Thanks to Our friend Dr David Weiman at Jewelry Selling Insights who undertook a recent survey of his readership to find out what the most succesfull jewelry artisans are doing to make their business work.
So if you looking for help and advice from real people who are running their jewelry business just like you read on to find out how to make a success of your passion.
The holidays are, bar none, the prime time of the year for retail sales. But they only last a few weeks, so it’s critical that you, as a jewelry artist, optimize that window of opportunity to maximum effect. However, there are so many possible sales avenues and tactics to choose from that it can be hard to know which ones to pursue, especially in a difficult economy.
So we sent our readers a survey to see which venues they use most and which have been the most successful for them. Eighty-six generous respondents took the time to share their ideas and insights, which we have summed up to help you streamline your efforts.
Here’s the breakdown of their jewelry-selling experience and their holiday sales numbers:
Number of years selling your own jewelry
Less than 1 5.6%
10 or more 18%
Percentage of 2010 revenue you gained from holiday selling
Less than 10% 13.6%
More than 75% 5.7%
And here’s what they told us about the various holiday selling tactics they’ve tried….
Offering Holiday-Themed Jewelry
One possibility for increasing holiday sales is to make a special line of jewelry with a holiday theme. This tactic was not terribly popular with our respondents, however; only 27.6 percent of them reported doing this regularly, and only two or three cited it as one of their most successful techniques.
One obvious concern that emerges with creating holiday-themed jewelry is that the unsold pieces are not marketable during the rest of the year. Most of our respondents who create special holiday lines reported that they deal with this dilemma in several ways, ranked here in order of popularity:
• Save it for next holiday season
• Rework it into other, non-holiday pieces
• Place it on sale to clear out old stock
• Give it away to friends and family
• Donate it to local charities
• Use it for a promotional giveaway
• Sell it throughout the year
Partnering with Other Types of Merchants
Some jewelry artists have found that it really pays to partner up with merchants who sell different types of products or services, such as florists, hairdressers, gift shops, or candy stores. This technique has been tried by 12.6 percent of our respondents, with varied results.
The merchants with whom our respondents partnered included the following:
• Day spa
• Home décor store
• Gift shops
• Wellness center
• ID tag seller
• Veterinary clinic
• Sports massage therapist
• Stained glass store
A couple of our readers described very creative cooperative arrangements. Two sold their jewelry in spa-type events that offered a relaxing, pampering atmosphere for customers. Laura Clark Curtis of Laura Clark Curtis Design Studio in Blakeslee, Penn., teamed up with a wellness center that offers massage, holistic healing and yoga.
“I promoted the benefits of healing properties of my stones and jewelry with a ‘Celebration of You’ event to shop and de-stress with massages, herbal teas and healthy food. We held our grand opening twice, as well, with this theme — “Grand YOU Are” —since one was during a blizzard but had a sizeable crowd nonetheless. I promote as to what my jewelry can do for you,” she said.
And Ann Marie Knapp of The Beading Heart in Phoenix, Ariz., joins her husband, a sports massage therapist, in hosting spa parties.
“We do a spa night where we offer massage as well as jewelry for purchase, and wine and snacks are available,” said Knapp. “Sometimes I incorporate a demonstration or lesson, as well. We have relaxing spa music playing and aromatherapy, as well. It’s marketed as ‘Shop & Spa’!”
Another responded reported success from teaming up with a restaurateur.
“My daughter-in-law owns a restaurant and has an evening set aside for a jewelry party during the month of December,” said Cassandra Graham of Wilde Jewels in Dayton, Ohio. “Guests are given free champagne upon arriving. If they purchase something, they also receive a 10% discount on their dinner tab.”
One reader reported sales success from joining forces with a Pampered Chef representative.
“I partnered with a Pampered Chef gal who does many home parties,” said Kathleen Davis of Kathleen Davis Designs in Fiddletown, Calif. “We did combination parties of Pampered Chef and jewelry. It was very successful. People who buy Pampered Chef have money, as their items are expensive. She markets well, and lots of people came and bought a lot. These were some of the best home parties I have ever had.”
