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A new year, a new direction


I maked a thing… Okay, I know that this video is terrible.  I’m not delusional! So why bother with posting it?  Well, as they say the most important step in any journey is the first one.  As crazy as it sounds, this ridiculous little video has given me the confidence to go forward with my idea to make video series on “how it’s made” showing the processes of making jewelry, and jewelry tools.  I mean, if this first video was this bad, how on earth can it get worse?  Happy New Year folks!  Here’s to taking new first steps 😀

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How to make money selling chainmail jewelry

 

How to make money selling chainmail

If you’re reading this you’re probably into renaissance festivals, theatre, or have a lot of friends that are. Likely you’ve been, seen, and are looking for a way to break in. You took up the completely unique craft of making chainmail, and now you’re struggling to sell anything or get accepted to festivals as a vendor. I’ve got a secret to spill about this whole industry you’re determined to break into… Everybody makes chainmail. Now don’t be discouraged! I too was once in your shoes, and quite frankly for the young angry teenager I was it enraged me.

There are several problems with attempting to use chainmail as your only source of income or to break into the Ren. Faire market. The first was obvious, most patterns of chainmail are fairly simple, only time consuming to work on. So a great many people have learned the craft. Next, most of those people work or sell at faires as a part time job, they only do it to see the friends and family they have at faire, and don’t need to make a great deal of money, just enough to cover expenses. In that we run into a problem, as a jeweler I must charge $75/hr for any bench work I do. This helps me to cover my rent and utility costs, employees like to get paid for some reason, the very specialized tools I use are very expensive, and then there is that nagging pain in my stomach when I don’t eat at least once every couple of days.

For most in the chainmail market they don’t need to cover all of those costs with just an income from chainmail. So when they are working on a piece the tool costs are so low (you can start out buying rings, and then you only have to have a set of pliers), rent is usually only a once a year booth fee, and other jobs, or parents are paying for food. So when a piece is complete they plug in the formula hours spent x $10 + cost of materials = number on price tag. Because of how flooded the market is you’re not likely to change that pittance of a paycheck any time soon.

This is where you start checking for my sanity… I’ll save you the time, you won’t find it. So how can I simultaneously say that in order to keep my shop open I must charge $75/hr at the bench, but continue to sell something that I also admit will not likely ever bring in more than $10/hr. Like many people I started out making chainmail, and I actually enjoy making it, finding new and creative ways to incorporated it into my designs. I also charge more $25/hr to be exact, I justify the premium because I weld the rings of my pieces which still only a very tiny percentage of the other chainmaillers around do, so that gives me an edge. I also don’t like selling chainmail at Ren. Faires. I bring some to help fill the tables, but at the end of the day I know I’m charging more than anyone else and only a small percentage of people are going to understand or care why so I don’t expect to move a lot, I also don’t have to. There’s also the old addage that small business owners are the crazy people who will work 100+ hours a week to avoid working 40hrs a week for someone else. And there is certainly a bit of truth to that for me here. Chainmail still has to be a hobby for me, I only work on it during off hours as a table filler, and can’t let it distract from other work that will always pay much better.

So now we’ve made it back to the question at hand… if all of this is true, is it possible to make money selling chainmail, and if so how?

First off, if chainmail wasn’t selling no one would be making it, and we’ve already established that is certainly not the truth. Now, how can you make money selling chainmail? I will share with you the secrets and strategies that I have used for nearly sixteen years that have been successful enough for me to have transformed my chainmail hobby, into a fully fledged jewelry business.

Make it unique

This one should be obvious… but for a lot of people just starting it doesn’t settle in for a while, and maybe that’s because people are working on finding their groove which is okay at first. So you’ve been making a lot of chainmail, you’ve perfected your closures, everything feels nice and smooth, you’re also getting to be pretty quick. Now it’s time to do some research! Go online and seek out others who make chainmail, look at their websites, browse the forums, search the galleries. Now you have an idea of what other people are doing… do the opposite. Well not the opposite obviously, but add your own personal flair to every project you work on. Take elements and ideas of what others are doing, and use them, but don’t copy entire projects. This will save you in two respects, one people don’t really like to be completely copied especially if they are trying to make money, and two for the same reason a person trying to sell something doesn’t want the exact same thing being sold by someone else… you aren’t going to want to try and sell the same thing someone else is selling. When two people are trying to sell the exact same product it often comes down to price for the consumer, and then you’re just in a race to the bottom where no one makes any money.

Find your niche

Finding your niche is something that may take time. It will help you in a lot of ways to not say you’re a general chainmailler but instead have a single area of expertise. You can start this by breaking the industry into two main categories: Armorers and jewelers. Most people really making money with chainmail fall on the jewelry side, but that’s not to say that there aren’t those who succeed in the armor department. Those who do succeed on the armor side generally make leather or plate armor as well. That’s because it can be very difficult convincing people to sleep in their car this month while wearing a house payments worth of chainmail armor. I obviously sided with the jewelers and that is what I know most about, I’m sure if you choose the side of armor you will be able to find people who have been successful and talk with them about how they got to where they are. For me after floundering about as a general chainmail jeweler for a while a brilliant niche came to me in a flash… Actually my mom suggested it. My mother is a physical therapist, and very into holistic health, she said many of her patients swear by their copper bracelets for arthritis, but didn’t like that the only options were cuff bracelets as they are uncomfortable for a lot of people. So I started making tons of copper bracelets, including magnetic beads. I’m still not convinced the magnets do anything… but my customers are so I don’t argue with them. As Mr. Big Weld would say “See a need, fill a need.” if you don’t know where that quote is from you probably don’t have children yet and haven’t seen every childrens movie ever made 20,000 times. The quote is a great place to start though, this is why you should spend every spare moment researching the market you are about to jump into. A lot of people have been working in the market for a long time though, so finding that need may take a while.

