Selling Furnace Glass

2001-06-21 Rev. 2005-12-08, 2009-03-12, -12-12

The continuing cost of maintaining a studio is high - gas and electricity are used in quantity to keep glass melted, pots will fail if heated and cooled too quickly, it takes time for cooked batch to be good, and enough glass must be worked each day to cover a portion of expenses.  Each studio must decide on a balance between production and artistry.  The constant complaint is that having gotten into successful production, there is no time for artistic creation.  And production is not the only path, various forms of direct sales are used, and often a mix of methods results.

Basically, there are three levels of studio production operation, although obviously every studio can create its own mix. 

  • One is to produce many, many copies of similar products which are marketed via wholesale channels including attending major shows.  Products are commonly retail priced $40-125.  

  • Second, is the interior decorating market which may also use wholesale channels, but is aimed at people spending more while buying from individuals trying to meet their design needs in places where glass is sold with furniture, fabrics, paintings, etc.  Pieces are commonly retailed at $150-700. 

  • And finally the artistic channel where glass is sold through galleries.  Prices start near $1000 and go up to heights of $10,000 per piece and more for multiple pieces assemblies like Dale Chihuly, the most famous glass artist today.

  • Plus - Almost all studios also run at least a minimal sales outlet at the studio and attend some local craft and art sales events, which are discussed below, while some have impressive galleries that sell other local artists and/or nationally known high end professionals.

Perhaps the strongest characteristic of wholesale is planned production.  Normally, the glassblower will create some designs and take them to one of the wholesale craft shows in the mid-west or east coast taking orders from buyers who want dozens or hundreds for a variety of shops.  Also buying may be television sales shows.  Having made the sale, the studio has to produce the pieces and deliver them on a schedule negotiated at the time of sale.  The schedule may extend over the year or call for delivery at a specific time, often in the fall for Christmas sales.  Studios who do this kind of work typically set a goal of producing a certain number a day and week and do it day after day.
Interior Decorating
Pieces used for interior decorating tend to be reasonably large and/or brightly colored.  They are used like paintings on walls, as feature pieces on shelves, windows, and tables and otherwise as sculpture has been used.  The interior decorators expect to find their glass products through the same channels as their other products.  As far as I can tell, this means showrooms and interior decorating stores.  How to get into them, I do not yet know.
Art Galleries
Art galleries want pieces that show an artistic sense and distinction.  Normally an artist will place pieces with a gallery known to him that is more local in orientation.  As skill and reputation are built, approaching more significant galleries with credentials of previous placements.  Galleries also look at artists in other galleries.  Many of the most significant glass galleries can be found in ads in Glass magazine.

Almost all smaller studios participate in one or more of the methods described below.  For example, a studio that does only direct sales at their own gallery and production work may participate in a charity Christmas crafts sale or a holiday artists show for the sake of local publicity and good relations with local artists and media.  For the amateur or part-time glassblower, several methods of sale discussed below may be the only forms of sale attempted.

