, a logo designed by friend, etc. We exhibited almost every Saturday morning, constantly adding things to the "booth," changing the displays, making friends with the other exhibitors, and meeting interesting people. (I was surprised by the number of consumers who said they made jewelry, too.)

The summer rolled along and we had a good time selling necklaces, bracelets, earrings, a couple of watches (the movements from Fire Mountain), and even an anklet. Prices ranged from $5 to $400 with 10% going to the local chapter of Dress for Success, a national program that provides business clothing to poor women who are entering the job market but don't have the proper attire for an interview. (Barbara donates 10% of all sales to Dress for Success.)

Barbara says she is "only a stringer." The price of a given piece depends on her costs for the beads and her time. But whether she charges $20 or $100 necklace, the amount of time it takes to make it is about the same.

There were other selling venues. We exhibited at an antique car/craft show and did very well, thanks to a wonderful woman who walked up and said, "I'll take that ... and that ... and that." Barbara also held a private jewelry sale and sold $2,000 worth in two hours.

We had a wonderful time at an art show in Macomb, IL, the home of Western Illinois University. It was in a beautiful park, there were college students helping to set up our booth, beautiful weather a great day. Barbara's goal was $500 and she sold $1,500.

So we've sold about $9,000 worth since Barbara sold her first necklace. Are we rolling in money? Ah, no. It's called re-investing your profits, Barbara says. I suspect in her bead room Barbara has enough beads to make a full-size replica of the Great Wall of China.


For decades I've heard retailers complain about how inconsistent consumers can be. Now I understand. At the first farmer's market we sold nothing the first two hours, but then did great business the last two. The following Saturday, we did very well the first two hours and assumed it would be a great day because the last two hours would be the busiest. So what happened? No sales the last two hours.

One Saturday was very profitable despite the temperature reaching 95 degrees with awful humidity. The following Saturday was lousy, despite beautiful weather.

Go figure.

My favorite customers are men. They decide quickly and don't worry about the price. One young man, who apparently was in big trouble with his girl friend, walked up, asked for earrings, barely looked at the pair he picked, saw the price was $15, gave us $15, and walked away. Total time: about 20 seconds.

The worst customer was a woman who was all set to buy a $350 necklace filled with silver, antique amber, and turquoise. She had her checkbook out, then paused. "I'd really like it more if it were a tad longer."

Barb agreed, and the woman gave us her phone number. Barbara re-strung it, adding a bit more silver, and called her. The woman came to Friendship House, checkbook in hand ... and paused. "Gee, could you make it just a bit longer?"

Barbara agreed, re-strung it once again and called the woman and left a message. We never heard from her again. Now Barbara raised the price of the necklace to $400 because of the silver she had added, and finally sold it at the Macomb art fair.

Moral of the story: Never do custom work without receiving 50% up front.

The future.

Barbara's sales now total $9,000+, but the outdoor season is over. Now what? First, she's having another private jewelry sale. Then Barbara and two other farmer's-market/professional-crafter cohorts have been offered an empty storefront in a shopping center that has fallen on hard times but has an enterprising new owner. He's offered us the store for $25 for each Saturday from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

I'll let you know how it goes in Pt. III.



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