The Answer: Inspiration, Education, Availability.

So, what was the question?

Catharine Newell is more than an exceptional artist. She’s one of the most sharing, inspirational and encouraging teachers I know. Classes by teachers of this caliber are what will keep our “industry” vital.

The last time that Paul Tarlow posted a comment to my blog I ended up writing a reply that was so long I never posted it. He’d commented weeks after the blog had drifted 40,000 leagues below the main page and I figured I’d be babbling alone in the underworld. This time – because Paul’s comments touch on some critical issues – I’m going to turn the answer into a blog post itself.

OK. First, go read Paul’s comment. It’s no. 7 on the last post (“Mystery Shopper”).

In short, Paul asked 1) “what Bullseye sees as the market drivers…for the kilnformed glass ‘industry’” and 2) whether we think that our online ordering program is going to be perceived as a threat by “independent studios” (by which I think he means teaching studios that also retail supplies).

No. 1: The Market Drivers

To repeat myself, these are the components that I believe will create and maintain a healthy future for our field:

Inspiration: this kiln-glass “industry” (if, at its current size, it even merits that title) needs, before all else, a public face that is awe-inspiring. The works it generates need to be shown and seen in museums, art galleries and stores merchandising good design wares. People need to want to create in this glassworking method and to know that they can.

A once-in-a-lifetime retrospective by a major artist in kiln-glass like Klaus Moje at a major venue like the Portland Art Museum doesn’t happen every day. But why not? Our field has artists in it that are worthy of this sort of public exposure. We can make it happen. We must make it happen.

(But before anyone is intimidated by Museum Art, take a look at some of the fantastic work showing up on Etsy recently. This is Good Design, dreamy – and affordable – kilnformed glass jewelry)

Education: our community needs local teaching studios that satisfy the interest created by exposure to good quality kiln-glass. Paul operates just such a studio – Helios – in Austin, Texas. Top quality teaching studios are the gateway to our field. They should also be gathering points for people sharing this common interest. Internet communities are useful but they are not a substitute for face-to-face personal interaction and hands-on experience in the craft.

When was the last time you got to suit up in yellow slickers and headphones to enjoy an Internet bulletin board session on coldworking? There is no substitute for the bricks and mortar classroom.

Availability: once introduced to the medium, the end-user needs to have quick and easy access to the materials and supplies. This is often more difficult for the small teaching studio to supply. The largest wholesalers in the stained glass industry have historically been poorly stocked in fusible glass and supplies. The situation is only aggravated at the local retail level. Online availability fills a need and keeps the user active and engaged in the field.

The sheer variety of materials and tools demanded by enthusiastic students and artists in our field can be a challenge to small retailers. Online supply can fill in the gaps sometimes missing in local supply.

If those three elements are in play – inspiration, education, and availability – they will drive a healthy future for our field.

No. 2: Online ordering as a threat to bricks-and-mortar retailers

I’m a Mac-fanatic. I can get anything I want to feed my addiction online. But my idea of a Great Shopping Experience is a visit to my local Apple Store, in person, in The Flesh. Why? Because it’s teeming with People who can answer my questions. I go there to learn, to get my hardware fixed and my software explained – personally. The place is CRAMMED with people – customers and staff – talking about the activity and the products that excite them, signing store visitors up for “One-to-One” sessions, giving advice at the Genius Bar, selling stuff.  And while I’m there I too buy stuff. I wouldn’t ONLY go to buy. But my interaction with that staff and the electricity of that community stokes my passion and encourages me to pick up something I usually didn’t even know I needed.

And a lot of the time, it’s having seen something online that drives me to the local store – to see it for myself, to talk to a specialist face-to-face.

“Online competition…putting brick and mortar stained glass retailers out of business?” My opinion? Absolutely not. Quite the contrary.

Local stained glass retail stores have been struggling since I first worked in one 35 years ago. That was long before the Internet. This blog is long enough already without my opening that particular can of worms.

Is Bullseye a threat to retail by selling online? Not even close.

The greatest threat to this fledgling industry is a newcomer becoming inspired and educated, then not having access to the materials s/he needs to keep growing and learning. If those supplies are available locally, to be seen, handled and explained by savvy sales staff, online is not a threat.  If the products are not available locally or are constantly out-of-stock, both the end user and the retailer are headed to a dead end.

Paul, as far as I can see, your teaching studio is doing a great job of providing inspiration and education. And you’ve already said that Bullseye’s online operation isn’t a threat to your ability to sell product.

So again, I’m kind of confused by your question. I think that YOU (& Helios) are your own answer.

Twelve years ago we responded to a recurring complaint that we’d heard from front line glass users for over a decade: the scarcity of our Tested Compatible glass in the retail market. After a bunch of internal bickering and squabbling – that’s what I love about this place: all the Yes Men got fired decades ago – we made the decision to open a Resource Center and to sell direct.

Why’d they paint the place that Halloween color unless it’s a portal to Hell?
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