Mr. Buff began his career in 1979 as a field sales rep for the Gorham Company. He held positions as product manager, marketing manager and marketing director before joining Reed & Barton in 1985. In his 19 years at Reed & Barton, Alan held a variety of posts including Senior VP Sales and Marketing. Alan left the tabletop industry in 2004 and founded Growth Partners, a marketing and sales consultancy, in 2005.
Growth Partners provides senior level sales and marketing management services to a variety of small and mid-sized businesses on a part-time basis. A partial list of services include: branding and marketing strategy; sales force development and management; distribution channel analysis; key account development; and, market-driven product development guidance.
You can read a more about Growth Partners, including several case studies, at Growth Partners.
7:50 PM [Jeff Herman] Welcome, Gwen!
7:51 PM [gwenfoxiii] Hello, I'm new at this, have ideas but not sure how to go about bringing them to life.
7:52 PM [Jeff Herman] Well, we have a special guest tonight: Alan Buff. Did you read his bio?
7:52 PM [gwenfoxiii] I wanted to have parties (like Tupperware) and have kits ready for the guest to select from and they put them together as they like.
7:52 PM [Jeff Herman] He'll be with us in a few moments
7:52 PM [gwenfoxiii] Yes I did
7:52 PM [gwenfoxiii] okay
7:53 PM [Jeff Herman] I'm sure he can help you. Do you have any silver-related questions until Mr. Buff arrives?
7:54 PM [gwenfoxiii] I've started working with Argentium (sp) and would really like tips about it
7:55 PM [Jeff Herman] Have you been to the Argentium site: http://www.argentiumsilver.com/?
7:55 PM [gwenfoxiii] Should I make the same things with it that I make with standard sterling? I have glance at Rio Grande's site.
7:55 PM [gwenfoxiii] I will look at that site.
7:56 PM [Jeff Herman] There's additional info. on the SAS site: http://www.silversmithing.com/1argentium.htm.
7:57 PM [Jeff Herman] You can certainly make the same objects you do now with standard sterling.
7:57 PM [gwenfoxiii] sorry, I was drop for a second.
7:58 PM [gwenfoxiii] would you repeat that please...
7:59 PM [Jeff Herman] Are you having problems with this program?
8:00 PM [gwenfoxiii] not really, I tap the wrong tab and I'm back at the front page, then I have to sign in again
8:00 PM [Jeff Herman] Welcome Danielle!
8:00 PM [gwenfoxiii] If you could give me the second web site again please
8:00 PM [Danielle Culver] Hello Jeff!
8:00 PM [Jeff Herman] http://www.silversmithing.com/1argentium.htm.
8:01 PM [Jeff Herman] Welcome, Mr. Buff!
8:01 PM [Alan Buff] Hello
User darylv1 has entered this room.
8:01 PM [Jeff Herman] Gwen had a question for you.
8:01 PM [Alan Buff] Hi Gwen
8:01 PM [Jeff Herman] Hello Daryl!
8:02 PM [darylv1] Hello.
8:02 PM [Jeff Herman] Gwen, you had a question for Alan?
8:02 PM [gwenfoxiii] Hello Alan, I have an idea to start having parties (like Tupperware) and have kits ready (made by me) and they purchase what they want and put it together.
8:03 PM [gwenfoxiii] not sure how to bring that to life.
8:03 PM [Alan Buff] Gwen... you'll have to forgive me. I don't know your work. What kind of kits are you talking about?
8:04 PM [gwenfoxiii] Sorry, I make earrings, rings, personal jewelry, I thought of making chains, charms etc.
8:04 PM [Alan Buff] Are you aware of other "party" marketing silver jewelry lines?
8:04 PM [gwenfoxiii] they pick out what they want and put them together
8:05 PM [gwenfoxiii] I think Lanes is one.
8:05 PM [Alan Buff] And Silpada.
8:05 PM [Alan Buff] I've had a couple of clients ask me about developing a party plan sales strategy.
8:06 PM [gwenfoxiii] I will look at that. Does that co Silpada handmade?
8:06 PM [Jeff Herman] Silpada's Web site can be found here: http://www.silpada.com/public/.
8:06 PM [Alan Buff] My fear is that almost everyone in the silver jewelry business claims some degree of hand made
8:06 PM [darylv1] Anybody have experience inlaying silver to pistols and rifles etc?
8:07 PM [gwenfoxiii] back again.
8:07 PM [Alan Buff] Anyway, my suggestion for people looking to develop the party plan is to try to get some of your friends to hold parties for you. See how much work it is... how many pieces you sell... whether it's worth it. My feeling is that it takes a lot of effort
8:07 PM [Jeff Herman] Lindsay Engraving is a good site for inlaying: http://www.lindsayengraving.com/.