Another reader sets up displays in various business entries and gives the business 20% of sales.
“Some places are more successful than others,” said Carolyn Bruce of The Painted Cookie in Canada. “A veterinary clinic was surprisingly successful, with the 20% going to help their Angel Fund for stray animals or those injured on the roads.”
However, a couple of readers reported negative experiences with cooperative selling. In one case, the partner business did not display the jewelry prominently enough.
“I asked many times to change the location from the back corner that no one went to, to somewhere else in the store, to no success,” said Caroline Horne of Just Us Beads in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. “I would not do this again, as it was frustrating and tied up a fair amount of stock, and I ended up with one sale.”
Another reader reported getting the short end of the stick at a co-op show with a clothing designer.
“Unfortunately, the clothes were featured and jewelry an afterthought,” said Charlene Anderson of Purveyor of All Things Creative in Jackson, Wyo. “I’d think long and hard about who I did this kind of promotion with again, to make sure the jewelry gets equal billing.”
So, if you enter into a cooperative arrangement with a store or seller, be sure that the two of you agree up front, and perhaps even in writing, about how, and how much, each merchant is to be featured so that both can have optimal chances at selling.
Holiday-Themed Craft and Jewelry Shows
A large percentage — 66.7% — of respondents reported participation in holiday-themed craft or jewelry shows, and 80.7% of those who participated noted it as being worthwhile.
Many of our respondents who had success at holiday shows said that it was because the crowd came ready to buy gifts, as that was the purpose of the show. However, many noted that the slow economy has had a definite impact on sales.
“They (holiday shows) were worthwhile several years ago,” said Janne Etz of Contemporary Concepts in Cocoa, Fla. “Now, with the economy the way it is, making jewelry has become an income-producing lifeline for lots of people, so now there is an overabundance of not-so-great jewelry everywhere and a dearth of customers who have any significant money to spend at craft shows. Less money, spread around among more jewelers equals not-so-great shows. I quit doing shows altogether about four years ago.”
Many who have not given up on shows have noted that their success at holiday shows now depends on offering lower-priced items or items in a variety of price ranges — from stocking stuffer through high-end gifts — and also on having unique, well-made pieces.
“These shows are very successful if you have unique designs and good prices,” said Bruce. “The run-of-the-mill jewelers are dime-a-dozen everywhere and are not welcome at most craft shows.”
Added Horne, “The people going to craft sales are looking for something unusual and well made. I have done extremely well at these sales. It is also more time and cost effective than other methods.”
Those who were successful at holiday shows cited the following factors in their success:
• Being the only jewelry artist at the show
• Going to a well-advertised show
• Attending a show with a large variety of vendors
• Offering customization
• Attending a show from which at least part of the proceeds benefit a charitable cause
• Making sure the show is early in the holiday shopping season — usually between Thanksgiving and mid-December — before shoppers have already likely bought all their gifts.
When possible, readers caution other artists to avoid shows with the following factors:
• Shows in which the other vendors offer much less expensive items than yours
• Shows in which most vendors sell cheap, mass-produced items instead of local, handcrafted items
• Shows that are not properly promoted or advertised
Several who reported that they didn’t have huge sales numbers at these types of shows still felt that the shows were worthwhile on other fronts, such as getting to meet people face to face, adding to their mailing lists, distributing sales materials and promoting their websites.
“Participating gave me more exposure to a customer segment that might not have been interested in my jewelry before,” said Amy Cousin of Sirius7 Jewelry in Rock Hill, S.C. “I collected customer contact information and established relationships from that event. My sales were enough to break even on what it cost me (fees, time, resources) to participate in the event.”
