When Wanda Hubbard decided to leave San Francisco and re-route her life in 2001, she was ready for a complete career makeover. After a 20-year career working in various capacities for nonprofit organizations, Hubbard returned to Massachusetts and briefly considered the idea of finding a “real” job. Instead, she began taking jewelry design classes to explore an artistic path that she had neglected for years. “My friends always told me I was creative and that I needed to tap into that energy,” Hubbard explains, “I knew I needed to either do it now or never.”
Within a year of reading books, taking classes, and experimenting with different materials, Hubbard, 58, wrote a business plan for her jewelry line, Sassé. By 2003, Hubbard had everything up and running. However, Sassé has boasted only modest success. In 2004, revenues totaled $9,000 and projected earnings for this year are $14,000.
After a few years working the festival and craft fair circuit, Hubbard realized that if she was to survive in this business, she would have to sell to retail stores. However, that has been more challenging than developing Sassé.
“There is no scientific method to it,” says Helena Krodel, spokesperson for the Jewelry Information Center, a trade association for jewelry designers and manufacturers. Designers can hire a sales rep or they can pound the pavement themselves to get an appointment with buyers, but “it’s hard to do because buyers are constantly inundated with designers trying to show them their work.”
To survive, Hubbard opens her studio on Saturdays for retail sales and jewelry making demonstrations, which usually attract a crowd. Additionally, she handles her business’ photo needs and gleans as much knowledge as possible from jewelry shows, where designers can meet with multiple buyers and fashion editors. The fine jewelry industry has seen a steady incline in the last three years; 2004 sales totaled $45 billion. “It’s tough for independent designers to get their work into a store, but there’s definitely a market there,” says Clifford Jackson, marketing manager of Jewelers of America, a trade organization.
Here are key steps that a jewelry artisan should take to find a retailer:
- Get your work into jewelry trade magazines. It’s probably the most effective, least expensive way to get publicity.
- Create a press kit that includes all of the obvious information about your line. Invest in professional photography.
- Put together a cohesive collection of your work. You don’t want every piece to look the same.
- Be ready to do business when you see a buyer. You have to make sure that you can meet the volume.
- Create pieces that you can duplicate.