8:08 PM [gwenfoxiii] Okay.
8:08 PM [Alan Buff] Also, most party plans work on a pyramid pricing structure. You've got to set your prices high enough at the beginning so you can give various levels of party hosts their share.
8:08 PM [darylv1] Further, I am so new I am just floating ideas.
8:08 PM [Alan Buff] Then, like with everything else you do, you walk that fine line between sufficient profitability and prices that will yield sales results.
8:09 PM [gwenfoxiii] I did not think of that, Thanks...
8:10 PM [darylv1] Is it my turn?
8:10 PM [Jeff Herman] Sure, Daryl.
8:11 PM [darylv1] What I was thinking about is looking at many different areas and seeing how I could add Silver, any guidance?
8:12 PM [darylv1] For example: the US Army has added Silver to socks to improve biomedicinal qualities.
8:12 PM [Alan Buff] Daryl...are these creations you are going to sell directly to a consumer or through a retailer?
8:13 PM [darylv1] Either way I guess.
8:14 PM [darylv1] What difference will that make?
8:14 PM [Alan Buff] The biomedical qualities of silver are really cool... I've always wondered how better to take advantage of them
8:14 PM [Alan Buff] The difference between selling to a retailer vs. a consumer is that even if the consumer wants your product, you've got to get the retailer to think it's a good idea first.
8:15 PM [darylv1] That makes sense.
8:15 PM [Alan Buff] Always a good idea to involve the retailer in the development process. Is there any product in your store, Ms. Retailer, that you'd like to have embellished with silver?
8:15 PM [Alan Buff] Might be surprised by the answers.
8:16 PM [Alan Buff] Always a good idea to have a few suggestions in your hip pocket in case you get blank stares.
8:17 PM [darylv1] Basic question, is the apprentiship time for learning how to work silver still 7 years in Williamsburg, VA or anywhere else for that matter.
8:17 PM [Jeff Herman] Williamsburg still has its 7-year apprenticeship.
8:18 PM [Jeff Herman] It all depends on what you'd like to create.
8:18 PM [Jeff Herman] Have you taken any workshops or are you new to the craft?
8:19 PM [darylv1] I have no experience yet, I've mentioned laying silver into weapons, how about silver trimming onto motorcycles or cars etc.
8:20 PM [Jeff Herman] I would first purchase a book on silversmithing techniques: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&EAN=9780801972324&itm=3
8:20 PM [Jeff Herman] You can click on that link.
8:21 PM [darylv1] Thanks, until I can work the silver craft, what would be a fair share to hire a silversmith to work my ideas until I can
8:22 PM [Jeff Herman] It all depends on what you're looking to have made. All silversmiths have different hourly shop rates.
8:22 PM [Alan Buff] Gwen...you still on line?
8:22 PM [gwenfoxiii] Yes I am.
8:23 PM [Alan Buff] I didn't mean to discourage you from your idea.
8:23 PM [Alan Buff] I think the kind of build your own party you discuss could be fun.
8:23 PM [Alan Buff] The question for me is how big a business are you looking to build?
8:23 PM [gwenfoxiii] No you did not, you made me think. Thank You.
8:23 PM [Alan Buff] If you want to do 1-2 parties a week and clear $100 per party, you might have a model that can work.
8:24 PM [gwenfoxiii] Enough for a small income.
8:24 PM [gwenfoxiii] Okay. That sounds good.
8:24 PM [Alan Buff] Also, if your parties allow you to use up parts you are making anyway for other purposes, you might view them as a means to turn inventory into cash.
8:25 PM [gwenfoxiii] Another question: what is the best way to write receipts and keep records?
8:26 PM [darylv1] is it a valid question to ask what kind of business structure works best for the silver business
8:26 PM [Jeff Herman] You could also buy findings to create finished jewelry. Rio Grande is an excellent source: http://www.riogrande.com/.
8:27 PM [gwenfoxiii] Okay, make the necklaces and order the findings from Rio Grande instead of hand making them
8:29 PM [gwenfoxiii] I think the question is valid.
8:29 PM [Alan Buff] You can buy an inexpensive receipt book at Staples.
8:29 PM [Jeff Herman] You could never make the findings as efficiently as Rio can, unless you're looking to produce something unique.
8:30 PM [darylv1] I have been listening to Ted Butler for some time, saying silver is going to market value one day, can you comment on that belief?
8:31 PM [darylv1] Meaning that its value will go to 16 or 20 to one in ratio to gold
8:31 PM [gwenfoxiii] how much do you suggest I have in inventory to sell at a city market/fair.
8:32 PM [Alan Buff] I'm happy to comment of silver values. I've been in the industry for 30 years this June. People have been predicting silver going up and down for the entire 30 years. Industrial demand is low. Speculation is the primary force in silver prices.