Offering Holiday Discounts or Promotions
Just over half of our respondents — 54.7% — reported that they offer special discounts and promotions around the holidays. Here are some of the tactics they mentioned using:
• Including earrings as a bonus with purchase of a necklace or bracelet
• Direct mailing a flyer or postcard advertising holiday jewelry designs
• Offering a price reduction on multiple pieces or sets, such as “Buy 2 for $5 or buy 3 get one free”; “15% discount if you purchase 2, 20% for 5”; or “3 for $25 on all $10 earrings”
• Offering percentage discounts for a limited time prior to major holidays
• Placing the items in fancy fabric bags or handmade gift boxes
• Offering free gift-wrapping
• Offering a 10-25% discount for bringing a friend to a show
• Sending an email to loyal customers with sneak peeks of new items before they are listed on the website
• Emailing notices about online sales or upcoming shows
• Offering free shipping for the holidays or merchandise discount coupons via an email blast, your Twitter account, Facebook fan page, or a blog
• Sending a flyer or postcard to promote a show, with a coupon offering a discount on orders placed at the show and on follow-up orders received prior to the holidays
• Giving discounts on purchases over a certain total amount
• Offering a coupon for a discount on the next purchase when someone makes a purchase
• Providing free shipping and insurance for online orders of $50 or more
• Promoting discounts through fashion blogs
• Offering deep discounts to move old inventory
Some of our respondents had rather innovative promotional ideas:
“I offer discount cards on social networks and hand them out as my business card,” said Jane Walls of J Liz Jewelry in Jackson, Tenn. “ I have offered a 15% discount, increasing as total retail amount rises. I find this works for holiday buyers of gifts. In addition, I offer a ‘gifting’ service: gift-wrapping, local delivery and mailing (at cost). This has been successful for me because it eliminates some chores for a client.”
“I do a grab bag at home parties,” said Davis. “I put three pieces of my sale item jewelry into one ziploc baggie. It’s like a treasure bag with a bracelet, necklace and maybe a pair of earrings. I leave on the regular price tag. Then I price the treasure bag at a 20-25% discount. They have to buy all three pieces, but they love this and feel they are really getting a ‘deal’. And they are!”
“I always do a direct-mail campaign to preferred customers,” said Etz. “It’s a little different every year, but the most successful dollar-wise was when I asked my preferred customers to bring a friend, then BOTH would get a 20% discount. Also, I did one where the customers got to pick a percentage off (10% to 50%) out of a decorated cookie tin…that was pretty well received, too.”
Store-Sponsored Holiday Events
Almost exactly half — 50.6% — of our respondents reported participating in special boutique- or gallery-sponsored holiday events such as trunk shows, open houses, or ornament shows.
These shows seem to be very worthwhile according to many of our artists, who mentioned a variety of different types of events. Some are staged as special one-day open house events, like the one described by Kerry Carrillo of My Mind’s Eye Creations in Prescott, Ariz.:
“I have participated in open house boutique shows during the holidays that have been successful. We invited local ladies’ groups (book clubs, garden clubs etc.) to join us for a light lunch (soup or salad) and time to shop. We staggered the times starting from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. for lunch and then later in the afternoon we offered coffee/tea and dessert from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. We charged $5 per person and had a great turnout.”
Some of the shows last for several weeks leading up to the holidays. These are reported to be very successful, so if you can find one of these, you might want to strongly consider showing your work there.
“Our local gallery had a day specializing in handmade items from the local area — each was asked to bring items to display for two weeks, and on the first day to attend and be willing to talk to members of the public that came through,” said Annette Piper of Annette Piper Dip. Gem. Handcrafted Jewellery in Australia. “As it was informational and display in nature, there was no pressure to buy; however, surrounded by quality items in a lovely atmosphere, they were very tempted, and many weakened. Sales resulted from this event for a couple of months afterwards.”
Added Bruce, “I have participated for many years in a gallery Christmas shop which runs for five weeks over November and December. It is open every day, and customers love to come and go shopping at their leisure in a gallery setting. Some admit to doing all their Christmas shopping there! I try to have some of the items that were popular the previous year as well as new surprises to tempt them.”
