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Art comes in all forms. A glassblower uses techniques that have been around since the first century BC, shaping the glass into their creative vision. They sell their work in online stores and local galleries. Many also take on commissioned work.
Who is this business right for?
Glassblowing is perfect for the individual who likes to work alone to turn their creative visions into works of art. It requires hard work, innovative instincts, and an entrepreneurial spirit. If you exhibit these qualities, glassblowing might be the career for you.
What happens during a typical day at a glass blowing business?
Glassblowers, also known as gaffers or glass smiths, spend their days in the studio working on their trade. They begin by mixing and heating glass ingredients in a furnace or kiln. Once the glass is mixed and at temperature, they collect molten glass on their blowpipe. Puffs of air and various shaping tools are utilized to complete the works of art.
Once the artist’s vision is complete, the piece must cool properly to prevent cracks and shattering. The glass is hardened by cooling and reheating multiple times.
No matter how beautiful, a gaffer’s work will not sell just sitting in the studio. The artist must consistently work to showcase their craft and make a name for themselves, within the art community.
What is the target market?
A glass smith’s clientele are lovers of art in all shapes and forms. Since glass can be made into virtually anything, your target market is very broad, with many of them avid collectors.
How does a glass blowing business make money?
A gaffer makes their money by selling individual pieces to art collectors, art galleries, and stores.
What is the growth potential for a glass blowing business?
Due to the nature of their work, many glassblowers choose to keep their business small and local. There are, however, a number of world-renowned gaffers whose pieces are sold and showcased all over the world.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful glass blowing business?
The number one skill you must possess is creativity. Without this, even the simplest piece won’t stand out to a collector. Glassblowing requires sculpting and the use of extreme heat. Therefore, it’s also important that you possess fine motor skills, patience, heat tolerance, and enjoy working with your hands.
In order to sell your work, you’ll also need to possess strong interpersonal skills and be able to promote yourself. Many artists tend to be reclusive, impeding them from approaching galleries and stores about selling your art.
What are the costs involved in opening a glass blowing business?
If you’re starting a glassblowing business, you hopefully have some experience in the art of glass smithing, as well as a good portion of the tools needed. Your biggest startup expenses will be rent on a large studio space, a furnace, and an annealer. Many artists make the mistake of investing in a small studio, with plans to move once they’ve grown. Successful glassblowers advise against doing so for both your workspace and your heating and cooling devices.
A large studio space can run anywhere from $500 - $5,000 per month, depending upon location and size. Stay within your price range, but take the time to invest in a space you can grow into. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need a lot of tools to fill your studio. Between the furnace, glory, annealer, and various tools, plan to budget between $25,000 and $35,000, depending upon how open you are to purchasing used.
If you don’t have a lot of capital to work with, you could become a member of a local glassworking facility. For a monthly or annual fee, you have access to all the tools you need. It’s also a great way to build relationships within the community.
What are the steps to start a glass blowing business?
Once you're ready to start your glass blowing business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your glass blowing business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your glass blowing business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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How to promote & market a glass blowing business
Glass blowers use their talents to hand craft a variety of blown glass designs. Designs range from glass pendants to tobacco pipes and contemporary art to be showcased in the customer’s home. Marketing this business can be a slow process when first starting out. Many new glassblowers start out selling their work through a variety of online platforms and through local retailers such as gift shops.
It’s important to remember that the glassblowing community is very tight knit. Therefore, establishing yourself within the community is incredibly important for increasing the value of your brand. Approach a respected artist in the community and inquire about becoming their apprentice. This affords you the opportunity to learn and grow as an artist, while getting to know others within the community.
Another common way for glass blowing artists to increase their skill set and brand is to collaborate with other artists. The blending of artistic styles garners the respect of artists and consumers, increasing credibility within the community.
As you work to gain a following, consider online sites such as Instagram. This is a great platform for showcasing your work and many artists have found success holding online auctions in the comments section. Additionally, some niche social media sites, such as Deviantart, feature the works of various artists. With more than 35 million registered members and over 65 million visitors each month, this is a wonderful platform for reaching potential clients and getting to know other artists from across the globe. As you begin to establish your brand, you’ll also want to consider launching your own online store, featuring up-and-coming artists who are working on establishing their own following.
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How to keep customers coming back
To catch the eye of potential customers, you’ll need to become immersed in the art community. This means attending local workshops and events, as well as traveling for larger events when possible. Your work should reflect your own unique style, which is critical to distinguishing your brand and getting your name out in the art industry. When traveling the circuit, many artists are approached by museum and gallery owners interested in showcasing their unique work.
You’ll also want to consider working as part of an artistic guild. Glass Art Society (GAS) has a wealth of information and resources to get you started. Boro Market is also a wonderful online platform for getting your work out there and making a name for yourself.
Many of your clients will be collectors. An effective strategy for attracting and retaining customers long-term is to limit the supply of specialty lines of glasswork. This heightens the appeal to collectors, allowing you to command maximum price from your customers.
How and when to build a team
Each piece of blown glass is a unique work of art that reflects your style and vision. Unless your ultimate goal is to teach glassblowing classes or have an apprentice, much of your work will take place unassisted.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Additional state and local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply.
- For more information about state licensing requirements, visit SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits
- For more information about local licensing and permitting requirements, check with your town, city or county clerk’s office, or get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Glassworking involves large torches and molten glass within the working space, which can lead to accidental injury. Therefore, glassworking shops that offer memberships to glassblowers are strongly encouraged to require members to sight a liability waiver/membership contract.
If you are just starting out and working out of another business’ glassworking shop, you will not need to worry about liability waivers.
How much can you charge customers?
Your work will be sold on a piece-by-piece basis, with pricing based on labor and materials.
What are the ongoing expenses for a glass blowing business?
If you’re renting a workspace, rather than working out of your garage, rent is your largest expense. Budget for approximately $600 per month for electric and gas. Your real expenses then become insurance and supplies.
How much profit can a glass blowing business make?
Your profit is directly tied to the amount of work you produce and how much of a name you’re able to build for yourself. The median salary of a glassblower in 2015 was $29,630 a year. Many freelance artists, however, are able to sell one piece for thousands of dollars, so there is the potential to make significantly more.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Glassblowers who have reported higher earnings are deeply immersed in their community. Consider adding the following to your business strategy to enhance your business’ profits:
- Team up with galleries and museums to perform live demonstrations
- Offer lessons to aspiring glass blowers
- Share studio space with other artists and hobbyists, which will further advance your relationships with those in the community and help reduce overhead costs
- Feature other up-and-coming artists in your studio and online store
- Take a commission on referred sales or sell directly at a markup
- Accept work doing commissioned pieces and collaborate with various artists to craft one-of-a-kind creations