Glass Meets World - Study 2

Glass Meets World – Study 2

with Catherine Dunstan

From a hobby to a small business, how some of our customers took their love of glass and turned it into a trade.

By developing and nurturing a craft, an individual becomes valuable and can make a decision about whether they want to market their talents. For as long as people have developed an expertise they have sold and traded their services with others, in a game which requires a lot of skill in today’s world. The creative industry like many others has not escaped becoming saturated with some under-qualified makers claiming to be restorers and many hobbyists chasing dreams of selling their work. So how can you get ahead? Who are your potential buyers and how do you show them you’re the real deal? Simply being great at something is not enough to sell it anymore. I spoke to some of our customers who have built careers from hobbies in stained glass and fusing, about why they decided to take the plunge and to gain some insight into how they’ve made it work.

Shepton Mallet based John Yeo, started his stained glass company in the early 1990s following years spent travelling and teaching. He doesn’t advertise conventionally, and relies on happy clients returning or referring him to others, and as his good reputation builds, so does his client base,

“I set myself very high standards. Do the very best you can at all times. Having said that, be prepared to make mistakes and importantly – learn from them. ‘The person who never made a mistake never made anything’ as the adage goes. You live by reputation which takes years to evolve. I am always keen to learn and consciously never ‘rest on my laurels’. I guess I am something of a perfectionist and a driven one at that. I’m never entirely satisfied with what I do. I always feel I could have done better. One of my mantras has always been to say “yes” to commissions, even if I actually don’t have the skills or knowledge to undertake the work. If I don’t do it, someone else will and if I say “no, I can’t do that” how will I ever learn?

“You don’t grow and progress staying in the comfort zone. That’s what being self-taught is all about and what makes it all so exciting. There’s always so much to learn. At the end of the day you also have to put the commitment and hours in – and be focused. There’s no substitute for hard work. Ultimately, I just love what I do. I’m lucky enough to have the best job in the world.”

John has completed and installed commissions for the Catholic Diocese of Clifton, Downside Abbey, the Royal Navy and the United States Air Force, and has a passion for history for informs his work,

“I get genuinely excited working with ancient buildings and have an insatiable appetite for learning about the past from what remains today. When I am doing restoration, it’s always fascinating learning to copy techniques, be they brush strokes, matting, a particular type of cross-hatching, an unusual glass or type of leading, for example.

Having come from a home background and schooling that was Christian based, is also so useful regarding biblical knowledge when it comes to church work. I also learnt (and loved) Latin, at school, which is useful in lots of ways, especially when it comes to script.”

John’s business thrives on recommendations from clients, and it is of key importance to a small business to display itself to its target market. When an artist is recommended to you by a friend or colleague it can be very effective, as these aren’t just adverts but opinions from people you know and respect. Social media has to be a modern day twist on the ‘word-of-mouth’ method of sharing information, offering opportunities to share on a much bigger scale. It can be an incredibly useful tool in communicating with potential buyers if used well.

Justine Hadfield has more than 6000 Facebook followers on her business page, Justine Hadfield Glass, and she frequently shares images of her copper foiled creations that sell instantly when put up for sale. Mainly self-taught, Justine has been producing glass work for five years, and it became her main job in February,

“My Facebook page is my shop window. I was lucky that early on I made friends with some fab pages that were really successful, and those page owners have become real friends, and we get together even though we are scattered all over the country. They shared my work, which then had a ripple effect. I try and share fellow artists work, as well as my own, but I only share work that I really like myself, which keeps my page part of me.

“It’s an essential tool. I try to be as genuine as possible, not everyone wants to hear when you are having a bad day, but in the same breath people like to think they 'know' you and interact with you, if you are false, people will see that.”

For the moment, Justine is the only maker in her workshop,

“I’m not sure where this little business will go in the future. I don't know how big it can get with just one person, me, making, and I've not enough space for anyone else in the workshop! If I continue to make pieces people want to buy, and keep enjoying what I do, then for the time being that’s as far as I want to go.

