CraftWEB Hot Glass Talk

CraftWEB Hot Glass Talk (
-   General Hot Glass Discussion (
-   -   The selling of a glassblowing business (

Dave Lindsay 11-25-2019 10:59 AM

The selling of a glassblowing business
Wondering if anyone out there has successfully sold their glassblowing business, gallery, or hotshop? Or has anyone purchased an existing business, glass gallery, or hotshop? If so how did you go about it? Where did you advertise it? Most of the studios I have heard of being sold were to employees. I have been trying to find a buyer for my gallery and hotshop for close to a year with no luck. I suspect many more studios are closing than opening. Really not trying to make money, but recoup some of our investment. Also our town not to long ago had five hotshops and it will be a great loss to the city. Any advice or experiences would be appreciated. Pete, I hope you'll leave this for awhile as I think it's worth discussion. Thanks

Pete VanderLaan 11-25-2019 11:23 AM

Discussion determines the length anything sticks around for the most part.

Jon Gilmore went through this last year and his saving grace was that he owned the building. There was no interest in the studio and it went out piecemeal. That seems to be the routine now. When I close mine, I'm probably going to just mothball it for my son if he has interest. Fortunately we don't really need the money at this point. Otherwise, the good tooling sorta kinda sells which essentially wrecks the attractiveness of the place but the focus on studios has gotten very weird as ceramic kilns take over the purported market. There just aren't many larger shops left and the opportunity for marketing glass has gone to hell. For me, I simply have no customers anymore and I'm not willing to be a craft fair bedouine at 70. I have a substantial list of studios that say they're on their last crucible.

Finding someone with the cash to sell to is no easy trick in that few need a fully turnkey studio. I do wish you well but my observation is that it's a dead market. But... if you own the building, that will sell.

Peter Bowles 11-25-2019 04:14 PM

I think having great flexibility in the terms of sale is the most critical aspect of selling an ongoing concern. You say you are having no luck, I'm curious to know if you are garnering interest and not making a done deal, or just not getting interest. In a shrinking market the two are very different things.

Pete VanderLaan 11-25-2019 05:50 PM

Just don't finance it, nope nope nope nope....

Art Freas 11-25-2019 08:26 PM

I bought our shop turnkey a little under 5 years ago. Things that made me agree to buy it.
1) Financials, I had the books to look at and understand the cash flow of the business.
2) Agreement of support from the owner for a while to learn and understand the business of a shop, very different from blowing glass. Renting time isn't rebuilding holes, getting electric fixed, learning about the cycle of the business... Offering support
3) Repeat business, knowing what repeat and steady customers the shop had was a big factor in being comfortable in buying.
4) The owner did not finance and I wouldn't have done that. You need to support the new owner but be independent from them.

Note that I was a student at the shop and it was either buy the shop or the shop would have closed and I thought that would be a loss. Keep in mind that I worked at Microsoft at the time and Microsoft pay made it a lot more possible.

Hope some of this helps.

Dave Lindsay 11-25-2019 09:52 PM

Thank you Pete, Peter, and Art. We have not had much interest. No one willing to deal with. The most interest has been from an employee who would perhaps be interested if a local very accomplished glassblower would be willing to join in. That glassblower has been in the game and doesnít want the overhead and stress it can bring. He currently trades time and rents. Our business is approximately 75 percent retail. I havenít pursued wholesale since 2012, but still have some solid accounts. Just not very many. We do buy work for our gallery, all made in USA and Canada. Our little town Benicia, Ca. had five hot shops at one time. All were wholesaling and doing retail. People from all over the Bay Area have been coming to Benicia since the early 1970ís for glass. We do not own the building, and signed a new lease that has an out should we vacate early. I still love making glass after 43 years, but donít want the day to day business dealings. I sure hope the younger generations can find a way to keep what we all love alive.

Shawn Everette 11-26-2019 07:50 AM

So as a voice of the youngish generation I'll chime in. It's just not feasible for the majority of us to even give it a shot because we don't have the capitol or the market. I managed to dodge the student loan debacle fairly unscathed, but the thought of taking on that endeavor is implausible. All the shops from my cohort that I've seen go up have imploded. A lack of business savvy and losses accrued trying to be bros definitely helped, but even good product and some connections couldn't keep them afloat. Combine that with huge egos and assholes, and you are destined for failure. I know of 4 that remain standing; two are only because of trust funds, one is a badass glassblower with the benefit of a well known partner, and the other is not exactly doing things above board. Not to be a downer, but I think somethings gotta change before it get better.