Another very successful and creative tactic is when artists join a group of other artists to create a temporary holiday “store” in which to show their work.
“Part of a group (jewelers and other craftspersons) offered their wares in December in a ‘pop-up’ shop. In recessionary times, we found the public delighted to support local craftwork, and especially successful was the ‘meet the makers’ aspect, where clients could talk with the actual makers and organize modifications or commission bespoke pieces,” said Mary Varilly of True Colours in Ireland. “The emotional quotient of the sale was much enhanced by the public having both direct and prolonged access to the persons who made what they purchased.”
R. Jane Williams of Jane’s Jewels in Bethlehem, Penn., another artist who did a group show, reported similar success:
“A group of skilled craftspeople rented an empty store in a mall and shared the price. We had glass artists, jewelry artists, ceramic artists, fine artists, etc. It was successful because of the location (many people shopped in the area and there was a fine-food restaurant nearby), our marketing in a weekly alternative newspaper, postcards, and each of the craftspeople emailed their lists. Prices were kept relatively low, and the emphasis was on the unique character of each handmade item.”
Almost half of our artists — 47.1% — reported that they had participated in shows and open houses that were held in people’s homes. And, according to their reports, home shows seem to be among the very most successful selling venues, perhaps because of the comfort and intimacy of viewing the work in a social setting instead of in a typical sales-centered setting such as a retail show or store.
“A family friend hosted a home jewelry party and invited her large circle of family, friends and coworkers,” said Deanna Duncan-Allen of JB Silver N Stuff in Broomfield, Colo. “There was no hard sell, just food, friends, laughter and the opportunity to look at the items I had for sale. I answered questions, offered gift packaging and kept it very soft-sell oriented.”
“A friend held a trunk show for me. She was my best advertisement, as she told her friends to come,” said Babette Cox of Digit Designs in Dallas, Texas. “It’s relaxing — no pressure to buy — fun time for all with a bit of spirits and food. They try things on to show their friends, and the friends often convince them to buy as it ‘looks so good on you!”
From what our respondents told us, it appears there is a new trend emerging in the home-show arena. We were surprised to learn that nearly twice as many reported hosting parties, shows and open houses in their own homes and studios as those who attended shows hosted by friends and family (though many do both). And, as successful as the friend-hosted events were, it seems that the artist-hosted events were even more so. The raves for this selling method went on and on.
Said Connie Clinger of C.J. Clinger 1 of a Kind Designs in Lewistown, Penn., “I sell more jewelry from home holiday shows than anywhere. Half of my income comes from that. I gather names from outside shows and then invite everyone to my home during the holidays and give a 25% discount for bring a buying friend.”
“I’ve done about one outside show a year … now I’m done. I’m typically the most expensive item there and sell very little,” said Lisa Lehmann of Studio Jewel in Grand Rapids, Mich. “However, when I do my own open house, it’s targeted, it’s special, it’s rare … and my customers know it. So they come. Very profitable!
In addition to enjoying profits from these types of events, several of our readers noted that they also provide an excellent way to build a loyal following over time.
“I usually host an open house at my home between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Gina Anthony of Creative Accents in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. “Although it is not based on a theme, I decorate for the holiday and play Christmas music, and people can come and go as they wish. It usually goes on all day, and each year has been more successful than the previous year.”
Some of these types of shows even draw customers from long distances.
“The open house is the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Dottie Moon of Two Moons Hye Jewelry in Hye, Texas. “People came from several states away specifically for this show. (One of the artists is a nationally renowned artist.) Expenses are lower, stress level is lower, and people love to come see where the ‘artist works.’ We all try to have something in a partially completed stage so that we can talk about how we do what we do. It makes for a stronger connection and gives a story for the purchaser to tell.”