I imagine this is a decision that many successful hobbyists encounter, expand or not? Will you change the face of your company by bringing in more makers? Or are you growing inspiration by pooling skills and resources with other makers to further a business? Of course, there are other ways to build rather than simply producing more work to sell. If you are able to teach and have the facilities you can run workshops, or you could look at branching out into a commercial property rather than working from a home studio, like most beginner makers.

Gill Silversides’ fused glass business has been going from strength to strength since she discovered glass and bought her first kiln a few years ago,

“After spending 10 years as a Marketing Director then 10 years teaching small business and enterprise development at the University of The West of England, you might be forgiven for thinking I have the business side all sewn up, but alas, I am just as bad as the next creative person at keeping on top of the paperwork. I have a Finance Fairy who magically turns all of my receipts and orders and backs of envelope jottings into a nice orderly spreadsheet, and I have Marketing Mark, who makes sure my photographs are professional, my website is up to date and my advertising space has something in it for the money!”  

Gill produces fused glass homeware and jewellery. After working from her Bath studio for a couple of years, Gill will be moving into a commercial property in July,

“There will be a kiln room, and the main shop area will be split between a gallery front and the inner sanctum, where people will be able to see me at work or drop in to make small items or book glass taster classes or my glass parties.

“In the gallery, apart from my work, we will be having a guest artist each month.  This will be a two hour master class in their particular style or technique, which leads into a private gallery show of their work, which will be displayed and available for purchase for the rest of the month. Instead of charging the artist a huge amount of commission, I am asking for a half day of their time/skill/personality for the class and show and then just a small amount of commission (about 10%) to cover the credit card transactions, insurance and packaging.  Any income I make on their masterclass will cover the cost of promoting them. It is an ideal way for established artists to meet face to face with fans new and old, and a bit of a change from all of that nonsense with small talk and warm white "whine" and dusty nibbles. It is also a cost effective way of getting new and interesting artists and their work out to my glassaholic followers at sensible prices with sensible returns for the artists.

“But most of all I love to hear the stories of where my own works of heart are going, who they are for, and what they celebrate, and so I really am looking forward to making, displaying and selling direct from my shop.”

Gill sets herself rules to ensure that her business continues to grow, and would advise anybody looking to start out to make sure you have a sensible amount of cash to invest in the first place, and to reinvest any profit in its growth (she won’t be drawing a penny from her business for the first five years). Growth costs money, and business owners should be prepared to keep investing until it grows to a size that it can return an income.

Tim Worrall approaches his business in an entirely different way. He decided to give stained glass a go at a night school in Kingswood and was completely taken with the medium. Over the years he has developed these skills as well as trying fusing and painting on glass and set up Edge of Glass. He doesn’t really think of it as a business, but as a vocation he is exploring following his career in construction which he retired from at 55,

“I was dealing with hard-nosed companies whose only interest was completion dates and costs. All that mattered was get the job finished, whereas with a glass work commission I explain to the customer that the work they are paying for will be on view every day and it has to be pleasing to them, therefore time and care is required in the design and making. I sometimes spend months on one work, but I never have complaints from an irate customer because of delays. In construction if you're one week late they want to drag you into court.

“I do not advertise except via my web-site. I would be unable to undertake too much work at one time and I refuse to rush a commission because of work overload-this would be unfair on the customer. I very much enjoy making glass panels and it is this love and enjoyment of glass art which enthrals me.”

The main insight I’ve taken from this research, is that all of the people I spoke to love what they do and have confidence in their brand. If you’re looking to start your own business, be sure to take the time to manage your expectations and consider the time and money that initial start-up will require. The world of glass is limitless and there is always room for a new artist with an original idea, good communication skills and of course, a great knowledge of glass.

As for my own advice, I would say always be prepared for the next season, I am getting things made for Christmas markets already!


This is the second in a series of features by our Creative Courses Coordinator - Catherine Dunstan


Useful links:

John Yeo Stained Glass - Website

Justine Hadfield Glass - Facebook

Silversides Glass - Website

The Edge of Glass - Website

Love In Pockets Design - Catherine's Facebook

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