Navigating a Strange New World

I have written before about my struggle learning how to effectively sell online. Through that struggle, I have learned much more than I thought I was capable of learning. I have been a little worried that since I’m in my fifties, and everything I’m working with right now is completely new to me, I might not have the foundation necessary to comprehend all of the nuances. However, I have surprised myself.

One of the biggest things I have learned is that the way people buy things online is changing quickly and dramatically. Apparently, I wasn’t even paying attention to my own shopping behavior. There are very few “destinations” left online. Everything is now being search engine driven, instead of website driven.

It used to be that if you wanted something specific, you looked for a website through a search engine. The goal was to get a customer to your website (or destination) and then that customer would look through all of your items and choose something, or move to another website. This is not happening as much anymore. Akin to the brick and mortar dilemma, online retailers are having to shift the way they market to be able to get to where the customers are. Search engines are now serving up all of the options without sending you to a website. Customers are seeing a myriad of offerings without even clicking a single link.

This has been the case on Google for a long time. I just was not cluing into it until recently. With the monstrous expansion of Amazon’s search engine and all of its’ entities, other platforms are changing the face of their search engines to reflect the way people shop on Google and Amazon. Etsy, the platform I have been with for nearly ten years, is following this trend.

My assessment, after some fairly extensive research, is that the “destination” format that has allowed Etsy sellers to feel ownership in their corner of the platform, (their Etsy shop) will continue to diminish in it’s importance. Etsy MUST bend to the way customers are shopping, because customers will not continue to use antiquated methods.

I must admit that the idea gave me a little heartburn for a while. It gave me the feeling that the “Handmade, small business, artisan crafted” element of Etsy was being abandoned in favor of the more profitable “mass production” “sell tons of stuff in a hurry” business model. But after giving it some thought, I believe it doesn’t have to. Etsy would be foolish to try to duplicate Amazon’s model. It would also be foolish to ignore the need to adapt to how customers shop online.

So what does this mean for me as an Etsy seller? I’ve got more work to do. I need to become proficient in getting what I sell in front of customers who want to buy what I sell. I have to learn more about search engine optimization. I can’t be complacent and think that once I’ve figured something out, I’m done. Things change constantly, so I have to keep on top of it. I already use tools to guide me. I need to stay close to those resources that keep me informed and up to date. I have to be willing to look at things in ten different ways instead of digging in my heels and protesting because the world keeps spinning around.

Why do I think Etsy will continue to embrace it’s Handmade roots? Because the humanity in us all seeks out other humans. I believe there is a growing number of people who are looking for things that are special, unique, and artistic. I was also encouraged today when I read a statement by the new CEO of Etsy Josh Silverman, in which he made the comment “You can’t automate creativity.” If that fact still resides in the most influential minds at the top of the company, Etsy will live long and prosper. And so will I.

Standing Up for Handmade

As a jewelry artist, I look at a lot of what is available to buy online, and I am a bit disappointed by the apparent effort by hand crafters to appear like the mass market. The idea of hand crafted, small business, uniqueness, “one of a kind” gets a lot of buzz lately, and yet sometimes it appears that people are confused about what that really means.

I was listening to a webinar broadcast recently, and the presenter stated that consumers aren’t interested in “one of a kind” items, or how much time was spent to create an item, and furthermore, would not pay for it. The message seemed to be that consumers want to buy whatever everybody else is buying, and they want to get it cheap.

Within the past year or so, Etsy has added an option to the listings categories available to Etsy shop sellers. It has changed the way many people look at “Hand crafted” offerings in the Etsy marketplace. The added category is “Production Partners”, and Etsy defines it this way: “A production partner is anyone who’s not a part of your Etsy shop who helps you physically produce your items.” “Out-sourced” would be a term often used to refer to the production of a product by someone other than your own production processes. So has this become an accepted interpretation of the process of “hand crafting” things for sale in a “hand crafted” marketplace?

There are many advantages to the consumer of buying from a small business selling hand crafted items. The greatest, I would say, is that nobody cares about the product more than the person who makes it and takes credit for it. In mass production processes, anonymity rules the day. You don’t know who did what in the manufacturing process, and many times, all you know is the country in which the product was made. The production line does not care about the end consumer. The production line doesn’t care about flaws and quality issues. An artist or a hand crafter does.

I am beginning to think this is the reason there is a nostalgic tone that seems to be coming to the forefront of American culture. As hand crafted items from bygone days are dug out of garages and old barns, an appreciation for how things were made is starting to develop. There seems to be thoughtful consideration of the hands that created them.

