A month or so after I opened my store on Park Street, I overheard a couple walking by. “A bead shop; that store will never make it,” the woman said to her male companion. It was the fall of 2004 when I overheard this snippit of a conversation. I could understand where she was coming from. I, too, had seen a number of small retail businesses in the area come and go over the years. But we had gotten off to a great start and I had both optimism and relief that the business was already succeeding. I wanted to run outside, chase them down and tell them, “You know, you’re wrong; we are doing really well!”
In the six years that Bead Inspirations has been open, I have learned a lot. We got in the business during the height of beading popularity, and survived through changing market conditions, including a period of saturation of the market, strong competition on the Internet, and a major recession. Three factors in surviving through this: be consistent in communicating about the value that we are offering, be flexible, and be realistic in expectations.
Our value proposition has been clear and consistent and we have trained our staff to communicate it and be astand for it. We help people get in touch withtheir natural creativity. We believe that everyone is naturally creative. Through our classes, we teach people simple techniques to make professional quality jewelry, which can be easily learned. With those simple skills, people can make things that they never imagined possible. They tap into that place within themselves where there creative spirit is alive and through the jewelry making they let that spirit flow through them. This is not only fun and enlivening, it can be soothing, therapeutic, and healing.
“Beading kept me alive when my father was ill,” one customer told me. She had been taking care of him during his last years of life and found a respite in beading when she was dealing with a stressful situation. I could relate. I got into beading as a hobby during the recession that followed 9/11. I had gratefully found a job, but it became very stressful, and was over 60 miles from home. I would begin to bead in the evening, and found that I felt better at midnight, after hours of beading, than I had all day long. I loved letting the creative spirit flow through me as I made jewelry to give as Christmas presents to my family. And I enjoyed the savings of making rather than buying gifts.
Being flexible has helped us adapt to the environment in which we are in. I have learned that to survive and thrive, you need to constantly be willing to reinvent yourself. This is my third career: first I was an electrical engineer, then a corporate trainer/instructional designer, and now a retail store owner. So I’ve learned to adapt.
When we opened the store, people loved stringing beads and making jewelry by wire working. But then they started talking about metalsmithing and precious metal clay (PMC). So we brought in metalsmithing tools and books, and found teachers to offer soldering, fusing, riveting, and PMC classes. After hearing of more and more people buying stuff on the Internet, I surveyed our customers and learned that a significant percentage bought beads and beading supplies online. Following the philosophy that if you can’t beat them, join them, we opened our webstore in late 2007. We began to specialize in Vintaj nickel-free brass filigree components, and offer bead jewelry kits made with this vintage look. We’ve put a portion of our inventory on our website, including Swarovski pearls, crystals, lampwork glass beads, gemstone focal beads and pendants. People got into the metal stamping and picture frame pendants, so we offer the tools and materials to do those kinds of projects online as well as in the store. We now offer watch parts, gear components, and keys to support the creative interest of those working with the new-old style of steampunk. It is fun to get orders from all over the country, and receive such appreciation from people who have no bead stores in their area. Now we also accept international orders. The webstore sales have grown to 18% of our business.
As a business, we need to be realistic in planning. We have seen people’s relationship to their recreational income change over the years. Six years ago, people seemed to be more carefree with their money. As the recession deepened, I saw in shoppers fear of spending even a small amount. Now in 2010, people seem to have sobriety about spending. The sobriety feels like a relief, as people realize that our civilization and economy is not going to go to pieces, they still need to give gifts, they still need to do fun things for themselves every once in a while, even if they cost a little money. As a business owner, I need to have the same level of sobriety in my spending, and be in touch with the reality of how much is coming in and going out every month.
So after six years, I am still learning lessons through having a business. I know that whatever the future holds, we will “make it.” We will continue to have grace to let our own ability to create, adapt, and be tuned in with reality inspire us.