No Custom Orders

A comment from my CyberFriend Zoe yesterday suggested that I might do only custom orders for flower beads. It reminded me that I haven't really talked about the custom order thing in a long time, and there are probably quite a few of you who wonder why I won't do custom work. So many topics are blog-worthy, and I think this is one of them. So here's my story...

Since very early in my beadmaking life, I've had a couple of rules that have kept me (relatively) sane. "No Schools or Churches" is the first one. It became clear very quickly that I would not find my customers in these shows, surrounded by plastic canvas kleenex box covers, painted ceramic angels, and crocheted pot holders. Rule Number 2 is "No Custom Orders," and while it's every bit as important as the first Rule, it's the one I tend to break every now and then, just to test it... or myself.

My first custom order came from a friend of my sister's, many years ago. She was a bride, who wanted a necklace to wear with her slinky cream colored velvet wedding dress. She "knew exactly" what she wanted - a strand of small, clear beads with little white flowers. A simple enough request, so I agreed to do it, made a few sample beads, and mailed them to her. I got them back, with a note asking for a "little more color"... So I tried pale colored backgrounds with white flowers, and sent her several more. They came back. And we did this several more times, until she finally asked for dark green with white flowers - a far cry from the clear and white she was sure she wanted in the beginning.

I made the green and white necklace, and she was very happy with it. I, on the other hand, was super frustrated, and had spent so much time on it that I could never be paid for all the work (and postage). I ended up gifting it to her as a wedding present, and made a bracelet for myself out of all the rejected beads. I still have it, and I pull out the No Custom Orders Bracelet every so often, to remind myself of why I have this rule.

But did I learn from this? Not exactly. Time and again I have weakened and agreed to do a custom bead or piece of jewelry for someone who, of course, "knew exactly what they wanted." Like the friend who wanted a big bead in gold and black. Against my better judgement, I got out the gold foil, and made three beads for her to choose from. This is another peril of custom orders. I know I can't "see" the vision of what someone else wants, so I make several versions, hoping to get it right. Then I'm left with the others to try to sell. In this case, my friend brushed right by the beads I had made for her, and zeroed in on a huge purple and turquoise bead instead. At least she bought something, but it took me three years to find homes for those gold and black ones.

There are several more stories like these, but thankfully, not too many. Every now and then I ignore my own rule, only to be reminded once again that custom orders never work in my favor. They always take far more time, and make me far less money than just making and selling what inspires me. I know some people thrive on the challenge of custom work. I am not one of them, and that's a good thing to know about oneself.

Another friend has just reminded me of the Henry Ford quote, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." I love that. And it's so true. Most people have no idea what they want. It's up to the creative people of the world to show them. When it comes to beads, the people with true "bead vision" usually learn to make them themselves, and share that unique vision with the world.

So if you've wondered over the years, why I'm so adamant about my No Custom Orders rule, well, now you know. I think I've finally learned my lesson. Go ahead, test me. I'm actually very good now at the Clear and Loving No, as in No custom orders, no way in the world, but thank you very much for asking.


  1. AMEN! I think I pulled a neck muscle shaking my head at this post! I, too, hate custom orders. I do very intricate seed bead work and it takes hours. Once agreed to a black and white scheme and wept the whole way thru it. I have only ever been burned on custom orders. If someone wants me to "add a few inches", "change a clasp", or tweak my design, I always say YES! But then I quadruple the price, ask for cash up front and don't allow returns. They usually reconsider their requests after that! No one would dream of asking Michaelangelo to "make that lady's smile just a bit bigger"! Sometimes we need to be reminded to sharpen our resolve to "Just Say No!" Thanks for this post!

  2. Oh, thank you for taking the words right out of my head. I'm glad I inspired this post!

    What I hate most is trying to be the builder for someone else's design. I just turned down an order for some wedding rings for that very reason. I told them to go to the jewelry store in the mall.

    The last custom order I refused was a ring that the woman wanted "exactly like this one, but in a size 6". You know that with anything hand made, nothing is ever exactly alike and I knew she wouldn't be happy. And neither would I.

  3. Amen! I never really wanted a tatoo, BUT if I ever decide to get one I think it should be something really useful such as 'NO CUSTOM ORDERS DUMMY!"....just so I don't forget again!

  4. I rarely do custom orders and when I do, I have the buyer sitting right next to me and we pour over beads and I sketch or quickly put together a small section so they can see what I am thinking. It is not my fav way to do design and I charge accordingly (high prices). Stick to your guns, we will survive with whatever comes from your flame.
    Linda in Tucson

  5. I completely agree with the no custom orders. I've only done it a few times and it was always a pain! I also don't do repair/restringing for much the same reason. Once a good friend brought me a baggie fully of beads that had been a necklace and had completely come apart. I tried to find out how she wanted to have it restrung and how it originally looked. All she'd say was that she didn't care; just wanted to have some kind of necklace with those beads. FOUR restringings later she finally liked what it looked like. If she had not been such a good friend (and 80 something years old), I think I'd have just given them all back and said forget about it. But that taught me well and truly - never again!

  6. My father, an artist and craftsman, always told me: people don't know what they like, they like what they know.

  7. My requests have been more for a style you used to do (in my case, earrings) rather than a specific you-need-to-read-my-mind bead. I would think this would be different in that you could reintroduce something you know you did before and did sell. Here's hoping you will consider those type of requests!

  8. Your position is completely understandable AND I love placing custom orders when I cannot do something myself. I've never been disappointed by someone's interpretation - from the first time (when I was a teen) that a community jeweler restrung a mess of broken vintage necklaces. He was a true artist selling wedding sets and fixing watches. I was thrilled at the creativity and new approach. Still am. Norine

  9. Just got my Laffy Taffy beads in today's mail. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them! Anyone as creative as you are does not need to do/should not bother to do custom work. I'd much rather wait and take my chances on finding something wonderful from your creative mind than asking you to do anything from my much less creative mind! Thanks, Kim.

  10. custom orders! Steve Jobs was right on when he didn't do the research on the "i" products because people don't know what they want until we show them! Go Kim!


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