Note: The following information is meant for people who are in the business, or plan to be in the business, of making and selling jewelry that utilizes maille techniques. This article consists of very specific business advice delivered quite bluntly. Personally, I much prefer the truth to anything sugar coated and I try to treat others as I want to be treated. If you're trying to get a business off the ground in a competitive industry during a tough economic period, you don't need sunshine and rainbows, you need honest, insightful business advice from people running successful businesses. I'm giving you that, but the advice of anyone who sells what he or she is advising you to buy should always be closely scrutinized. With that in mind, I'm speaking very bluntly to make it easier for you to scrutinize my points and judge them for yourself.
It's natural to assume that making your own rings will cut your costs. Wire is half the cost of rings and your labor is free, right? Actually... no. But that's not the half of it.
In the Business of Creativity, Time Really is Money
There are only so many hours in the day and the amount of finished jewelry you can produce to sell is limited by the finite amount of time you have to produce it. You can sell the jewelry you make in a given amount of time for more than you can save in the same amount of time by cutting your own rings. For that reason alone, making your own rings is a poor business decision... but there are so many better reasons, this one actually pales in comparison.
Why Successful Designers Buy Rings
When your business takes off -- and that can literally happen overnight -- you will no longer be able to keep up with orders by yourself and you'll need help right away. The only part of your work that doesn't require your hands on are those mundane tasks that aren't creative and chief among them is ring making. Obviously, it's faster, more convenient and vastly more sensible to buy rings from someone who already makes gorgeous rings than to hire and train someone to make them with your equipment. Hence, if you aren't already buying your rings, you will be as soon as your business is successful enough to keep you busy.
So you should make your own rings until you don't have time to do it anymore and then switch to buying them, right? There, as they say, is the rub. There are so many variables to ring making that you will never find a vendor whose rings match your own. Wire tolerances vary in both size and temper; mandrels are machined to varying degrees of precision; coiling methods affect the temper and therefore the finished ring size; blade thickness affects both the finished ring size and its relative roundness. Those little differences don't sound like much but they could very well cost your business its big break.
Imagine that you've poured your heart and soul into developing a beautiful line of jewelry, making and remaking every design to get the perfect degree of snug flexibility, the perfect drape. Imagine that you've done something very right with regard to marketing and now the fruits of your labors are ripening. Orders are pouring in faster than you can fill them and you no longer have time to make your own rings, so you place a big order for every size you need. The rings arrive and you start weaving only to find that the rings are just a little different from yours... enough that your designs don't fit together just right, everything's too loose or too tight, the drape is wrong, the look is wrong. This is it, you're getting the exposure of your dreams and customers are waiting. You have no time to make the rings yourself but you also haven't the time to rework all your designs on someone else's rings. What are you going to do?
Successful business happens at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. If you aren't prepared when the opportunity comes along, the opportunity goes to someone who is. Especially with a design business, it's best to begin as you mean to go on. Choose the best quality, most consistent and reliable supplier, one you believe will still be in business years from now (more on that later), and develop your designs on those rings. Then no matter what happens, you'll have what you need when you need it.
I Love to Tell My Customers It's All Handmade
So do I. Gary makes my rings for me and he's happy to make yours, too. We don't use ring making machines because they don't make fine rings. Every coil we make is coiled by hand; every ring we cut is cut by hand. Our rings are handmade, just as fine lampworked beads and Bali and Hill Tribe silver are handmade. Our rings are every bit as handmade as any you've made yourself.
Would Your Customers Prefer...?
Brace yourself, I'm going to speak bluntly now. The rings we make are nicer than the rings you make. I mean nothing unkind by that, it's just the nature of our respective businesses. Unless you've spent at least seven years devoted exclusively to the ever increasing perfection of your rings... they aren't as nice as ours. And why should they be? Your focus is jewelry and rings are just components of what you do.
And that is precisely my point. We do just one thing - we make precious metal rings for weaving chain - and we do it better than anyone. If you make your own rings and you've been doing it for awhile, I'm sure you sometimes get rings that are as nice as ours. But let's be really honest: you also frag some coils and mangle some rings now and then. You get burs and sometimes your cuts are off center or slanted. You're paying for that scrap... so sometimes you use some of those imperfect rings in your work because you can't bear to scrap them all. You know it's true; the waste is unbearable and the rings are good enough, right?
This is why you aren't doing your jewelry any favors by making your own rings. The quality of your finished jewelry isn't as good as it could be, as good as it would be, if you were using our rings. There's a lot of competition in jewelry sales. When someone wants to buy jewelry -- whether that someone is buying for herself or for a high end department store -- she has a lot of options. When your jewelry is considered for purchase, does it meet the finest quality standards on close inspection? The difference between exceptional quality and good enough could also be the difference between life as a successful jewelry designer and just having a job.
