…A Guide For The Aspiring Bead Artist
by Warren S. Feld

Excerpts From This Ever-Evolving Tale.....

I don’t mean to drag a poor Elephant by its tail, kicking and screaming, into our bead world against its wishes. Nor do I perceive the elephant to be a threat, like you might see an Elephant in the boudoir, or the fine china store. And I don’t want you to shut your eyes and pretend not to notice that this Elephant is here, standing shoulder to shoulder with every beader and jewelry maker around.

The Elephant is not a joke. And the fact that it is “Rogue” makes it more important than ever to figure out why it’s here, among size #10 English beading needles, and Czech size 11/0 seed beads, and Austrian crystal beads. It seems so worldly, yet other-worldly, our Elephant. It’s not our muse. It’s not our Cassandra. It has no secret plan or strategy. It does not depend on its size to make its point. It does not hesitate to stomp and chomp and clomp because the beads before it are raku or glass or gemstone or crystal or metal or plastic. But a Rogue Elephant in the middle of our craft room forces upon us a completely different logic, so that we can make sense of it all.|



Garage Sale to Downtown Store

We never thought to look up at the horizon, nor did we catch any shadows of rampaging Rogue Elephants. We focused on immediate tasks at hand. We needed to see if our ideas were attractive to other people – attractive enough that they would spend money on our ideas – our designs – our thoughts – our premonitions – our creative, vital selves. We had a garage sale.

James made up a few dozen pieces of jewelry, mostly necklaces and earrings. The two of us then went down to the Merchandise and Apparel Marts in Atlanta, and bought some finished jewelry (things that were beaded), as well as lots of beads, jewelry findings, and rhinestones. I already had accumulated a lot of other crafts-parts items, from clock parts to doll parts to jewelry display pieces, such as easels, bracelet bars, and earring display easels. We sold everything we used: all the beads and the like, the display supplies, jewelry gift boxes, zip lock polybags, plastic hobby boxes.

I only knew what half the stuff was, and only how to use about a quarter of the stuff. Didn’t matter. It all sold.

We made a killing that day. People bought EVERYTHING. I had never made so much money at a garage sale before.

But was it a fluke? Was it just some convergence of stars and moon and sun and planets? Could we do it again?

Before agreeing to take this business further, I insisted that we duplicate this garage sale, and see what happens. So two months later, we had made up a few dozen similar pieces of jewelry, drove back down to Atlanta, and bought the same beads, crafts-parts, display pieces, and finished jewelry. We put that classified ad back in The Tennessean. And eagerly, though anxiously, awaited the 5:00am alarm the next morning.

It wasn’t a fluke.

We made almost as much money the second time. People again bought EVERYTHING. We had the beginnings of a good formula.

We called our business Land of Odds – a name I had used for many years for my antiques refinishing endeavors.

So what next?

The Nashville Flea Market

The Nashville Flea Market is one of the granddaddies of flea markets in the United States, and one of the largest. It’s open Friday thru Sunday on the 4th weekend of each month at the Tennessee Fairgrounds near downtown. In October and November, it can attract over 100,000 visitors. It’s packed.

And this was our next step. Although, again, those rampaging Elephants were much too far away to even think about, let alone accessorize.

We did the flea market a little less than a year. There are both inside booths and outside booths. As newcomers, we were relegated to an outside booth. It was grueling. It took us three weeks to pack and repack our stuff, get it in the truck and van, to set up for that one weekend each month. We had a space heater for winter, and a fan for summer. We brought our tables, our chairs, our display counters and racks. We would get up early on Friday to drive to the flea market, wait in line behind a mile of cars all eagerly and frenetically inching up, ever so slowly, to the narrow entrance of the fairgrounds. We’d park as close as we could. Then it was out with the hand-trucks. Out with the tables and chairs and merchandise and displays. Walk and wheel, walk and wheel, walk and wheel, walk and wheel over to the open air building where we parked our behinds. Unpack and display, unpack and display, unpack and display. Get the heat or fan going.

Around noon, the bigger dealers showed up to buy. Then we closed up, went home, awoke again around 6am, returned to the fairgrounds, and dealt with the crowds. And then again one more time on Sunday.

