Sunday 12 June 2016

Doing Jewellery Repairs on the Spot: Is It Worth Doing?

I'm forever reading in online forums people questioning how to sell more jewellery. Well, guess what? You know where the money really can be? Providing a service: i.e. in doing repairs. You already have the skills, right? Not to mention the tools and materials. In my experience, this can often lead to new and/or (my preference) custom jewellery sales, rather than vice versa.

This isn't necessarily intended as advice for a one-off one-day or weekend show, but rather if you do a regular weekly farmers market (like I do) or sell through a local venue (meaning you live close by). No point in having to drive 20 or 30 minutes to pick up a repair, drive home, do the repair, drive back with it and then home again. At a market or show, people come to you.

Having said all that, because even one, two and three-day shows have their slow times, you'll probably find me working away on something or other between customers. Bead vendors at the big shows are now sending customers to my booth to have their new string of beads made up into a necklace while they wait.

Typical setup behind my show tables. Once the show starts, that little table will be cleared off and my chair set where the Winners bag is. The stacked bins on either side add more space for supplies.

Print out a small tent card sign for your table or print up some small business cards to hand out:

Your Name
Phone number or email address
I do small repairs (often while you wait): 
restringing, restyling, resizing. 

If someone is new to my table or booth, as part of a general conversation I'll tell them I can do small, simple repairs while they wait. I am very clear about what I do NOT do (for example, soldering or silversmithing type repairs, resizing rings or replacing gemstones in prong settings) but specify what I can do.

Many years ago I got into the habit of always bringing my tools, wire and materials with me. I mean, just ask yourself: as a customer wandering around a craft fair or market, would you really want to investigate a booth or stop to buy while a vendor is busy concentrating on their phone or a newspaper instead of you? Me, I just walk on by. But I am always intrigued when I see someone working on something, whatever their craft.

What kinds of things do I offer my customers? 

1. Everyone loses or breaks one earring, and it's inevitably their favourite go-to pair. Suggest turning the remaining earring into a necklace pendant in a way that it remains intact (because just maybe that missing earring will eventually show up) and make a similar coordinating pair of earrings.

2. Change out cheap or broken earwires for better quality/sterling.

3. Shorten the too-dangly/long-for-that-particular-customer's earrings. Sometimes this can be done by simply substituting a pair of leverback earwires for fishhooks. That 1/4 inch saved can make all the difference.

4. Lots of people today are inheriting a favourite necklace from a relative or finding something yummy at a yard sale, but no way will it ever fit them. Offer to restyle the piece. I take double or triple-strand 1950s style necklaces and turn them into one longer necklace, or turn it into a set: a single longer necklace, bracelet and pair of earrings.

5. If my customer is older I offer to use a larger clasp and jump ring, and show her a selection.

6. Team up with related businesses. At the farmers market and antique shows, I sell next to a pal who sells vintage jewellery. I restring her vintage bracelets where the elastic is old and rotten. Lianne also sends me her customers to do all kinds of repairs. I often swap my work for good quality chains and bits and bobs that Lianne has.

You'll laugh at this, but one time I gave one of the produce vendors some half hard copper wire so he could reattach the muffler on his rusty old farm truck.

7. General restringing using either stringing wire, elastic or leather. People will often buy an inexpensive necklace or choker on a beach somewhere exotic, the string has gotten pretty gungy, but they don't want to toss the necklace because of all the memories. That's a super-easy fix -- especially for men. They're surprisingly sentimental about chokers like that, but have zero idea where to get it fixed -- or that it CAN be fixed.

8. Carve a little space out of your table while you're doing other events, even garage/lawn sales. At the antique shows I do these days I bring small wire-weaving projects to work on while I'm sitting there as it often gets pretty slow in the afternoons. I show people who stop by what I'm doing and have cards ready to hand out.

What's in my toolbox and supplies bin? 

These are the things you'll already have in your home studio. Mine live in boxes, bins and divided trays that perfectly fit into those Winners Tyvek shopping bags that I can grab and go. Okay, yeah, I know... I always bring waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much with me.