Pete VanderLaan 11-26-2019 08:15 AM

I think Shawn has his finger on the biggest problem- no capital. I'm considering my shop now for closing in about six months for a number of reasons, mainly age. We may or may not since I'm quite interested in casting. As I've said I consider holding it in mothballs for my son but the business is on the farm and we're not selling the farm.
What has occurred to me in the last few days is simply selling it to Eveline to be shipped back to Shanghai. Once shops get pieced out, they lose value really fast. The grinding shop is the jewel.
I think this type of entrepreneurship is tied to a historical time with a medium that was largely untapped for potential. You could start up most anywhere and have reasonable success if you just worked hard. The show structures made that fairly easy when there weren't too many shows. That changed. When I started, there were around 125 people engaged in the country. If it stood up, you could sell it. Now, well.. There's too many glassmakers for the market to support. China has a middle class of 350 Million people and they all want stuff. That's more people than live in the US. Simpson enjoed great success because he went outside the US to sell in Japan.

Shawn Everette 11-27-2019 10:24 AM

All things have an ebb and flow, and I'm hoping that we're kind of at a low point, which honestly isn't that awful. I was able to significantly supplement my income through sales, but not having to pay for shop time gave me no overhead burden. Not a ton of positions like that available.

It's kind of ironic that I think that one of the most viable sources of income for a studio at this point is education, which is essentially the thing that created the glut that led to this rut. I certainly wouldn't tell anyone to go into glass for the money at this point. Given I was never told this, but the way things were moving it was implied that you might be able to live off it. Lament for the days when starving artist was just a cliche.

Pete VanderLaan 11-27-2019 12:24 PM

Glass as a sales piece has always had a boom or bust cycle. It's part of why so many techniques, formulations, what have you tend to vanish in the down portions of the cycle. Grinding equipment enjoyed a hayday which vaporized in the late fifties/early sixties. It has never come back from those remarkable sturdy old Lang machines ( later to become somer and maca, then Somaca, then vanishing) , all powered off of line shafts in the Chicago River. Education may be the only financial salve currently but ultimately, you're just training your competition and there's too many dixie straws in the Aquifer now.

We bought our tooling for fifty bucks a machine no matter what the machine was. I recall lathes and metal mills going for .10 lb in the seventies. Today, a 20 inch saw costs $4K, my crusher 7K, my reciprolaps 3.5K. These days, you can't bootstrap a shop. The very people who specialized in supplying glass shops with tools are also involved in choking it to death. Now you can do small craftfairs until you go broke.

John Riepma 11-27-2019 03:29 PM

Another thing that I think is killing glass sales as well as the Art Gallery business in general is the changing demographics of an aging population. I've been told by a friend whose sister is a long-time flight attendant for a major airline that there has been a very dramatic shift in the makeup of the average passenger manifest these. Days. When she started it was mostly businessmen and wealthier couples going on vacation. Nowadays it seems to be shifting towards younger people who travel the world with a backpack or carryon collecting experiences. They own very little and don't want to own more, which they view as an encumbrance that restricts their mobility.

The young adult children of friends of ours have moved around the country to different jobs several times before they got to 30. In some case they just left the furniture in the previous apartment and walked away with what they could carry in a car because it wasn't worth the effort or money to move it across the country. Just go the IKEA store in the next town and repeat the process. To people like this a piece by Lino or Chihuly has no value at all, and that cohort of the population is growing.

I don't think that collector demographic is ever going to go completely away, but it continues to shrink and weed out the people who need to make money at glassblowing to continue. As I believe Shawn said recently, it's a pastime now, not a vocation for all but a few.

I have observed that a large number of people now want the experience of a blow-your-own ornament or other object experience. That's not as spiritually rewarding and continuing to stretch your artistic talents, but it pays the bills and I get to continue blowing glass for free. Which I always remind myself was just a dream when I started learning to do it.

Pete VanderLaan 11-27-2019 03:57 PM

A Pastime: I like that. Like baseball on a sunday afternoon.

Well quite the legacy. My kids are mad as hell at what we've left them to try to cope with.

John Riepma 11-27-2019 04:07 PM

Yeah the kids are always mad as hell about something. I remember when that was me, and now that I'm old I'm just mad about the kids.

And how they won't get off my lawn.

Pete VanderLaan 11-27-2019 07:44 PM


Originally Posted by John Riepma (Post 146077)

And how they won't get off my lawn.

They can't with water all around them.

Tom Fuhrman 11-27-2019 08:58 PM

The brain processes an experience to be more long lasting than the process of buying an object. That's why theme parks and cruise lines are flourishing. People remember a day at Disney with the family or blowing an ornament with the family long after they've forgotten about buying those $200 jogging shoes that are gone in a year.
The secondary market is staring to infringe on the contemporary market as well. Lots of things from the 70's and 80's from some very famous glass makers are hitting the auction block at prices way below what was paid for them originally. Those items are competing for a piece of the pie that was divided as much 40-50 years ago. Steuben is a good case in point of diminishing value, that was always a contrived value in my estimation anyway.