How fortunate am I to be in a Niche of the worldwide marketplace that marches to a different beat. The folks that appreciate the works of myself and many of my friends, see value in a completely different way than the webinar presenter did. They can feel the creator in each item and see the individual differences that are evident when an item is hand crafted. They like the fact that there aren’t thousands of identical items assembled by automation, or in a mindless way, without any intellectual or emotional investment.

Those customers are out there! I meet them every summer when I do arts festivals and live marketplaces. I know they are searching for you, the hand crafter, artisan, micro business person who CARES like no one else about them. Believe me, when an artist puts that much of themselves into a “product”, they CARE about what happens to it. They want it to go to someone who is thrilled to have it.

So I will ignore the advice givers telling me and my fellow artists and crafters that no one values “one of a kind” anymore. It’s up to us to keep working to prove them wrong.

The Truth About Photos

 

For years I have been reading, searching, asking advice givers, about the best thing to do to improve my online sales. The most common answer I have been given is “Post good photos”. However, the advice about a way to accomplish that is not consistent at all. The most consistent piece of advice is “pay a photographer to take professional photos.” For my small business, that was an extremely impractical solution.

There are a few facts about good, professional photos. They could get your products extra attention that might translate into sales. For example, the photos of the products that Etsy chooses to use in their promotional media tend to look very slickly produced, professional and media friendly (like a magazine photo). They use cleverly placed props, beautiful lighting, lovely models and dreamy photo effects. Those photos tend to capitalize on what is visually trendy and stylistically on point. If you have the money to invest in these types of photos, that’s the way to go.

Most of the handmade crafters I meet in my travels can’t afford photos like that. In the early stages of a business, especially if you’re trying to keep it simple and keep your overhead down, you need to know how to do your own photography at a cost that won’t put you out of business. I have pulled together a few simple things that have helped me improve my photos, even if they aren’t fancy.

Equipment:

The camera is the most important thing, of course. But it doesn’t have to be an expensive, fancy camera. I wouldn’t know what to do with a fancy camera if I had one. Unless you’re really into photography, all of the settings and features of fancy cameras are pretty useless. The camera needs to be able to take photos of at least 10 Megapixels. The most important features in a camera for someone like me are the basics like image stabilization and auto focus. You need to be able to take clean, clear, crisp photos, and with the help of a decent camera, anybody can do it.

Environment:

If you take photos of small items like I do, a pedestal table will be almost mandatory. You need to be able to take photos from all angles, and otherwise you’ll be taking a lot of pictures while in uncomfortable positions, which doesn’t make for very good quality photos. My husband made one for me out of two wood crates stacked on end on top of each other with a small wood finished table top. (Home Depot and other hardware type stores have bare wood table tops for relatively inexpensive and if you stain or paint it, it can serve as a background in some of your photos.)

Lighting:

Lighting is a big deal. The worst photos I’ve seen posted online are the ones where regular inside lighting was used and the flash was added. (I can say this because those used to be MY photos.) TURN OFF THE FLASH. There are simple things I started doing with lighting to improve the quality of my photos.

The thing you will see in all of the books about taking photos of your products, is that everything looks better in natural light and you should try to take photos outside as much as possible. Good advice, but I have not been able to make that work consistently because I live in Utah, and we have a lot of photo unfriendly weather. I also read a lot of info that told me to buy a “light box”. So I bought one, thinking if it helped me take better photos, it would be a good investment. I fumbled around with it for a while and decided I didn’t know enough about photography to make a light box work for me.

What I have found that works for me is inexpensive torch style lamps that usually run around $10 each at Walmart. I have four of them, but generally, I use two of them. The lamp shades need to be white, and the light bulbs need to put off white light. Yellow light does not take good pictures. The purpose is to create light that illuminates your product without casting shadows over it. I think of it as recreating a bright, but overcast day with light that floods diffusely rather than shines directly.

You can move the lamps around easily while you’re taking pictures to place the light in areas that make your products look the best. I also use pieces of white or black foam board (dollar store variety) to either reflect, or absorb light against my jewelry. You will want to experiment with the process of placing your lights and using foam board to direct the light.

