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The Southern California Local Bead Store Association

RAn interview with Founder Scott Remmers.

Staff Report (June 6, 2011)

Wendy and Scott Remmers operate Brea Bead Works, a retail store in Brea, CA. Wendy had been a freelance graphic designer and Scott had worked as a producer of college sports radio broadcasts and as Marketing Manager with AMC Theaters and General Cinema. Prior to that he was Director of Marketing for Relax The Back, an ergonomic furniture company with 100+ stores.

"We decided to open the store when Wendy went back to one of her loves, jewelry making," Scott said. "Thinking she would sell her jewelry to the boutiques of the world, I had mentioned her inventory would have to be very large, so why not use a store front to sell the remaining inventory at retail, sell the jewelry out the back door, and use the retail profit to help subsidize your wholesale supply.

"Well the store opened but since day one the selling of jewelry was put on hold. Way to much work in operating the store. From day one the customers wanted workshops, so we grew that program over the years. We started at 750 sq. ft. for the store, workshop space, office, and restroom. Very tight! Two years later, we kept the store, but also took over a 1,500 sq. ft. space a few doors down in our strip center just for workshops. One year later, we took over another 1,000 sq. ft. retail space, so now we had 2,500 sq. ft. for workshops. Two years after that we took over a 4,000 sq. ft. retail space in the same center. We moved the store into that space and had a bigger office, stock room, and restroom, and two more workshop spaces.

"So, we have about 4,000 sq. ft. of retail workshop space under one roof and right next door we have 2,000 sq. ft. of workshop space, stock room, etc. We are probably larger in workshop space versus retail space, which doesnít mean it's a perfect business model, but it works for us. Workshops have been very very strong over the years and are a little lighter the past year or so, but concerning the economy, we will take it!

"About five years ago I joined a group of 50 stores on a Yahoo chat forum that had been started by Cathy Lapole in Canada. They talked about vendors, trends, customers. and day-to-day situations in their stores. These store owners from all over would come together at shows like Tucson or Bead&Button to enjoy each otherís company and talk shop. Our friends would not understand what we go through each day, but these owners talk our talk.

"I took this idea of creating an association to various owners of this group. After much discussion it was tabled due to costs and time involved. Plus, the economy in 2008 started to affect everyone.

"In July of 2010 30+ stores in Southern California came together through an event called ďBEAD SHOP HOP.Ē The party that assembles the hop concept was not delivering on promises. The store owners started talking to each other, so the event went off without a hitch and the customer would not know that behind the scenes it could have crumbled very easilyy. So the Shop Hop goes off fantastic due to the cooperation of store owners. After the event, a few of us were chatting and the association concept was being tossed around.

After a few regional meetings, it was decided to move forward to form a structured

Association. On Feb. 15, 2011 we passed our by-laws to become an official association, the Southern California Local Bead Store Association."

Specific Purposes of the SCLBSA

1. To promote the hobby, craft, art and business of beadwork to the general public.

2. To build back consumer confidence in their local bead store (LBS) by raising perceived value of what the LBS has to offer.

3. To improve relationships and communications with vendors in the bead industry.

4. To undertake research and educational activities to enhance the knowledge, skills, and professionalism of individuals and businesses in the bead industry served by the organization.

5. To develop and manage an annual Bead Shop Hop.

The Mission

Southern California Local Bead Store Associationís mission is to promote ethical business practices, extend mutual respect for all local bead stores, demonstrate diversity in the marketplace, and ensure independent, community-focused brick and mortar retail bead stores. The association also aims to create programs that promote and advance the interest of the retail bead store industry through training, education, research programs and vendor support.

The Commitment

Our commitment is to the customers who shop the retail brick and mortar bead store. We are dedicated to ensuring the local bead store offers service, knowledge, variety, quality, and value during each shopping experience.

CLN: Who is eligible to join?

REMMERS: Brick and Mortar bead stores that carry at least 80% in beads, tools and services of the bead industry. They must also agree and believe in the above by-laws.

CLN: Are there dues?

REMMERS. Dues are $350 per year. This pays for all marketing materials that are being developed. Those pieces are window decals to promote their association membership and will stand as a "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval when you visit any store in Southern California. The dues are also goes towards the large amount of materials needed for the Bead Shop Hop.

CLN: What are the advantages?

REMMERS: One of the advantages that we bring to each other is networking. We will be able to refer our customers to a member's store because we know them and they live up to a standard of treating people well and keep up with trends and knowledge of beading.

We are better off referring customers to each otherís stores so they can get their product that day, versus sending them to the Internet or cataloger. That keeps the money local, supports the cornerstone of this industry, and keeps the customer coming back.

Also, it's getting the owners to understand what is going on out in the industry. While we all come from different backgrounds, we all have different type of stores, so we donít all have time to read articles that people like you offer -- dealing with vendor issues, or learning about overall business needs. First and foremost, this is a business so we need to talk to each other and understand how we can improve our business skills.

We can also go into group buys.

CLN: What's the long-term goal for the group?

REMMERS: To bring back the perception of what bead stores are all about. The last few years,  it is felt that the brick-and-mortar retail store has gotten a raw deal. The Internet and catalogers have become the place to shop. Just like any industry, people can search for the things they need at anytime of the day. Their costs are lower due operational costs. The general public doesnít understand that sometimes, nor do they care. They just want it cheap and blame the retailers for ripping people off with high prices.