1. Basic tools: round nose, flat nose, bent nose, wire cutters, crimping pliers, hammer, anvil, bead mat, ruler, diamond files, bead reamer, tiny hand drill w different bits, scissors, pens, notebook.

2. Basic stringing materials: a couple of diameters of stringing wire (don't forget the crimps and crimp covers) and Stretch Magic, memory wire, fishing line, 1.5mm and 2.0mm black Greek leather, 1.5mm and 2.0mm black waxed cotton/synthetic cord/rattail.

3. A (very disorganised) selection of jump rings and clasps in various sizes and finishes (silver-plate, sterling, copper, vintage copper, brass, vintage brass, gunmetal). Don't forget there are plenty of guys out there who need repairs done, so invest in a few sizes and finishes of masculine-style clasps (swivel-style works well for this).

4. Wire in various diameters and materials: tinned copper is my go-to for most things base metal silver-coloured; bare copper wire; sterling wire. I almost always make my own head pins and eye pins when I do repairs, mostly because I might have to match the gauge of other wire in the piece.

5. Assortment of beads and metal spacers: tricky, as this can really explode on you. People laugh at how much crap I bring with me every week to the market.

NOTE: Even if it's just a quick repair they'll be waiting for or coming back for after they've done their shopping, always, always, always write down your customer's name, phone/email, and make detailed notes about what needs doing. Don't forget to settle on a price BEFORE starting the work, and write that down as well. Give them your card, too. I found out the hard way to get people's phone numbers especially if they're going to go shopping while their stuff is repaired as a lot of times they zone out and forget, and drive home without coming back to my table.

Sample Prices:

My pricing method has developed over the years and can only be a guide as it's so dependent on the demographics and relative economic health of your catchment area and the types of shows or markets you do and stores you're in. I have a friend who charges more than double what I do for repairs -- and gets her price. But she lives in a large urban area with a much wealthier clientele that I can only dream of.

As anyone gains experience, the making part gets easier and faster. This is what I've come up with as a component part of pricing my original jewellery, and now repairing jewellery (because, obviously, repairing takes virtually no design time, and any replacement beads are either charged for or absorbed into the cost):

$15 Single strand average length necklace, stringing/re-stringing, includes stringing wire, crimps, crimp covers, basic plated lobster clasp and jump rings.
$18+ Longer single strand necklace (see above)
$5-$7 Single bracelet (see above)
$2+ Individually priced larger plated base metal clasp, sterling clasp
$5 Single Stretch Magic restringing
$8 Double Stretch Magic restringing
$3.50 Short to regular length adjustable choker/necklace using black Greek leather
$4.00+ Longer length adjustable necklace using black Greek leather
$2.50+ Sterling fishhooks (pr) -- choice of several different styles and weights.
$6.50+ Sterling leverbacks (pr) -- choice of several different styles and weights

Is it worth doing?

Oh, yes. Definitely. Depending on the repair jobs, as some are maybe a little more finicky than others, I probably make $45 to $60 per hour. It's cash in hand and, really, it's mostly time. It's not tied up in expensive beads sitting a table waiting months for someone to come along and buy.

The other interesting thing is people see this as a service. Which means you can get tips, and a lot of people tip very, very well.


If you have any doubts at all about the integrity of the piece (is the metal cracked or weak?) or your ability to do a particular repair, DON'T DO IT! I've told plenty of people that their piece can't be repaired, particularly because of the metal. We might discuss the feasibility of maybe incorporating it into a different piece, some type of assemblage type of thing, and they may go for that or not. Sometimes I've been able to drill a hole and do some wiring to get various bits put back together, but again, anything structural like that must be cleared with the customer beforehand.

The Gem Expo, July 15th to 17th, 2016

If you're in the Toronto area this summer and have repairs that need doing, or just want to buy some incredibly cool beads, pendants and fetishes, jewellery and crystals from me and, I dunno, about 25 other great bead, jewellery vendors, we will be at The Gem Expo in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency on King West, July 15th to 17th. Sign up on the Gem Expo website and get $2 off admission.

Register for a class and get free admission to the show all three days. I'll be teaching a class Saturday morning, too -- Totally Addicting Stretch Stacker/Mala Bracelets.

Really hope to see you in Toronto!

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