Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Buying at bead shows--a quick guide

Seeing the Bead & Button show again made me realize just how large and overwhelming it can be. Even as a "veteran" of shows, I still have moments where it's hard to take it all in. It's such an enormous show, and so highly bead-focused, that you can find your head spinning after just an aisle or two.

So I thought I'd put down a few thoughts on shows in general, and how to maximize your shopping and your comfort.

  • Dress in layers. Places where they hold shows are notorious for being unable to hold a comfortable temperature. If you're going to be at a show all day, you might want to think about wearing layers so you'll stay comfortable. And remember to wear comfy footgear--your feet will be grateful. You might also want to bring a bottle of water and some sort of snack in case the show doesn't provide food or the lines are too long. Some venues charge as much as $4 for a small bottle of water.

  • Have a budget in mind. Sure, you'll probably go past it. I know how easy it is to buy beads! Still, it can be a good idea to keep in mind how much you're spending while you're shopping. In fact, bringing a calculator along is a really great idea--it's really helpful to add prices up while you're grabbing all the pretties, and then you won't have invoice shock at the end.

  • Have a shopping list. This is partly related to the budget idea. If you have in mind what you really, really need, then you can get that first.

  • Have a look first. Walk around the entire show first, if you can, and make a little list of the interesting places. Make notes of the items that are on your list, and make a notation of different prices. I was once told a story by a friend who was looking for a specific stone. He found it at a booth and was overjoyed and bought about $500 worth. He took his bag and left, and at the next booth he found the same stone at exactly half the price. Sometimes just a little extra legwork will make a big difference.

  • Know what you want to do with what you're buying. Sure, there are times where that impulse purchase ends up being something really amazing. But a lot of times you'll buy a seafoam-colored bead and get home and realize that most of your palette is navy blue, and then what do you do? I used to buy anything that caught my eye, but then I ended up with a lot of unrelated beads. Try to stick to a few color ranges, and really think about the bead before you buy it. Can you see it in a design? It's okay if you can't, and you still want to get it, but having a plan sometimes really does help you weed out beads you might regret later.

  • Look over the beads before you buy. Most vendors have quality beads, but sometimes the color can range from bead to bead, or the hole placement could vary. If the beads are on a strand, hold the strand up horizontally to see how the beads sit on the strand. If they are uneven, that might be how they'll look when you string them. Also, watch for misshapen silver beads, and loose beads whose holes are plugged. Avoid beads whose holes are rough or cracked, which is especially common with semi-precious beads. When buying pearls, try to find pearls with a nice, even luster. When buying glass beads, watch out for cracks or chips. Especially watch out for the placement of the hole on loose beads--horizontally drilled beads are worlds away from offset and vertically drilled beads. A little detective work at the booth can save you frustration later, especially if you're buying expensive beads.

  • Get more than you think you'll need. Even with the best quality beads, you are sure to find a few that are a little wonky. And who knows--you might end up making a matching bracelet, or maybe your aunt will want the same thing for herself! One of the most frustrating things in the world is to go back and try to find a bead you've bought before. Even with production items like Czech pressed glass beads the "dye lot" may vary and you might find that it doesn't match quite as nicely as you'd hoped.

  • Educate yourself about beads. I can't count the number of times I've been at a booth where they sell German-made beads or vintage beads and heard someone dismissively refer to them as "Czech" and walk off, complaining loudly about how overpriced the beads are. The point is, German-made glass beads, and vintage beads, can often be more expensive than Czech for a reason. The quality, the colors of the glass, the molds that are used--all of this contributes to the price of a bead, and if you want a certain look, you might have to pay a higher price to get it.

  • Educate yourself about common bead terms. Don't know what a hank is? Aren't certain what the difference is between an agate and a jasper? You can always Google these things or check look them up on Wikipedia.

  • Vintage vs. antique. Two of the most common questions I hear about vintage beads are, "What does vintage mean?" and "Did you take apart old jewelry to get these vintage beads?" Antique is a federally-defined term meaning 100 years old or older. Vintage is a very vague term. It can mean anything from "fifty years old" to "last year's t-shirt." There were a few beading booms in the past hundred years, such as the French jet boom during the turn of the century, the Czechoslovakian boom from the pre-fifties, the German bead boom during the fifties and sixties, and the Occupied Japan bead boom from 1946-1951. Hopefully the vendor you're purchasing from can give you a decade. As far as taking apart old jewelry goes, it generally isn't necessary! Warehouses on the coasts stocked tons and tons of beads, many of them custom-made, for their jewelry designs. Not only was there not really a loose bead market for the beads and cabochons at the time, but they would not have wanted to sell these beads because the competition might have bought them. So they hoarded the extra in their basements or backrooms, and eventually began to sell them during the nineties and now. Unfortunately, at this point there is very little left that hasn't been picked over by others; most vintage that's left is in crazy shapes or colors that don't really resonate with today's beaders.

