Getting the Most Out of Your Local Bead Shop
[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a 2-part series about how to get the most out of your local bead shop and online sources. For part 1, see "Beading Supplies: Shopping, Finding, Sourcing, and Acquiring Those Hard to Find Beads.”]
It’s so convenient to shop online. No need to get dressed or even roll out of bed if your phone is in reach. But there are still some terrific reasons to visit your local bead shop or a bead shop in another city while on vacation. Need to make a last-minute gift? Bead shops are a procrastinator’s best friend. Want to try a new type of bead, but hesitate about buying a huge amount? Bead shops often offer small quantities (even single beads) so you can try them out before overcommitting. Broke your favorite necklace? Some bead shops offer jewelry repair services or may offer you advice if you want a do-it-yourself solution.
Here’s how I get the most out of any bead shop visit.
Bring a shopping list.
Even the smallest bead shop can provide an overwhelming amount of sparkling distraction. A written list ensures that I return home with the item that I needed, not just the unexpected extras. (It’s embarrassing how often that happens!)
Take a tour.
Any time I visit a new bead shop, I walk around and get a sense of the layout before I start shopping. Most bead shops are arranged with similar items together, so you might find one section for tools, one for findings, and another for all types of stringing materials. Seed beads might be displayed in little clear plastic bags or tubes; hanks of gemstones, glass beads, or Charlottes are often hung on the wall by color or type. Single beads might be displayed on tables in bowls or muffin tins. More expensive items (think handmade artist beads or finished jewelry) might be in a locked glass display case.
Be sure to ask if you can’t find what you’re looking for. Bead shop staff can offer substitution suggestions if what you need isn’t available. Some will even special order the exact items you need.
Get expert advice.
Most people who work in bead shops do some kind of beading or jewelry making. They can steer you toward materials they’ve used successfully themselves and answer any questions right away. (If you’ve ever had to wait a weekend or longer for an online response, you know how amazing a prompt answer feels.) When I first started bead weaving, I went to my local bead shop for beading thread. I was so grateful to the clerk who answered all my questions about thread colors, knotting ease, fraying, and thickness so I could choose one that would work for my project.
When you need to match colors exactly, such as when making a necklace that matches a special dress, it’s much easier to do it in person. It’s not just that every computer monitor renders the bead colors a little bit differently. It’s also the problem of special bead finishes such as AB, which can change the look of a bead dramatically.
Get inspired by finished jewelry.
Shops often display works for sale by local designers or examples of class projects. Photos can be inspiring, too. (One look at my Pinterest boards will confirm that.) But you can only tell the true size, weight, or fit of a bracelet or necklace in person.
Preview what’s new.
Some local bead shops do an excellent job of sharing new bead trends with shoppers. For 20 years, my own local bead shop (Bead Cache in Fort Collins, Colorado) has held an annual trunk show after the big bead and jewelry shows in Tucson, Arizona. It’s fun to be the first to see and buy new beads.
Sign up for the newsletter or follow them on social media.
Many bead shops send regular email newsletters on a weekly or monthly basis. These typically list classes, special events such as giveaways or design challenges, new beads, and special sales or discounts. While you can usually find this information on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, it’s typically doled out in smaller bits. In my experience, websites may not always include up-to-date info on the latest events and classes, but are reliable for directions and shop hours.
Shop the sales.
Not only do many bead shops offer regular sales, but they may also offer other discounts. I’ve found that many shops volunteer information about discounts for large purchases or seasonal sales, but it doesn’t hurt to politely inquire about them before you check out. Punch cards (cards that get marked for each purchase and can be redeemed for a discount) are a popular reward for regular customers.
Learn new techniques.
Bead shops offer classes on all sorts of techniques from stringing and wirework basics to advanced bead weaving or metalworking. Classes may be taught by experienced staff or by special guest instructors who are nationally known with years or even decades of experience. Some bead shops offer one-on-one private classes that can be customized to your interests. I’ve taken a variety of classes at my local bead shop over the years, including ones on Viking knit and riveting.
Find unique beads.
When I travel, I often end up visiting a bead shop even if I don’t plan it in advance. (It’s weird how my rental cars just seem to drive in that direction.) I always find beads I’ve never seen elsewhere. Sometimes these are artist-made pendants or art beads, a good reminder that even today not every artist sells his or her work online. Early in my beading life I used to buy tiny containers full of unique seed bead mixes at my local bead shop. These typically combined several new-to-me colors and shapes.
Enjoy the community.
One of the best parts of local bead shops is meeting other creative folks. In addition to formal classes, many shops offer blocks of time and space for informal gathering where you can bring in your projects to work on and chat with others. Bead groups and guilds sometimes host meetings with speakers at bead shops. Some shops offer parties for kids and adults. Think of how much fun it could be to host a jewelry making party for bridesmaids or a mom-to-be.
Yes, buying beads online at home can be fun, but take off your bunny slippers every once in awhile and put on some real shoes. A whole new world awaits at your local bead shop!