Props and Scale:

Occasionally I use props in my photos, but that has to be done carefully so that you don’t distract from the item you’re taking the picture of. Usually I default to a basic background. One important thing I try to include in all of my listings is at least one photo of the item in my hand, or with my hand interacting in some way with the item. This is the least obtrusive way I have found to demonstrate the basic scale of the item. I have tried taking pictures with my jewelry next to a coin, or a ruler, but not only does that look a little out of place, but also isn’t a universal way to communicate scale. If you sell to customers outside of the US, using a dime to demonstrate scale might not mean anything to someone in Europe.

Why is it important to communicate scale? I used to think that if I included the measurements of my jewelry in the description, that should be good enough. But soon I noticed that the only complaints I heard coming back in my reviews were “I thought it would be bigger” or “I was expecting it to be smaller.” Even with a very detailed description of the measurements of the item, their mind’s eye could not conceive how big, or small, that pair of earrings was going to be. When I started paying attention to my own shopping behavior, I found that I was no different. If I did not have some visual way to see the scale of the item, my expectations were nowhere near reality. When I see a charm in someone’s hand, I find my expectation of what I’m going to get is a lot closer to what I end up with. Since I started using my hand as an illustration of scale, I have had no reviews with complaints about the size being different than what they expected. (Just make sure your fingernails are clean.)

Creating Dimension:

The other important thing about your photos in your listings is using as many different angles and ways of displaying the item as possible. I came to know how important this was just recently. One of the features of the search engine optimization tool I use, is a grading system that uses certain criteria to give each of my listings a grade from A to F. At first when this came out, I grumbled about being graded. But a minute later, I realized how valuable this was. It was a simple way of helping me improve the quality of my listings. One of the things that immediately brought my grades up was if I used all of the spots Etsy gave me to put a photo.

So I systematically started to make sure all of my listings had 5 good quality photos. With a goal of keeping close to 500 listings up at a time, this process is still ongoing. But at this point, after several months of working on this, the listings where I have improved the quality and maximized the number of photos, are the ones that are selling most often.

I have a theory. It may be obvious, but it never really hit home with me until I started working on this project. Since purchasing a product remotely is such an act of faith, people want to feel like they are minimizing their risk as much as possible. If there are several different views of the item you are considering paying money for, whether one view is drastically different from the next view is not important. Even a small shift in the point of view makes you feel more familiar with that item. It feels less like looking through a peephole at your prospective purchase. More photos make for a more three dimensional feeling about the item. Since you can’t pick it up and look at it, you’ve got to have some way to get the feel of that experience.

I am far from being an expert on taking photos of things for sale online. But these are simple things anyone can do as a jumping off point. They have had a direct impact on improving my online sales. I talk to people all the time who have no clue where to start, and since I was one of those people, this post is for them.

The Truth About Selling Online

For the past year I have been completely caught up in the process of learning, trying and applying new ideas to grow my little micro business. I have gained a lot during these endeavors, and the good news is that I have seen successes, and I have added to my bank of knowledge.

There are a few consistent thoughts that I have had during this process. There is a lot of new information out there, a lot of new ways to grow all kinds of businesses, and MANY people telling you that they have the “tried and true” methods that are “guaranteed” to bring you truck loads of success, and a multi-figure monthly paycheck. Being the skeptic that I always have been, I have done some research and analysis, albeit unscientific, and have come up with some conclusions that make sense to me.

First and most important, I have concluded that there is nothing that brings IMMEDIATE results. That seems to go without saying, but I have to say it because there are people touting programs, services and methods that will bring immediate and miraculous results. I have looked at a lot of these things and have been discouraged because when I compare the testimonials to my own statistics, of course, I fall short. But when I take a more objective look, I see an “apples to oranges” comparison, and I see the disclaimer that ought to be included, but isn’t; “RESULTS NOT TYPICAL”.

My current focus is online sales, an area where I feel like a complete alien. I did not grow up with a silver I-phone in my hand. When I was in grade school, we toured the telephone company and was taken through one of the “rooms” that housed the computer; a computer that probably did not have the capability of the smart phone I carry around in my pocket today. So technologically speaking, I’m coming a little late to the party, relative to most of my competitors. But in all of the stacks of information about that fabulous new-fangled tool, there are basic truths. These truths do not change, no matter how much the technology changes.

Truth number one: People need to be able to find what you’re selling. Sounds painfully obvious, but I did not realize how complicated it would be to get found in an online market. I initially thought “If you build it…they will come.” I thought that if I had items listed in a platform (such as Etsy), people would see my products, and buy them. And in a minor way, it did happen. Just not in very impressive numbers. Just being there was not enough. Then I heard that if you list a large number of items, adding a few every day, that would keep you visible in the Etsy universe, and people would buy. That helped…a little. That did increase my sales, and the more items I listed, the more sales I got.