And the Winners Are…
So what’s the best way to invest the time and effort for your holiday sales preparations? To find out, we asked our respondents what they would consider to be their single most off-the-charts successful holiday selling idea. Here are their top 15, in order of the number of responses:
1. Participating in or hosting a home or studio show or open house
2. Selling at a charity benefit or fundraiser, or advertising that you will donate a portion of sales proceeds to a cause
3. Offering price breaks for multiple items purchased together
4. Giving a percentage off, usually through a limited-time coupon offer
5. Offering unique and/or one-of-a-kind pieces
6. Showing at Christmas retail craft shows
7. Showing your pieces at your workplace or a friend’s workplace
8. Using jewelry-making techniques to make holiday ornaments
9. Displaying your jewelry creatively
10. Offering free gift-wrapping
11. Participating in a multi-artist holiday party or show
12. Offering a wide range of price points
13. Demonstrating your craft at your show or booth
14. Loving what you do so much that your excitement shows
15. Offering personalization and/or customization
These readers offered further insights and ideas:
• “Normally, I just sell my jewelry at the Christmas craft shows, and that’s all it takes,” said Sherry Luke of Sherry’s Jewelry in Coulterville, Calif. “People who are looking for quality, one-of-a-kind, handmade items usually buy no matter what the price. You just have to make sure you provide excellent customer service, be polite, and answer all their questions. That is what usually works for me, plus a nice presentation.”
• “I do bead stringing and offer a discount on any stringing repair,” said Sharon Shaw of Sharon D. Shaw Jewelry in Baltimore, Md. “The discount on bead stringing repairs brings them in, and while they are there, they fall in love with something they have to own. So it can be a win-win situation.”
• “For me, the most successful ‘promotion’ that I have ever done is participating in shows and boutiques that are well advertised and have a community giving portion as well,” said Jannea Varni of ImagiNature Jewelry in Scotts Valley, Calif. “These shows or boutiques really provide the customer with opportunities to meet two goals for the holidays — purchasing items for their family and friends and giving back.”
• “I found that when selling to people I work with, offering inexpensive holiday earrings as a ‘get one free then buy one’ gave them more incentive to purchase more,” said Barbara Perry of Banava Jewelry in West Yarmouth, Mass. “It sort of broke the ice so they could feel thankful for the effort and then realize that they needed to buy more! I sold lots more other items with this reverse sale.”
• “I create Christmas tree decorations with jewelry-making skills,” said Varilly. “The customers get something unique that could become a family heirloom, and there was incentive to buy several rather than just one, as a tree requires a fair bit of decoration!”
• “I substitute teach. During lunch and free period, I sit in the teachers’ lounge making jewelry,” said Nancy Kamp of VeryShinyObjects in Oklahoma City, Okla. “I keep a small display of finished items with my tools, which are conveniently placed on a nearby table. The jewelry sells itself, and I often pick up custom orders.”
• “Free food and wine help during our Christmas Art Walks,” said Katherine Palochak of Metals and Gems/JazznJewelry in Rawlins, Wyo. Free food brings them in, and free wine brings them in to warm up. The wine also seems to help them to get into a more receptive mood to buy, so the galleries hope they’re near the end of their tour when they stop by.”
• “So far, it has been participating in small venues, such as the studio tour, fashion shows, home parties — very small events,” said Patricia Tyser Carberry of Prescott, Ariz. “They cost very little, are easy to do, and I look at them as marketing opportunities as well as sales. I often get people buying at a later date.”
• “Gift boxes, ribbons, etc.,” said Karen Swartz of Tresclaudine in Philadelphia, Penn. “I had a huge custom order (10 necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc.), and the thing that sold it the best was not only that they were all handmade, but that the person ordering them didn’t have to do anything. They came wrapped, tagged, etc. I would always do this going forward.”
Hopefully some of these ideas and results will be helpful to you in your holiday sales. Christmas is only 12 weeks away, so let’s get busy!