5 Tips for Buying Beads at a Bead Show

I scooped up these hanks of cut seed beads at a gem show in upstate New York

 I can still remember the very first time I went to Bead Fest Philadelphia. I had just opened a bead shop with two business partners. I was a month away from getting married. And I had never, ever been to a bead show before.

To say that I was overwhelmed when I walked onto the floor of Bead Fest Philadelphia was an understatement. There were beads EVERYWHERE! It was like a dream come true and a nightmare all at once – I didn't know where to look first, and I didn't want to miss a thing. It was a wonderful and exhausting weekend where I got to try a new kind of lampworking torch (I was heavy into glass at the time), picked up a beautiful carved frog Tagua nut bead, took two amazing classes and basked in the energy of all the wonderful bead people surrounding me.

A couple of years later, I found myself at another bead show, this time the Syracuse Gem and Mineral show in upstate New York. The show floor was a little smaller, but I still felt the same sense of being overwhelmed when my friend and I walked in the door. Beads, gemstones, and finished jewelry were everywhere! Luckily, I had come prepared for this bead show. I had packed a few useful things in a comfortable tote bag: a copy of my tax ID form (for buying wholesale, if wholesale discounts are offered), a small pocket ruler and magnifying glass, and a bottle of water to keep hydrated. (Shopping is serious business!) You also might want to bring a small notebook and a pen and something to organize any business cards you'll pick up from vendors.

If you're getting ready to head to Bead Fest Philadelphia next week, you probably want to make sure that you're prepared for the shopping frenzy that is Bead Fest! Here are a few of my favorite tips for buying beads at a bead show:

1. Wear comfortable shoes. I know it sounds silly, but if you're going to be walking the show floor for hours and hours, you want to make sure your feet are comfortable! A good pair of comfortable walking shoes will make your shopping experience a lot more enjoyable. No tired, aching feet at the end of the day means that you have more energy to play with your new purchases and to bead.

2. Do a walk-through. It's very tempting to just blow your entire budget at the first booth you see. But what I prefer to do is to take a little walk through the entire show first, making notes of the items that I'm interested in and any specials that vendors might be having. Of course, I'll sometimes see a unique one-of-a-kind bead that I just have to grab that minute before someone else gets it, and that's okay. Just make sure that you get a good idea of what's out there before you start shopping.

3. Leave your credit card at home. Because I don't want my family to have to eat boxed mac and cheese for weeks to support my bead-buying habit, I make it a rule to leave my credit card at home when I go to a bead show. It's just way too easy to spend money that I don't have when I have that little piece of plastic, so I make sure that the money I have in my checking account (with a debit card) is all I can spend at the show. (Trust me – my husband loves me for this one!)

I discovered these gorgeous handmade ceramic components by Odd Designs at Bead Fest Philadelphia

4. Take time to chat. One of the things I love the most about the experience of buying handmade beads and components at a bead show is that I get to talk directly with the artist who makes them! I'll always take a few minutes to chat with the artist about their work, where they live and how they got started in their art as I'm buying from them. It gives my beads (and my finished beadwork) a whole new dimension when I'm inspired by someone else's art!

5. Don't buy something just because it's cheap. In my experience, I've found that cheap beads are really just that – cheap. Personally, I'd rather save my money for a higher quality bead that will give me a better finished product than to have lots of low-quality beads that don't look as nice. On the other hand, stay alert for any specials that vendors might have when buying in quantity. One year, a vendor of pressed glass beads was offering a fifty percent discount on any purchase more than three hundred dollars. A few friends and I got together on that one and we walked out with some fabulous Czech pressed glass beads at a fantastic discount!

Want to make even more room for those gorgeous beads you bring home from Bead Fest? Now you can get an entire year of Beadwork magazine on CD! Each magazine on the CD is fully searchable and contains all of the ads and content in the original publication so you'll be able to find everything you need right on your laptop or desktop computer. Check out Beadwork magazine on CD today and start making room for more beads!

What was your favorite bead show purchase? Share your experience here on the blog!

Bead Happy,


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