Art Freas 11-27-2019 10:53 PM

It has been interesting looking at holiday sales in the last 3 years. 3 years ago holiday sales were about 75% merchandise 25% experiences. 2 years ago it reversed to 25% merchandise and 75% experiences, last year was the same. Definitely folks are moving towards experiences. I think the survival of a shop is linked to having a business model that doesn't make or break it on one dimension. We see significant flexing in the mix between production, gallery, and experiences over the year and over the years. The flexibility helps us a lot.

Franklin Sankar 11-28-2019 08:15 AM

What are some examples of experiences in a gallery? I don’t believe we have any real galleries here.

Art Freas 11-28-2019 06:04 PM

Franklin, we are a hot shop and gallery. We do make your own events in the hot shop and lampworking classes in the front.

Dave Lindsay 11-30-2019 08:24 AM

Today at our gallery it's Small Business Saturday, there is a Wine Walk, and in the studio were doing blow your own ornaments. Over the past number of years the requests for experiences has steadily grown. I've done some date nights and others and have now limited it to just a couple days a week where people can blow an ornament. I just don't like it. A few years ago I had an employee who was great with it. All I had to do was help people pick color and keep it moving. Does seem it's what is keeping many studios afloat. We get requests for experiences almost daily. Years ago all the studios in town were doing the wholesale shows with great success and doing some retail. Now I am doing around 25 percent wholesale and 75 percent retail.Half that wholesale with Artful Home. Having an open studio where people can watch any time were open and blowing glass has always helped sales and is very educational as to why things are expensive. I had a couple kids say they wanted to be glassblowers after watching this week. Would be hard to recommend now a days. Go make money and then do some experiences or take some classes and rent time. It's been an awesome career and I have been very fortunate to have my wife running the business end and also having that steady federal job with benefits. Gotta get to work, tis the season! If every month was like December, this would be so much easier.

Tom Fuhrman 11-30-2019 07:20 PM

I think it is sad that a lot of us considered ourselves designer/craftsmen, or artists of some sort and we took pride in that. Now with a lot of the studios relying on the "experience" venue to keep afloat if does not say much for where we have gone and has got to be ultimately frustrating for the studio artists. That was what my business was headed for and it just wasn't that much fun anymore. I tell people today that if it's not fun anymore then it's time to move on and find that which is. Life is too short to have to toil at those things that are just not very fun. I closed over 4 years ago and now find world traveling a lot of the time much more fun. BTW traveling does not have to be that expensive. We can travel for almost what it costs us to stay at home.

Michael Ahlefeldt-Laurvig 11-30-2019 07:39 PM

I agree with Tom, its just not as fun as it used to be. I also went from no requests for blowing to severeal a week, people would spend 250 $ for an hour blowing, but not buying an item

Pete VanderLaan 12-01-2019 11:44 AM

Amen to both Tom and Michael. Hugh Jenkins expressed to me not long ago that he hadn't the burning drive to make things anymore. Perhaps it's the simple act of putting one's tools down and as Thurgood Marchall said " Sitting on my behind". I certianly get a lot of ,ilage out of feeding the trout out at the pond.... in summer of course.

Art Freas 12-01-2019 12:58 PM

There is a cultural change of huge proportions going on. The culture of making as an experience and the drive towards tiny and smaller homes is greatly impacting our businesses. Look at how many "maker" fairs are going on these days, the maker movement is huge. Also I think there is a huge change in folks that work with glass these days, less aprenticships more academic roots. More politically oriented art, less pure craft. Time will tell if this is cyclic or just a permanent downtrend.

Shawn Everette 12-02-2019 12:13 PM

Diversification and adaptation are the key to survival. There was a good run for merchandise with glass, but we're all seeing the trend. I don't think that it'll be a permanent decline, how many of the greyhair's that are still buying were possession less hippies in the 60's? I will say that it's probably a better idea for us to proactively change, rather than wait for the market to.

Pete VanderLaan 12-02-2019 02:32 PM

Curiously, A lot of the pressure to divest of stuff is coming from our kids, who don't want the stuff or the responsibility for getting rid of it. As the grayhairs, we just aren't into aquisition of more, unless it's an excavator with a thumb. You can bury a lot of stuff with one.

What I do see currently that is different is that once upon a time, we took enormous amounts of time to finish pieces and it showed. I don't see a ton of that these days. Indeed the markets have changed.

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 08:08 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.2
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
© Opportunity Network. 2008. All Rights Reserved.