And then the Etsy universe shifted. As the number of Etsy customers increased, so did the number of Etsy sellers, as did the number of mass produced product pushers masquerading as small time crafters and artistans. Competition for attention became outrageous. And to compound that, Etsy “refined” it’s search engine algorithm so that it became vital to use very specific search terms in your titles and listings in order to get found by anyone. I discovered that the reason my sales online did not match the volume I was able to make in person and in retail, was because I had become almost invisible online. My products were not being brought up in searches very often because of the way I was listing them.

This fact overwhelmed me. How was I going to learn everything I needed to about being found in a search, especially if the rules of that game were constantly changing? After months of struggling to figure things out, I ran across a statement that helped me. I read the words “If you want success, find someone who is successful, and do what they do.” I learned that the online sellers who were successful used tools.

So now I’m using tools. Search engine optimization (using the right terms to get found in a search) is something worth investing in. If you find the right tool, it will not only get you found in a search, but it will put you in front of customers who are ready to buy what you are selling.

The search optimization tool I use is specific to Etsy. It uses the Etsy database to guide you in choosing good search terms based on what Etsy customers are currently typing into the search engine to look for items. The tool I use is called “Marmalead”. (I am not getting paid to endorse this service, I just want to share the love.) They have a free version that gives you a very basic tool that is extremely valuable as a stand alone service. But the paid service gives you so much data to use that it takes time to digest all of the information and to learn to use it to your advantage. But that’s the exciting part. As you learn and apply the information, you can see tangible results.

Just to illustrate, my December sales in 2016 were almost triple what they were in 2015, and the only thing I changed was the way I was listing my products. I did that by using the tools they offer in Marmalead. The interesting thing about those statistics is that in December of 2016, I had FEWER views than in December of 2015, but sales tripled. That is because my listings in 2016 were being brought up in front of people who were READY TO BUY, and not just browsing.

Good services like Marmalead also offer other things that assist you in improving your results. They keep on top of the changes that come along, and they pass that information on to you. They offer prompt and accurate customer support, for things that may or may not have to do with the technical functioning of the tool. A good service will assist you in learning how to use the tools you are paying them for. If you invest your money in services and tools, make sure there is substance behind the service, and you will get a return on that investment.

Stay tuned for TRUTH NUMBER TWO. I’ll give you a one-word hint: Photos.

A “Brand” Beyond

One of the things I have been reading a lot about, especially lately, is branding. Businesses need to build their “brand”. If you want to get your message out to the masses, you need to establish a following that feels loyal to your “brand”, and shares that feeling of loyalty with friends, family and associates. That’s how McDonald’s, Walmart, and Starbuck’s got where they are today.

I have also been learning about creating a “buzz” around your brand. “Launching” product lines, cultivating an “image”. I do understand all of that. I see it in action every day, from the Tide I grab off the grocery store shelf, to the bank where I allow my money to rest briefly before moving on to the power company, the gas company, and everywhere else my money has committed to go. Branding makes the world go round.

The current advice out there being given by many advice givers regarding selling your handmade items is about branding, creating a buzz, launching product lines, and projecting an image to the world. I am not an expert on anything, but I do pay attention to my gut, and to the reactions of people around me. Again, I find myself resisting the advice givers advice.

After reading pages and pages of this type of information, I found myself venting my frustration about it to my husband. “I’m not a brand! I’m not Proctor and Gamble. I’m a one-person small business. I’m not planning on taking over the world, I just want to earn a living doing what I love to do.”

I began to ponder the reasons I was so put off by the concept of handmade crafters branding. I think it comes down to authenticity. The idea of creating an “image” has always bothered me. I think one of the reasons micro businesses are appreciated by more and more people is that there isn’t that carefully crafted “image”. They are not like the big box stores. They are not “The Great and Powerful Oz” behind the curtain. They are usually just a person, doing what they love to do.

Authenticity shines through everything you do when you are creating something from within yourself. I admire the truly artistic creators whose personality and imagination combine with skills developed through many hours of dedicated effort. This combination of factors defy branding. I so revere true artistic value, where each individual item is so distinctly different that you could never “replace” the artist by hiring individuals to mass produce copies. This is where the core of authenticity lies. The warmth of the creator; the soul, the mind, the hands. Without the creator, there is no “product”.