Use less of the expensive stuff

Anything from beads to take up space, or leather straps to fill out a design will give you a huge advantage in time spent making a piece. Less time on a piece means you can sell it for less, and you’ll always have an easier time of selling a $20 piece, than convincing someone to hand over the equivalent of their car payment for a single piece of jewelry (especially since the armorers already convinced them to hand over their house payment… where are they to sleep now?). This works great for armorers as well, for areas that need movement (shoulders, waist, arms, and what not) chainmail is a great option, but for chest and back a couple of sheets of leather would do nicely and help you reduce costs of your time spent by a lot.

Waste your time – not your money (at least early on, once established flip that)

Make your own clasps, make your own rings, make your own tools! Seriously! Make or modify your tools to do what you need them to do. The less capital you have to put down early on the better off you will be. After a couple of years when you’ve established yourself in your niche market… Then it’s time to flip that. Buying your rings, buying clasps, and buying better tools at this point only makes sense. If you spend 10mins making a clasp even only charging $25/hr is still $4 that you have to pass off on your customers, where as really nice sterling silver lobster claw clasps can be had for as little as $0.50 each. So this is one of those big pick your battles moments. Early on, you will likely want to fight this battle and save your money for advertising/events. But after you are established it just stops making sense.

Fill your table (don’t ever assume you’ll sell more than 10% of your stock, so stock up)

There are some rules or laws of retail sales that I was completely unaware of when I first began trying to sell my chainmail. One of the first for the young dreamy 14 year old kid I was… For some reason heading out to my first show armed with $2,000 worth of product I assumed that if I “only” sold half of what I brought it would be a great weekend. This is when I learned the retail sales law that you can only sell 10% of what is on the shelves. I walked away from that weekend with $200 in my hands, and well, at least it covered my booth fees to be there. After years of doing this, that 10% number holds steady. There have been some rare cases where I walked away from an event dropping my stock level by 20% but it’s not something I would ever bank on setting up for an event.

Next comes a retail sales law that actually pertains to advertising, but because of the unique atmosphere of trade shows and faires it works out to call the patrons of an event your advertisees. That is the law of return on investment for an advertisement. This is going to sound crazy if you are new, but you will only sell to about ½ of 1% of the total number of patrons. That means if you attend an event with 20,000 patrons you can expect to sell to no more than 100 of them. Now, say the average price of wares you are selling is $40 that means the maximum income you will get from that event is $4,000. But remember you’re not moving more than 10% of your product, so that means if you want to maximize your potential for this fictitious event you need to arrive with $40,000 worth of product! So again, I mean it when I say, fill your event space with product!

Play nice with others

Starting out you won’t likely have enough stock… even when you think you do, you don’t. It’s also expensive to go to events, so team up with some others like minded making similar items so you can fill out an event space together. You may just see competition trying to team up with someone, but you can’t think that way. If you’ve followed the first rule, and created unique designs you’re not competition, just different styles that you can offer to your customers. You will help each other by filling out the tables, and with at least two very unique styles patrons will spend more time looking around, giving you more time to sell to them.

This also applies to online. This is something that I regret most about my early days of selling chainmail. Remember how I said that the people pricing their products too low made me an angry young man? Yeah, well I often vented that anger on forums and in emails. It didn’t make me popular, and even hurt me trying to expand and sell at more events. Don’t be that guy.

Conclusion

That just about covers the sage wisdom I could muster from an old fart in the field. Let me know what you thought! Did I miss anything? Is it a fruitless adventure trying to make money with chainmail? Or do you feel more prepared to take on this great challenge?

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I’m a little tea pot!

Okay, it’s not exactly a little tea pot, but here are some progress photos of a raised creamer I am working on.  The handle is now soldered in place, and it needs to be polished.  Doing so is a bit challenging, it’s too big to throw in my tumbler, and there are a lot of deep crevices that need polished out.  I have come up with some creative ways to get the job done.  Once fully polished it will be sealed to keep the shine.  I plan to also make a pair of matching tea cups, and spoons.  Not sure I have the equipment to make a full tea pot right now, but I might just give it a try as the creamer came out beautifully.

Copper Creamer WIP

Copper Creamer WIP 2

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Glad for new beginnings!

It’s good to be back with a shop here.  It is far less stressful to manage my own website, than dealing with Etsy and other markets where I have to constantly pay just to have items in my shop, and worry about when/if things will sell.  I’m also less in control of how the shopping experience goes on Etsy.  I may return to Etsy at some point, but their new redesign even makes it difficult just to be seen.  Anyways, I am also enjoying the experience of the new shopping cart that I’ve installed much more than what had previously been here.  I still have a lot of pieces of jewelry to get pictures of, and get listed here, but so far 52 items in the shop ain’t so bad!  I think that’s more than I ever previously listed, granted with the art faires I went to I got a lot of stuff together for them so that was a great inspiration to get things moving!

I’m also glad that the old shopping cart got lost… I likely would not have went out searching or reading reviews on modern shopping carts if it had not worked out that way.  Doing so forced me to start over, and now I have a very clean, aesthetically pleasing website again!  It’s good to have a fresh start every now and again.