So our mission is to bring back the perception that the local bead store is the source of product they can touch, feel, and buy that day. We are there to talk to you about color choices, educate you on trends, show you new product, and as I say, "Be the bartender." We are there to listen to you, be friends, and be the local hang out.

We want to pull together storeowners to understand what is going on in the industry. Discuss with vendors that we are their number one customer and how can we improve their business while improving ours.

In the last 3-5 years, vendors have been changing their sales channel and going after our customers by selling direct. The industry is very different than others, so that it is why having stores come together it will increase our power with them because of the number of stores working together.

This group may become a buying group in the future, but we want to open up discussions with vendors to pay more attention to the local bead stores and work with us in building both businesses. We are the front line, can work the retail world probably better; can talk to the customerís day in, day out.

The big picture idea for this group is to hold a membership meeting in which vendors come to us to display their product, talk about new product lines, and work with us on best-pricing structures. Meetings will be held to talk about marketing, customer relations, merchandising, etc. This year our first general membership meeting will consist of a complete overview of our growth; roundtable discussions about topics that we deal with every day like marketing, customer service, etc.; and end with a review of this year's Bead Shop Hop.

CLN: With the 100+ consumer shows and companies like Fire Mountain Gems selling so many products directly to consumers so cheaply, it seems there are particular challenges for jewelry shops that, for example, yarn shops don't face. True?

REMMERS: VERY TRUE!!! We are fighting this each day. We have to educate people in the bead world, but really everywhere, that cheap is not always the best. What are you getting out of the cheap product? Do these catalogers consult with you about techniques, style, color, be there for you day in day out? Can they be the friend, the shoulder to lean on? Can they be the customers' hang-out spot or their community center of friends?

We have to do added value to their shopping experience: make-it/take-its, trunk shows, free demos, special promotions, fun events, and not always go after their pocket books. While these other catalogers, shows, etc., have their place because the LBS cannot carry everything, the consumer should recognize that fact. Most LBS are small so consumers need to shop elsewhere.

The other part of the puzzle that many small businesses are doing is educating the consumer on shopping local. Projects like 3/50 can educate small business owners and consumers on the importance of keeping money local.

I have started to write a paper about competition and the future the LBS is facing. This is my thoughts, no one has read it, and so it is not the thoughts of the association. I will pass it along to you but it is still being worked on but you can perhaps understand my thoughts.

CLN: How do you see the state of jewelry making?

REMMERS: The state of jewelry making is still very popular. About 3-5 years ago we say an increase in the customers creating jewelry businesses that would sell at arts and craft shows, boutiques, etc. It was getting to be a little overwhelming when attending shows and seeing all the handmade jewelry designers. I think the economy weeded that out a lot.

Anyone can get a wholesale license because they now created a business. They expect the bead stores, the Internet, and catalog companies to sell to them at the same rates. Some of those companies do and that is where the LBS owners get upset. We buy 100 of an item while the small designer buys 10 but gets the same price. WHY? The LBS will be buying more over time and will be there in the long run, while the designers will come and go. This is the discussion we would like to have with vendors.

Jewelry making seems to have about a 7 year cycle -- hot, slow, and hot again. CHA says that one out of every seven homes has a beader, but that beader was classified as doing one project a year. That shows me that the industry is small, so we need to figure out a way to show people that jewelry making is fun, inspiring, could be a business, there is art to it, and it opens you up to the world.

CLN: Who is your biggest competitor, craft chain stores such as Michaels, or discount stores like Wal-Mart that sell cheap ready-mades?

REMMERS. Of course Michaels, Wal-Mart, and Hobby Lobby stores are direct competition due to their larger selection and lower prices. But they cannot offer the customer service and shopping experience that the LBS can. The LBS also offers unique items because they can buy in smaller quantities and from various artists.

Many LBS stores do get referrals from Michaels stores. Their employees are helping their customers find certain items, telling them where they can take more classes, etc. Our store will refer people to Michaels, Wal-Mart, Tall Mouse (regional craft store) if the person is looking for something we know they carry. First we send them to an LBS, whether it is an association member store or not.

These big box stores do not have the staffing to support the bead isles so the customer is on their own.

CLN: How are sales now? Is the price of gas making a difference? The economy in California?

REMMERS: Sales are still off from 2-3 years ago, but there are signs of a turnaround. The price of gas has not hurt yet. If it goes to $5 perhaps yes. The economy in California is tough. Unemployment is the worst in the nation in some parts of the state. Foreclosure was huge over the later part of 2008, really bad in 2009, and in 2010 it's less and less. Our stores' surveys told us people were going to spend less. We saw that in the occasional beader, but our GOOD customers are still very supportive, but a little less.

CLN: What trends are you seeing? Is the skyrocketing price of gold and silver putting more emphasis on less expensive stones?

REMMERS: Silver prices were hurting those stores that sold a lot of wire. The consumer did not understand the price increases, just not aware of the ounce price each day and how fast it increased over the months. Just recently, with the price going to $48 or $49 was unreal, so sales were going to copper and brass along with the silver-filled wire. That is hard to get these days, but will be something we are going to do.

Now in the last few daysí silver dropped down to $36 or so. Itís just crazy!! .



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