Craft and Art Shows
Although these are direct sales, they are discussed separately because of the different preparation and work involved in carrying them out.  These shows are held in a temporary site usually over 1 to 3 days.  The participants must sign up in advance, anywhere from a few days to several months, which may include juried selection; pay a fee; obey content rules and provide the display to fit a particular area, often 10x10 feet.  Participants must typically arrive in a specific time period and set up before a particular opening time.  Normally, at least two people must be present for the booth to provide continuous coverage during potty and lunch breaks.  Teardown must occur in a limited time frame. For example, a one day show might allow admission of vendors from 7-9a.m. sales from 10-5 and teardown by 6.  A two day weekend show might allow setup Friday night for 2 hours, guarded premises overnight, an hour to do final setup, then sales from 9-8, repeating on Sunday, perhaps starting later for church, with teardown starting at 5 or 6 p.m. 2009-03-12
Depending on the event the show is part of, the competition in other booths may be only artists who have made their own stuff, may be artists with added stuff (like a small shop) including stuff made from kits, may be shops mostly selling items available wholesale, or may be individuals selling anything from t-shirts to CD's.  In addition, in a mixed show competition for sales may include rock bands at the end of the aisle and cotton candy sales among the pedestrians.
According to discussions online, the top end of these shows are the arts shows that have no associated event and are targeted at people who come to look at art and possibly buy something.  In my area indoor examples are the Christmas sale held near downtown Austin and the annual Randy Brodnax Show, both of which include pottery, fabrics, paintings, etc. as well as glass. The Dallas and Ft.Worth Main Street art shows with several dozen painters and sculptors as well as other artists outdoor events.  At the bottom end are shows held in conjunction with Heritage, Roundup or Reunion Days because these shows often have few regulations, involve dealing with hundreds of passersby for each actual customer, watching kids running loose, and coping with "lookers" who touch but don't buy and mostly want to eat the food they bought at another booth while asking directions to the restroom or while making their way from the horse show to the band concert. The number of shows slowly increases over the summer and then skyrockets through September and October into November.
Some areas have a magazine or booklet that mentions events and careful reading of newspapers will yield names and dates.  Churches and social groups (YMCA) will often hold craft-only shows in the fall.   These are typically one day shows that can be signed up for as late as early in the week of the Saturday event.  The problem is that attendance may vary wildly at what are apparently similar events depending on whether the church promoted the event to its members, signs were put out on the right streets directing traffic to the event, and the date selected has nine other events going on within a few miles.  During the time I was participating in and looking at these things, I found shows where most of the "customers" were the volunteers running things with perhaps 50 people through the door all day and others where the aisles were crowded with people who were there to shop.  These small shows typically cost $25-35 payable at the door, setup from 7-9am and shut down at 5-6pm the same day.
I still get fliers from groups that are really serious about their shows while also doing other things.  The most common form is a music festival with an arts show event.  Normally these shows require photos or slides of the items to be sold, that all items be made by the artist manning the booth, that registration be made several months in advance and a fee in the range from $135-400 be paid. Often the number of openings in these shows is low as many exhibitors return year after year.
The unique considerations of these shows are the advance planning.  All of the stock must be hauled in and available (with the possibility of getting more overnight if the show is not too far from home base.)  If you don't have it, you can't sell it. A portable booth must be developed that provides all the services needed in a form that can be moved, setup in a limited time, and taken down while coping with people (and weather if outside.)  For glass, this normally means shelves or plinths.  If the glass is intended to move (mobiles, etc.) then a fan or other other air flow inside must be provided.  If lighting is required, the mounts for the lights must be part of the display as there is no assurance of mounting points.  Usually, displays are provided with backing for rigidity and to block the view to the next booth.  Not all shows have electricity and those that do may not have it for all booths.  The exhibitor has to bring in chairs or stools, place to keep water, etc., place to keep money and receipt books, and any hardware for credit cards if accepted.  Phone lines are almost never available so a cell phone is handy and necessary if used for card confirmation.  Packaging, if provided, has to be stored until needed, perhaps under the display, with boxes, bags, and padding. Back stock must be placed out of sight also.
Direct Sales
   studio gallery
Any studio that allows public access in any way will normally have a studio gallery space that people must pass through or stand in to see the work in progress.  Besides showing off some of the more standard pieces in well lighted displays, it may include displays of special arrangements normally custom made and may provide space to develop custom designs.  Especially with custom designs, an album of photos of successful installations is normally kept.  Most studios find it useful and necessary to have on display glass items that cost $10-40 for those people who want to buy something for taking your time and to remember their visit, but consider something at $50-200 to be too much.  These may be glasses, ornaments, or modest paperweights.  At this price, the item has to be made at the rate of 4-6 an hour to keep from losing money on each one.  An area to accept and record money and hold and use packaging must be provided.
The more serious studio may set aside a lot of space and provide sales for other artists.  In Grapevine, Texas, for example, one studio has a has an adjacent gallery with regional artists and very serious pieces from several artists of international stature who have done workshops at the studio.  This level of operation must normally be in charge of a person knowledgeable in the area.
  mailing list
Every person who comes in contact with the studio should be asked for name, address, phone and e-mail for further contact.  The contact may involve little more than a postcard announcing an open house (below) or change of address or it may involve a picture card or brochure of a new product.
Many galleries produce a color photo postcard with images of the products.  Most will ask if you have a mailing list to send to and most will normally provide a modest number of additional cards to hand out in your gallery.  You can explore the cost of photo cards for your own mailings.  Don't think that cards made on your computer printer are necessarily cheaper as the cost per page may be 20-35 cents each if replacement ink cartridges are $20-30 and they make 100-150 pages as many do.
  open house and/or Christmas sale