By 6pm Sunday evening, we were dead to the world, but still had to pack up, take down, and take over to the truck and van. Every muscle in our bodies ached. Our eyes burned for days afterward, from all the dust. We hacked and coughed for days on end.

Next time you visit a flea market or craft show, have some compassion for how back-breaking it is for the vendors.

In any case, we did pretty well each month. James was very energized about the business, and he jumped at the next step in our evolution – the permanent indoor flea market.

A Permanent Indoor Flea Market

A French family - Father, Mother and two sons -- had moved to Nashville from St. Thomas, where they had run a hotel. Now they intended to take over a large discount store building formerly occupied by Zayres, and convert the inside to an indoor flea market, open each week from Wednesday through Sunday, morning and night. They set the booths up like little store fronts, with drop down curtains closing off or opening the “front walls” of each store, so they could be locked down at night.

We took a double space. We bought some floor display cases and racks from a used display store called Hanks. We built in some shelving. We made a sandwich board sign. And bought and made more merchandise. We were able to expand our selection of beads and findings, as well as add some gifts and more finished jewelry. We started doing jewelry repairs.

At first, the indoor flea market was not as lucrative as the outdoor one. But we didn’t have to pack, and re-pack, and cart and re-cart, and load and re-load. We eventually stopped doing the Nashville flea market, only because it was too much effort, and took a lot out of us. In about 5 months, the indoor flea market had started to surpass what we had done at the fairgrounds, so we made the right decision.

We were more easily able to build up a local clientele. This included both people looking for jewelry-making parts and beads, as well as people looking to have their beaded jewelry and other jewelry custom-designed or repaired. It was important to create this base, this following. We learned a lot. We learned which parts were more popular than others, and which ones were co-purchased at the same time. We learned what people wanted in the jewelry they wore. We learned what they didn’t like, or what didn’t hold up when worn. We used this information to expand our selections of parts, as well as finished pieces. We designed for the market.

We stayed about a year.

The District on 2nd Avenue

Downtown Nashville has an L-shaped historic district downtown made up of 3- to 6-story Victorian iron-front warehouses. The “L” is made up of 2nd Avenue which fronted the Cumberland River, and Broadway which had been the major commercial street downtown way back when, and runs perpendicular to the river.

Small mom-and-pop businesses had taken over various spaces in these warehouses. A lot were antique and junk stores. There were rock and crystal stores, gifts stores, jewelry stores, coffee houses, small and unique restaurants, some clothing stores, some alternative, goth and new age stores, a hot dog vendor, an ice-cream shop, night clubs, bars – actually just about everything. There were a lot of country music and souvenir shops. There were jazz, wine bars, and Irish pubs. The area was a “neighborhood”. It was downtown, yet small-scale. It was a focus of creativity and urban lifestyle. It drew its lifeblood from urban pioneers repopulating the downtown, college students – particularly from Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities -- and convention tourists attending events at the downtown convention center or the Opryland Hotel and Theme Park.

James had been scouting out the “real estate”, and decided that a 1000 square foot space at the top of the hill on 2nd Avenue was a good place for our business. [In our marketing materials, when we represent Land of Odds as a bricks-and-mortar business, the image you see is our original 2nd Avenue shop.] It was the early 1990s.

We negotiated a lease, paying $450 rent a month. We set out our signature Sandwich Board Sign on the bricked sidewalk that fronted the shop. In our first year, we made $125,000. James started getting commissioned by several country music stars to make jewelry for them. On the Country Music Awards shows on TV, we would see these folks wear his creations. We did more repair work. We began setting up a silver-smithing studio within the shop. It was great.

We took our profits, and opened a second store on 2nd Avenue – The District Central -- where we sublet small retail spaces, and created a second store among these called Rapunzels. Rapunzels gave us a larger, more central space, to display and sell all the jewelry we were making, as well as expand to other specialty and handcrafted jewelry lines.

There we put our second signature Sandwich Board out front. And, of course, you would always see our dogs with us at one or the other shop – Rosie and Dottie.

We were downtown eleven years.

During this time, I began to learn silversmithing and beading and other aspects of jewelry-making I learned how to make choices about which parts to use, which strategies to employ, and what kinds of things worked better than others. You might say I began to get a whiff of my Elephant, and play with ideas for positioning pieces on him.



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