Two of my students (both business majors) are interested in taking up glass blowing after they graduate. Of course, being business-minded, they are interested in potentially starting glass blowing businesses. Since I am the resident expert in micro-entrepreneurship, the mission is falling on my shoulders to determine what may be necessary for these two individuals to become self-employed glass blowers.
What questions come to mind? I am asking you and you can respond to this blog – but I can tell you that the first thing that came to my mind (not knowing a thing about glass blowing) is whether or not this would be profitable. Since artistic glass blowing is really a micro-entrepreneur occupation, the next question is how many pieces would have to be blown in a week to produce a decent salary. How many people in our area are glass blowers? Is there a market for hand-blown glass stuff? How do we reach that market? What start-up costs are involved? Is this a high-risk venture?
It is important to understand in determining the feasibility of an idea, that each start-up is unique. No two sets of answers will be alike. Breeding cats, planning weddings, organizing closets, and glass blowing are all great micro-biz ideas. The trick is to really dig into the details of the potential venture and to take an objective look at what is involved to make a living at it. This is especially difficult for a person who (for example) loves glass blowing. It is easy to do what you love, but making a living out of it takes some thought and advance planning. Let’s move through the process.
The first thing I did was to attend a glass-blowing demonstration. I was there for all of 15 minutes and saw an accomplished artist produce two extremely impressive glass pieces. A beautiful vase and a wine glass. I wanted to get a sense of the atmosphere and the equipment necessary. I took some pictures. The most impressive piece of equipment was a huge kiln that I figured must be cost-prohibitive for a start-up with no financing. Financing is expensive and smart micro-entrepreneurs prefer to “bootstrap” themselves into a business. The kiln and an appropriate location for such an operation were immediate red flags. Also of concern was the ventilation and safety – perhaps liability – of a glass-blowing operation.
Do people really make a living at blowing glass? As it turns out, yes. And there is lots of money to be made if done well. How do I know? I “Googled” glass blowing (yes Google is a verb). As it turns out, there is a glass blowing studio in the area and it looks successful. Small pieces are selling for between $20 and $30 each and the operation also offers lessons and tours. There is a retail space and the shop is on a nice street in a very artsy little town right near one of the largest tourist destinations in the mid-Atlantic region. This is good news. From New Jersey to Baltimore, there are only a handful of similar operations so it looks like a decent idea. It also looks like there is room in the market for new glass-blowers. However, a store-front with foot traffic is expensive as is liability insurance for glass-blowing classes and foot tours. So the profitability could be a concern.
Another Google produced a list of items needed to start a modest business including a kiln (which is apparently not necessary). Ventilation, zoning and insurance were also discussed in this forum. As it turns out, a kiln is only a “couple of thousand dollars” – not exactly bootstrapping pocket change for a college student – but less than I expected. The consensus among those participating in this online conversation is that a full studio would set up would cost about $5,000 – or less if the equipment was purchased used (which is a thing). Now that we know what the equipment might cost, it is time to determine the overhead necessary to generate the income required. Stay tuned as we move through the process. I will do more detective work and report back in another “glass-blowing” blog.