That is the place on the planet I would like to occupy. I want to create meaningful things that impart a certain feeling to the buyer. Whether that feeling is nostalgia for a forgotten era, a memory, a connection to someone significant in their life, or a feeling of peace. There is no brand for that. And that’s just how I like it.

Confessions of the Multi-tasking Impaired

Fall is my favorite time of year. It is also my least favorite. How can it be both? This is the time of year when I’m still doing live outdoor events, I’m gearing up for upcoming indoor holiday events, and my retail locations are ramping up sales. My Etsy shop also calls for my attention, telling me it’s time to post my newest designs to take advantage of the increasing online traffic. The intersection of all four entities of my business creates an endorphin rush that I’ve heard runners speak of. In a way, it is like running…without the shin splints.

But fall is also my least favorite time of year because of that intersection of entities. I’m not good at multi tasking. It creates a little anxiety, and a frenetic lack of focus that sometimes paralyzes me. The voices that draw me from all sides confuse me. What is my biggest priority? How do I choose what project to do next? I sometimes wander between my “Beadatorium” (the “studio” room of my house where I put everything together) and my home office (where I do all of my Etsy work) trying to decide how to proceed.

Structuring my time is very important. Not only does it make my time more productive, but that’s how I win the multi tasking tug-o-war. One of the things I do to focus my time is I designate a day of the week for specific projects. As I plan, I designate Monday (for example) as earrings day, and I organize all of the materials needed to make a wide variety of earrings. I set everything up in the order that they come in the assembly process (like an assembly line). I make earrings the entire day, taking several breaks to walk around and stretch, load the dishwasher or throw a load of laundry in, just any task that will give my eyes, neck and brain a break. I try not to do the same thing two days in a row, to prevent the feeling of tedium. For example, after spending a day making earrings, the next day I will take pictures of jewelry and edit them for posting on Etsy. That helps prevent burn out. It’s easier to point myself in a direction if I designate a day for each project, instead of doing a little bit of this, and then a little bit of that throughout the same day.

In all of the books, articles, blogs, and “start your own business from home” advice giving sources, I find a few common truths. One of them is the fact that when you work for yourself, by yourself, from your home, focus and structure are the biggest challenges. To be successful at overcoming those challenges, you have to approach things as if you are going outside your home to do your work. Keeping regular working hours, dedicating the spaces in your house that you do your work to just your work, limiting outside distractions.

My father was an accountant and he had his own business and worked out of our home. He had a dedicated office (for himself, and one for my mother who worked along side of him as she was needed.) He had a separate office entrance where his clients came and went. He got up every day and dressed in a shirt and tie. He had regular business hours (long ones – especially at tax time). And we all knew Dad was not available during work hours (unless OK’d by Mom. I do remember standing in the corner of Dad’s office, with two of my brothers in two of the other corners, being punished for bad behavior.) Dad’s business was such that structure and focus were absolutely mandatory.

In a creative business, there is a little more elbow room, and that’s what most of us creatives love about self employment. I don’t have to wear a uniform, or the uniform of middle management, and theoretically, I can wear PJ’s all day if I so desire. I joke that in my company, the dress code requires PJ’s and flip flops. Personalities who choose this kind of endeavor tend to resist being told what to do, what to wear, and how to behave. So following a structured format isn’t always a good fit. But creating a loose structure with a few simple tools can help with those common difficulties that sometimes handicap home-based businesses.

One of the tools I try to utilize is the white board. I have white boards everywhere (almost). I started using a white board years ago when my kids were young, as a way to coordinate everyone’s needs. I have had a shopping white board on the fridge for years, where my family and I can add things I need to pick up on my next trip to the store. As I started my business, I added white boards for different purposes. I use one to keep a running list of events I need to apply to and their deadlines. I keep lists of supplies I need to keep an eye out for, or add to my order the next time I place one with a supplier. Magnetic white boards are best for me because I can tack up a coupon with a magnet to remind myself to use any discounts available when I shop or order.

Calendars have also been a staple of my organizational arsenal. I am a throw-back to cave man days, I know, but I still rely on hand written calendars for most of the time-sensitive issues in my life. While everyone else seems to be thumb-typing dates into their phones, I have to have a tangible record of the things I plot on a calendar. I have to visually survey my life events a month at a time (at least), and I have to have it hanging in front of me almost constantly in order for me to commit some of these things to memory. To me, a calendar on my phone means “out of sight – out of mind.” I might as well put all of those dates in a bottle and throw them out to sea. For me, the old standard, hand written calendar is a “must have”.