  • Ask before you pull. Vendors often sell beads on strands, and those strands are bundled together in a "hank." Some vendors don't mind if you pull out the individual strands; some vendors do, usually because if you pull out the strand then they have no idea what the price is when you get to the counter to be rung up. Find out their policy before you pull.

  • Find bead charities for your old, unused beads. After a few years of beading, and especially after a few years of going to shows, you'll have some leftover beads that you never used or that you ended up not liking. Often there are groups who work with children or senior citizens who would love those big beads you no longer like. Or have a bead swamp with your friends--one woman's bead of regret is another woman's bead of choice!

And a special list for those of us who have businesses:

  • Bring your tax ID number/resale certificate/proof of business. It doesn't matter if you live in a state with no tax--if you are in a state that charges tax, you will need some proof of business. You must have the form with you. Not a number written on a piece of scrap paper or a business card. And it should be your form, not your friend's salon license.

  • Pay tax according to the law. The entire point of the tax deferment is that it is a deferment. Someone must pay tax on those goods eventually. If you are buying beads so that you can put them into jewelry and sell them, then when you actually sell that piece of jewelry, the end consumer will pay the sales tax for you. If you are buying a book for your own library, or a tool for your tool box, then you must pay tax. You can pay use tax instead of sales tax, but the point is, you must still pay tax at some point. If you are buying a single jewelry kit to make a necklace for your mom for her birthday, then who, if not you, is going to pay the tax on that item?

  • A business license is not a coupon. It does not entitle you to a discount at every booth you stop at. It does identify you as a potential wholesale customer, but you'll notice that every booth does wholesale pricing a little bit differently than the next.

  • Wholesale pricing is different at every booth.In order to get wholesale pricing from a vendor, you will need to comply with their policies. It may seem ridiculous that they want you to spend over $400 at their booth, but once you've been in business long enough, you'll see that they are trying to protect their wholesale customers from unnecessary competition. And there are many booths who do not sell wholesale at all.

  • Volume discounts are for volume purchases. Wholesale pricing is often called "volume discounting" for a reason--you are getting a better price because you are buying more than the average customer. It is not a good idea to ask for wholesale pricing on a single bead because that is not a volume purchase. Most vendors will extend some sort of discount at the $200 or $300 level. If the beads in your hand are less than $20, then you probably want to skip that question. Yes, I know the adage, "It never hurts to ask," but still, among the vendors I know, it ranks at the top for most annoying question.

  • Be discreet. Most vendors would rather not discuss wholesale pricing in front of retail customers. It can be very off-putting for the retail customers.

  • Check their payment policy. I've had a few very embarrassing situations occur because I neglected to find out if the vendor took charge cards before I picked out a large selection of merchandise.

  • Pay attention to their units of quantity. Some vendors can sell wholesale by the bead. Some sell by the strand. Some sell by the hank or bag. Finding out first can save you a lot of trouble. I've witnessed people who pick up large packages of beads and point to a single bead in the package and want wholesale pricing. If it's in a bag, chances are that it's in there for a reason. You might have to get the whole bag to get a price break. If you don't know some of the terms like strand or hank then you will have problems figuring out the discounts. (A strand of beads is a length of string with a number of beads strung on it. A hank is a gathering of several strands of beads.)

  • Try to visit the source. If you like Czech glass, try to find the people with the largest selection. Often they'll have the best advice about what to buy and the widest variety. Sometimes they'll have the best price, as well. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes you'll find vendors with only a handful of something, and if you don't think you'll see it again and you need it, you might have to pay the higher price.

  • Beware of haggling. There are a few vendors who will expect you to haggle, but the rest won't. Especially bead artists. These are people who have poured their time, energy, and creative focus into making small, beautiful works of art. Many of them will not be able to sell wholesale, and their work (and their prices!) should be respected.

First and foremost, of course, you should have fun at a bead show! That's what it's all about--looking at great beads and enjoying yourself. Hope this guide helped!

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