Most studios have an open house once or twice a year (or more), perhaps in conjunction with an area artists open house day (like the Cedars Artists Open Houses here in Dallas.)  Many hold a holiday open house 2-4 weeks before Christmas to encourage final sales for gifts and include lower priced "Seconds".  Another time is late summer/early fall to start the gifting season or mid-summer in places with lots of summer visitors.  At least one glass artist with a studio in a rural area invited area artists in other media to come and set up tables in the substantial outdoor space next to his studio for a Saturday in mid-autumn in Texas.
Normally, holding an open house in my area includes finger food (cheese cubes, celery, fruit cubes), dips, and beverages like wine or home brewed beer.  Space is made available for visitors by shoving extra benches and marver tables up against the wall and covering coldworking equipment with cloths. Displays are enhanced and work in progress may be shown.
The best known of several online auction services, eBay also offers the ability to sell at a fixed price and to set up a store where all the products of one seller are shown (instead of being mixed into the auction display.)
Selling on eBay involves a rather easy learning experience and depends on being comfortable with the auction selling experience.  Basically, you set a starting price, the lower the better as it puts it near the beginning of the default display.  You can optionally set a reserve price, which means that if bids do not reach that price, it does not sell, but the fees you paid to sell still apply.  Some people will not bid if a reserve price might be in place.  I use a reserve price when I am selling something that I am unwilling to give away, while still wanting to start with low bidding, otherwise I simply set the starting price at the minimum I want.
The basic costs of selling on eBay are modest and include a percentage of the final sale if it occurs.  There are many, many added fees with clear warnings when they apply.  Examples include a second line of description, extra categories, more than the minimum photographs, bold backgrounds, pictures with the summary listing on a search, etc.
A key to selling, in my opinion, is describing the piece in a way that people who search or setup automatic searches will find your stuff.  Looking at other sellers' descriptions while using various search words and picking winners is a good idea.
Buyers have the ability to put in a maximum bid, which they can come back and change, and let eBay raise the bid as others put in increasing bids.  The item display shows how many people are watching the item and how many have bid.  Often, as in a live auction, bidding will jack up rapidly near the end, especially if a watcher throws in a bid and that triggers increases by others.
Vital to keeping a good reputation, which is posted with your items, is shipping on time and in well protected packages.
A relatively new operation, is entirely crafts and is entirely "store" sales, not auctions.  The cost is fairly low and reasonably attractive.  Some of the sales methods have little to do with craft quality - selection by clicking on color based on the images put up is an interior decorating trick and is thrown off by background color in the images  Some cities are setting up local chapters, like etsyDallas which has a controlled membership and so far is running focused shows several times a year. 2009-03-12.
  other online
Here the unique requirement is good photographs.  Buying these can get expensive while setting up a few square feet of a permanent photography area with a digital camera may be beyond the interests of some artists.  On the other hand, keeping a photographic record of every unique piece has value all its own.
At a minimum, a simple web site showing example pieces with a contact phone number is within the capability of anyone with skills to run a studio.  Sites like AOL, Yahoo, and MSN allow a few pages with easy builders to add images and type in text. The cost of these pages is typically included in the fee that gives internet and e-mail access.
A more serious effort may be made by building pages in FrontPage or FrontPage Express as I do and uploading these pages to a website that it accessible with a URL that may or may not advertise the site.  I get space for a lot of pages and images and up to 5 e-mail addresses and pay an annual fee to reduce my total charges somewhat from paying a monthly fee of about $20.  The URL for mine, at the time I am writing, includes users.ticnet, reflects that I am using a storage space. Any internet sales will be indirect, like the buyer having a PayPal account or using a credit card through PayPal but doing it by going to PayPal's web page, not by you providing the connection.
The next step is to pay for a unique URL that is easy to remember and points at a site like the previous one which may be maintained under another URL or hosted under the unique name.  There is commonly an annual fee for the registration of the unique URL which can range from $8 to 25.  In addition, there is a basic fee for "hosting" the site if that is done.  Thus, I might register (not valid) and have a firm aim it at the users.ticnet URL above. The firm might offer an e-mail address like (not valid) which is aimed at my address.  This would cost a few dollars a month, maybe $8.  On the other hand, a firm may combine the services, offering registration, full hosting, and several e-mail addresses with specific names in them (like (not valid)) with a certain amount of storage for perhaps $25-30 a month.
The next step up gets more expensive but makes many more services available.  Setting up such a site also costs more money.  Here the hosting site has to give the user more rights, like running programs on the server that allow collection of information, storage and reuse.  Pages may be assembled on the server following requests by the visitor.  Money may be collected.  The host may bill based on amount of traffic and ask for more money if the site becomes very popular.  If sales are involved secure connections may be offered and a shopping cart maintained for the visitor.
For the person who wants a more sophisticated sales operation but does not want to spend the time and money to develop a unique featured site (which can get into really serious money - tens of thousands of dollars) the answer can be using a site that provides all the services, but in which you have to fit your presentation - typically panels with the product images to the left, description in the middle and pricing and quantity to the right.  Once checkout has begun, your site will look the same as others using the same service.
PayPal is a service owned by eBay which offers a method of payment via the internet at much lower risk or complication than other methods.  On eBay it is fully integrated into the purchasing process.  On other sites where I have used it, there is a link to the PayPal site and once payment is made, the funds are credited to an account and the link returns to the sales site.
For a slight charge to the seller, PayPal offers the ability to accept credit cards without all the complications of setting up an account with a regular bank and the monthly fees and transaction complications there.  Pure PayPal - when the buyer has a PayPal account and so does the seller - costs considerably less, while still protecting the seller, since the buyer has been checked out by PayPal which has linked their account to a credit card or tested bank account.
Craft Malls
Once upon a time, roughly 1994, there were many conversions of modest grocery store sites to craft malls where artists rented booths of various sizes, labeled their goods, provided a few hours of clerk work each week and the owners of the mall provided a cash register and kept an eye on the goods.  Most of these have evaporated and most had lots of sewn goods and "antiques" that were more in the line of  "collectables" of no real value. 2009-03-12

Contact Mike Firth