How to Buy Beads at Bead Shows

There's no business like show business - however, bead shows can also be treacherous territory for first timers, compulsive shoppers, and anyone who isn't fit!

Types of bead shows
In the US, there are two kinds of bead shows: wholesale and retail. You'll need a resale license to get into the wholesale shows, where large bead vendors and importers exhibit. In the UK, they are usually combined, so anyone can buy wholesale. If your bead show is in the States, make sure you bring photo ID and at least one copy of your resale license.

Retail shows compose mostly of smaller exhibitors and are typically very varied. Selling loose and strand beads, one-of-a-kind ready-made jewelry, antique, and other specialty items like bead books, storage boxes, and accessories. Most shows will charge a small entrance fee, usually reduced or free for toddlers.

Before the show
Exercise the day before you visit a show and get plenty of sleep - you'll need lots of energy. Take a trolley bag so you don't get tired huffing heavy beads around all day. You'll also need a pen and paper for notes. Grab a map or list of exhibitors before you go in, and mark on it all you want to visit.

Some buyers like to bring some of their own beads to match colors and shapes. It's easy to imagine a design if you can get the colors right, and you may even get a few new ideas to use. However, it's almost impossible to totally match a particular bead, as there are literally millions of variations.

Show Location
You can find where the shows are by Googling your area: key "bead fair" or "bead shows" + your location over say 100-miles. However, be prepared to travel, as the best shows are likely to be miles away. Especially in Britain where there is a shortage of bead shows, although more are being organized every year. If you can't find a bead-only show, then go to a craft fair with bead exhibitors.

The Best Way to Buy at Bead Shows
When you enter the show you'll see rows and rows of bead vendors, all sitting next to one another in little booths or behind tables. Some of the larger exhibitors rent many stands - but don't miss out on the little sellers, they often feature handmade items you won't find elsewhere.

Navigating the show
You'll probably be overwhelmed at the variety of things to buy. So walk the entire show before you get anything, making notes of seller's name or number so you can revisit. Use a pen to circle those vendors on the map and later beeline to them first.

If you're with a friend, it's a good idea to walk the floor solo, so you don't waste time lingering at booths you're not interested with. You can meet up for a drink later, compare the bargains, and note items you may have missed. Keep moving to stay focused and get through the show faster. After seeing all the stalls, sit down and go through your list. Get some lunch and a drink.

Ask the vendors questions to help you make better decisions, curbing your natural tendency to buy on impulse. Lay strands of different beads in the palm of your hand to compare and harmonize colors.

Online discounts
Some sellers with online stores may offer discount codes to use on their website within a few days. These are always worthwhile, plus you can choose leisurely when you get home. Keep exhibitors business cards and leaflets together in one bag so they don't get lost - or if you buy, keep in the bag with the purchase.

Money at Bead Shows

Limit overspending
If you're a compulsive shopper, make a list of things you need in advance. This prevents getting home to find you've brought something you already have. Bring small notes, as many exhibitors can't take credit cards and lack change, plus you're less likely to get carried away. Set yourself a budget and stop spending when you run out.

For expensive must-have items, a check book is useful with a check guarantee card. Most sellers will accept this payment and it's harder to overspend than with plastic.

Credit cards
If you intend to buy a lot of beads at a fair, it's a good idea to call your credit card companies to let them know - especially if you're going to a show in another country. This saves the inconvenience of having payments declined. When there are charges on your card from many different cities and/or countries in a short amount of time it looks like fraud.

Foreign shows
If you're in another country, make sure you bring a calculator to convert prices to the currency you understand best. And remember the value of an easily converted amount of the foreign money, so you can roughly judge the cost in your head quickly. For example eight Hong Kong dollars are worth about US $1 - so if something costs HK $20, then you know it's a bit over US $2.

Keep all receipts in the same bag as the beads you buy, so you can tell what they cost when you get home. It's also a good idea to take a large felt-tip pen to write the price directly on the bag yourself - this is especially useful if you're in a country where you don't understand the writing.

Other Bead Show Tips

Flying home
If you're flying back and are worried about being overweight, bring a lot as hand luggage. Wholesale beads will be very heavy, but not bulky: carry-on bags don't get weighed at the airport! I sometimes carry 18 kgs (40lbs) on the plane in a pilot's bag with wheels. And remember, most airlines allow you to carry on the plane a lap-top case and a small carrier bag, as well as your usual hand-carriage.

US resale number
If you're buying wholesale in the US, get your resale number printed on business cards with all your contact information to leave with merchants, so you don't have to wait while they write everything down. To make sure you always have a copy of your resale license, shrink a copy down to a size that can fit in your wallet, and have it laminated.

Many shows offer beading workshops. These are a great way to learn techniques you might not encounter locally. They're also good to stock up on bead books, threads, boxes, and other bead accessories which are hard to find elsewhere.



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