As with white boards, calendars are everywhere in my life, and they all have different purposes. I use calendars as financial ledgers. I have planners dating back to my first day officially in business with records of expenditures that coordinate with the receipts I keep filed by month (and archived by year). If I need to see a receipt again, I can look it up in these planners and find the expense written on the day I made it, which I can then look up in files by year and month. I record my sales the same way. I use this information to create spread sheets which total up each expense category and sales from each sales venue, from which I get the information to keep profit and loss statements, and do my taxes.

I have looked at many accounting systems that are out there. Most small business software programs don’t consider that some small businesses are so small that they have no payroll, no accounts payable and receivables, no need for complex inventory accounting. That is why I call my business a “micro-business”. My accounting needs are simple. So I use simple processes that may seem archaic to some, but they work for me.

The challenges that come with self employment create their own rewards. There is such satisfaction in knowing you can employ yourself and make it pay. The process of designing your own methods, having the discipline and motivation to ensure productivity and profitability, is rewarding beyond description. And when you start to feel those rewards come, you can tell yourself you’re the best boss you ever had.

Where Does it all Come From?

One of the questions I get asked the most frequently is “where do you get your beads… (or wire, or materials in general.) I can’t usually be very specific because I am constantly on the lookout for materials of every kind, and I purchase things wherever I find them. So I literally get materials from all over the world. But there are a few Go-To sources that I keep going back to because they consistently have what I need. I am happy to share.

My favorite suppliers of great stuff:

Nilecorp.com

This is where I have found jewelry displays, gift boxes, bags, and a myriad of other items. They even have tools and jewelry findings. The shopping cart accepts credit/debit cards, Paypal, or even a check or money order. I haven’t used that method, however. Shipping is reasonable and relatively prompt. I have never had a problem with any of my orders, and I have ordered from them for almost 10 years.

Parawire.com

This is where I order my wire. They make most kinds of wire, but I order my copper wire from them. This is a manufacturing company, so many times when you buy wire from a craft store or other supplier, you are buying the same wire, but at a higher price. They accept all payment methods, including Paypal. Shipping is consistently reliable. I always try to order as much wire as I think I’m going to need for several months, because wire is heavy, and you save on shipping if you put more in one order.

StoreSupplyWarehouse.com

I order a lot of display items, packaging materials, jewelry gift boxes, price tags, earring hang tags, pendant cards, pegboard hardware, slatwall hardware, and they have grundles of retail fixtures I have never been in the market for, but someone else might. Shipping is a little more pricey than some, but it is usually super fast, and I’m talking next day. They apparently use dedicated couriers to speed up the shipping, which costs a little more than the usual shipping channels, but not by much. I read that they have started offering value shipping, which is probably closer in cost to the standard rates.

GemsonDisplay.com

This outlet has many similar items to Store Supply Warehouse, with a few differences. I go between the two websites to find specific kinds of display items or packaging materials. They customize many of their items with your logo, if you order that as an add-on. They have shopping bags, product bags, etc. all customizable.

FireMountainGems.com

Using this supplier is like writing a letter to Santa, and the day you get your order delivered is like Christmas Day! They have all of the jewelry supplies you could ever dream of, and the more you order, the more you save. They have what is called “assortable pricing”, which means to get to the next level of savings, they add each individual unit as a separate item. Most suppliers that offer discounts based on volume require that you buy a certain number of the same item in order to get the discount. Fire Mountain counts all of your items individually, making it easy to get the discounts. It’s very smart marketing because I spend more with them than anywhere else that I buy materials, just due to the discount levels offered. They also have very prompt shipping, they have a satisfaction guarantee, and their customer service is very friendly and responsive. I love this supplier.

Riogrande.com

This is a great site for tools and equipment. I buy tools here that I have not been able to find anywhere else. They also have jewelry making materials, metals, displays and packaging materials, clays, enamels and resins, workshop furniture, work benches, lighting, rock tumblers, welders, and an infinite number of other things. It’s worth an hour of your time just to look through their site to see what they have.

Etsy.com

Etsy doesn’t just have great artisans and crafters, but it has a lot of great suppliers of materials used to create all of those wonderful things. I use Etsy sellers to buy charms, beads, and many other types of materials. I also buy vinyl wall art for my retail displays. Not only is it a one stop shop for items I might ordinarily have to search several different websites to find, but supporting other Etsy sellers is a “feel-good” thing.
I hope this answers the question. If not, drop me a line and I can give you more info on where else I’ve found great stuff.