I attend business workshops and seminars every month in an effort to learn more about running a business. The one common question that I hear the most is how can I market my service or product. We often have students who catch the glimpse of how great it is to do glass and they start to imagine themselves doing glass work for a living. Some have been brave enough to ask us how they might be able to make money doing stained glass. We have many times replied that we don't know, if they find out, will they please let us know how? But here are some of the basics of promoting and marketing stained glass.
Going To The Fair
1. We heard from several people that attending craft fairs would be the best way that we could market our glass. We were told stories about the success of glass artists who sell $30,000 worth of glass every year in just two days! With success like that, we figured we better go to a fair.
2. In Sept 2005 we went to Swiss Days in Midway, Utah with high hopes, but things didn't go as planned. We didn't quite make back the booth fees we'd paid. What went wrong?
3. To answer that, we need to examine several factors.
A. As gift glass sellers, we failed because we didn't sell enough product. Why? Because we didn't have enough small gift items to sell. You can't sell what you don't have.
B. We were focused as custom glass artists. We passed out cards and made contacts at the fair. We showed a lot of art glass at the fair and actually succeeded in making a lot of contacts. Over the next few months we picked up several new customers and got to build a lot of custom work as a direct result of the fair.
Conclusion: It felt like a failure because we made so little during the fair, but we had a great time and met many people who wanted stained glass, which lead to some custom work. In the future we plan to take more gift items to satisfy our immediate cash flow needs and we plan to have response cards in an attempt to get those who are interested in stained glass to give us some contact information. We may offer a free video on cd/dvd as a way to get folks to give us their information. We've also determined to attend smaller boutiques throughout the year in an effort to refine what sells and better learn what the gift market will consist of.
Getting Custom Work
4. When Tom Holdman (a local stained glass artist) decided to become a stained glass artist, a neighbor recommended that he go to a wealthy neighborhood and go door to door asking if they need stained glass in their home. He did just that and made a contact with a family who wanted glass and had some influence with the library board. This lead to a commercial job which lead to a great deal of publicity.
5. What can we learn from this story? That any friendship or relationship can lead to glass work. What we must do is ask anyone and everyone if they want or need stained glass work. Then, we must doggedly follow-up when someone expresses an interest. It is often amazing how a simple monthly phone call will eventually pay off. There have been many clients in our past who put off their project for a year or more. What you want to remember is that they wanted the window enough to have you design it, so keep in touch. Then they'll think of you when the finances ease up. Wouldn't it be sad to have another artist get to build your creation, just because you didn't phone them every month?
Selling Cabinet Door Inserts
6. When a customer asks for cabinet door inserts, it will help the process along if you are ready to ask them the questions which will narrow down their choices and help to determine what you'll need to do with the doors. Ask if the doors are new or refurbished. If you can, learn the brand and manufacturer and most importantly, are they routed out for inserts, this will let you know if they can come straight to you for glass or if they need to go to your wood worker to have them modified.
7. Helping the customer arrive at what they want will save you and them a lot of time. So ask if they want to use transparent or opaque glass. What colors do they want to introduce and what bevels if any should go into the design. Do they want to add lighting to their cabinets and how much do they plan to spend. Do they want truly leaded panels or will single side leading be adequate. Last, what finish do they want, black, silver, pewter, bright copper or antique copper.
8. But how do we find these clients? We advertise in the yellow pages under cabinet makers equipment and supplies and we go to cabinet shops and put samples into their hands. The best thing to do is furnish glass samples of those which we carry and sample glass designs that they can show their customers. I like to furnish 8" wide by 10" tall samples because they fit comfortably in a box and are easy for the cabinet sales people to haul around. This is an investment of time, effort and money which is necessary because the salesman won't sell for me if they don't think about stained glass when they meet with clients.
Educate Folks About Stained Glass
9. Occasionally, in the past, we would moan and complain about the lack of understanding that the public had of what good stained glass was and how it enhances ones environment. Then one day, the light came on and we realized that it was our job to educate the public. We knew that the best clients for custom glass were the ones who had tried it and discovered that it wasn't all that easy to build glass. They had a higher appreciation for the value of the work. As artists, we not only have to raise the awareness of our art, we have to teach about the complexities and subtleties of our art. If you don't point out it's strengths, who will?
10. We discovered that one way to educate the community was to hold free or low cost seminars and workshops. This leads to many opportunities to share your knowledge of the stained glass industry and techniques. It also serves to raise the consciousness level of the community of stained glass around them.
11. You know how it is, you start looking for a leather sofa, or buy one and everywhere you look, you find leather sofas. Then you find a brand of running shoes that are particularly comfortable and you suddenly notice that “everyone" is wearing that brand of shoes. Your consciousness level has been raised and once it's been raised, it will never be the same again. That's what you want to have happen with the community as far as stained glass is concerned.
12. We also found that the decorators and designers that often recommend us to their clients needed to be educated in the subtitles of stained glass art. They often didn't know the finishes available or what the difference between the leaded method and copper foil were.
13. So we prepared presentations and educational materials for them, so they could have them for their clients. But we made sure that they were exposed to all the materials so that they would be knowledgeable when they presented them to their clients.
14. In conclusion, promoting your stained glass art is all about movement. You've got to prove you're not dead. And you do that by attending fairs and boutiques so you can read the pulse of your market. And you stay in touch with those you meet. You groom relationships. You spend time talking with friends and former clients, not just to ask them for leads but also to get their feelings about glass. And you promote specific products which you specialize in, like cabinet doors.
And finally, you remember that you are a cheerleader for your industry and it doesn't matter if you provide a free seminar which results in someone getting excited about glass and going to your competition. What goes around, comes around.
If you are out there promoting stained glass, so will your competition and you'll find that there really isn't any competition in this field. That there is plenty of work to go around. Many people want and need stained glass in their lives, they just don't know it yet. So go out there and find them!
David Gomm started building stained glass windows professionally back in 1983 and has become an expert at many aspects of stained glass building, design and repair. He writes a monthly newsletter at http://www.betterstainedglass.com
He also has a website with many other articles at http://www.gommstudios.com
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