Choosing Your Vendor
If you make jewelry for fun with no intention of ever selling any and your ring vendor goes out of business, it just means you have to order from another vendor for your next project. But if you're in business, it means each item in your line has to be reworked on someone else's rings before you can make another of anything to sell. It means you have to replace all the rings that you use to work up new design ideas because there's no point in working up designs on rings that are no longer available. If you have a good variety of ring sizes in your collection -- which is exactly what's needed to give your creativity free reign, so if you're serious, you do -- it's going to be incredibly expensive to replace them all. The amount of your limited time that will be required to rework all your designs with new rings before you can sell again is also very costly. These are big expenses for a small business and they do nothing but bring it back to where it was before your ring vendor went under. Such a big investment in your business should take it to a new level, not just barely keep it afloat. Frankly, most small businesses would not survive a hit like that, especially before they're nicely profitable.
So giving your business the best chance of success means choosing a ring vendor that not only meets your quality standards but can be reasonably expected to remain in business for at least as long as you are... and one hopes that will be for a long time. That means looking at each vendor's business practices with a critical eye. When you're considering your vendor options, take a moment to read this article, paying special attention to the Me Too scenario so you're clear on how to avoid that unfortunate situation.
Make Mine Cheap and Nasty
We all know to put a mental dollar figure on everything a company offers because nothing is free. And that's a good thing to do, as long as the full picture is taken into account. If something you purchase comes in a nice box, it's logical to assume you paid a bit more for it than you might have otherwise. If your rings arrive gleaming, you know you paid for the time to polish them. You might believe that you can save money if you don't mind picking out scraps, cleaning off greasy dirt and doing your own polishing. On the surface that seems logical... but then so did making your own rings.
Quality: Because every ring we send out is perfect, you might think you're paying for us to pick out whatever percentage were mutilated and you could save money by doing that yourself. Remember the seven years devoted to ever increasing perfection? Well, this is the payoff for all that work. We don't spend time trying to tumble off burs because we don't make burs. We don't spend time culling bad rings, we just don't make bad rings. I'm not saying we never frag a coil, we do... but our average is well below one in a hundred. That's very little scrap adding to the cost of rings you buy from us. It's a lot less than you get making your own rings and it's certainly less than you pay for when buying cheap rings.
Polish: Assuming you already own the equipment (tumbler, shot, etc.) and considering only what you use each time to run your tumbler (water, soap, electricity), it isn't possible for you to polish even perfectly bur free rings for less than we charge to do it for you because you aren't using 50-100 pounds of shot to tumble hundreds of ounces of sterling at a time. Polishing rings in bulk uses all resources more efficiently and saves energy, water and soap. As a result of that efficiency, what we add to the price of the rings to cover polishing them is far less than it costs you to operate your own tumbler.
Packaging: When you see our nice little tins, you know you're paying for them. What you might not realize is that, because we have them made and meet very high minimum orders to do it, a tin only costs us eight cents. Because we package our rings in tins, there are no plastic bags going to the landfill. The tins make wonderful storage for rings and beads, are useful and reusable, and so attractive that many of our customers package their finished jewelry in them. If you don't want them, you'll have no trouble giving them away (teachers love them) but even if no one wanted them, they're made of aluminum and glass and can be conveniently recycled. They need never end up in a landfill like plastic bags do. So yes, you're paying for them... eight cents. How much do you think plastic bags cost when all's said and done?
Back to Business
A thrifty, money saving mindset is a good way to run a household because the household is a cost center in your life, it exists to support the family and isn't meant to turn a profit. Your business, on the other hand, is supposed to be a proft center in your life. You can't run a profit center by the same rules you run a cost center because profit doesn't happen as a result of saving money, it happens as a result of making money.
Saving money and making money are pretty much mutually exclusive. Trying to save money is the single best way to handicap your ability to make money. You can save money by spending less, but it's extremely unlikely that you'll increase the money you're earning while spending less. The mindset of saving money -- the trimming this and cutting that way of thinking -- is so much the opposite of the mindset required to build a thriving business that the two don't coexist well at all. When someone suggests that you should save a few bucks at the expense of your time, effort or quality standards, just look at that person's business and ask yourself if that's where you want yours to be. I know that's harsh and I'm sorry. Sometimes reality is harsh.
That Point Bears Repeating
If someone tries to tell you how to raise your kids, the first thing you do is look at their kids. If their kids are little monsters (or they don't have kids at all), that advice is instantly discounted. (Gary and I don't have kids and we're well aware that there is no point in our having opinions on anything to do with raising them because no one with kids will ever care what we think. *snort*)
The same standard should apply to business advice. People are quick to hand it out; they want to be helpful or seem knowlegable and your mistakes don't cost them anything. Before you take to heart anyone's business advice, take a good, hard look at the business that person is running. 'Nuff said.