8:32 PM [Alan Buff] Gwen...that's a hard question to answer. How big is the fair/market? What are your prices?
8:33 PM [Alan Buff] How much inventory can you afford to build? How many outlets do you have to sell the inventory if you don't do well at the fair?
8:33 PM [darylv1] so is it another way of saying that Ted Butler is just hyping the market value idea to enhance sales at firms like investment rarities
8:34 PM [Alan Buff] I don't mean to always dwell on the negative. You can't sell from an empty wagon and the relative cost of missed sales hurts almost as much as residual inventory.
8:34 PM [gwenfoxiii] Small city $10.00-$100.00.
8:35 PM [darylv1] Is the 8:34 answer for darylv1?
8:35 PM [Alan Buff] I don't know Ted Butler and I don't want to accuse him of anything. Different people have different opinions. If I knew all the investment answers, I'd be on a beach in Tahiti.
8:36 PM [darylv1] Okay, thanks.
8:37 PM [Alan Buff] Do the fair organizers offer any advice or are there others who have worked previous fairs selling other products with whom you can discuss the traffic?
8:38 PM [gwenfoxiii] Only one sells silver (handmade), the other are beaders. I'm new to this area and I will meet with the person in charge this Thursday. I will find out then
8:40 PM [gwenfoxiii] I think some of the vendors are a bit pricey; I want to appeal to high school/college budget.
8:40 PM [Alan Buff] Is there a fee for participation?
8:40 PM [Danielle Culver] Gwen, you can learn more about fairs and shows by looking in the archives at Orchid. Look at www.ganoksin.com for help.
8:40 PM [gwenfoxiii] $25.00.
8:41 PM [Alan Buff] OK...another idea is to figure out how many hours you're going to be there, determine an hourly rate for your time and figure out how much jewelry you have to sell to make that much in profit over your costs for the jewelry. Take at least that much!
8:41 PM [gwenfoxiii] Okay, I will chek out Orchid, I get emails from them.
8:42 PM [darylv1] Where is the best area to start to work the silver business, (or revise the question).
8:43 PM [Jeff Herman] Daryl, what are you looking to accomplish?
8:43 PM [gwenfoxiii] 4 hours every Thursday, okay, I understand what you are saying.
8:44 PM [gwenfoxiii] 4 hours every Tuesday, too!!
8:46 PM [darylv1] I once thought buying silver to sell when it got to the same price as gold was the greatest idea on the planet, but now think that using it in any way possible is what I need to do.
8:47 PM [Jeff Herman] Daryl: One of the easiest techniques is to use Precious Metal Clay. You can find information on it here: http://www.silversmithing.com/1clay.htm.
8:48 PM [darylv1] I am thinking of using silver for projects, but I guess I need to really know how to work it to make the best business. Obviously I could work in partnership with a qualified silversmith but I would always have to share profits that way.
8:49 PM [gwenfoxiii] Question Mr. Buff, Mr. Herman: I was told not to invest in Argentium because it was too soft. To just use standard sterling. (for personal jewelry). Your opinion please.
8:50 PM [Jeff Herman] Daryl: Here is an organization that deals with Precious Metal Clay (PMC): http://www.pmcguild.com/home.html.
8:50 PM [Jeff Herman] Argentium can be hardened to twice its hardness in a conventional oven.
8:50 PM [darylv1] Thanks, I hope I have not abused someone else's opportunity tonight.
8:51 PM [gwenfoxiii] I read that. I like the anti-tarnish idea of Argentium. But haven't been able to talk to people use it.
8:52 PM [Jeff Herman] Gwen: Argentium works the same as sterling, but you don't have to worry about firestain or using dangerous chemicals, plus it's tarnish resistant. Find more info. on it here: http://www.argentiumsilver.com/.
8:53 PM [Jeff Herman] There are also special Argentium silver solders that have been developed so there won't be a color difference.
8:54 PM [gwenfoxiii] Okay, I did buy that, too. Thank you both so much for taking the time tonight. I will just read form this point on so others can have fair time with you.
8:55 PM [Danielle Culver] I am an apprentice in my dad's shop and we are discussing Argentium Silver right now and he says the only thing holding him back is the discussion of color that was going on in Orchid.
8:55 PM [Jeff Herman] I'm a big proponent of Argentium. Any metal that is as care-free as stainless steel is a plus over standard sterling.
8:57 PM [gwenfoxiii] I made a bracelet for a gentleman a year ago, and he wears it everyday and I have yet to reshine it for him. He is very pleased with it.
8:57 PM [Jeff Herman] There is only about two-percent less copper in the Argentium alloy. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who could see the color difference when shown next to standard sterling.
8:58 PM [Jeff Herman] The primary difference between standard sterling and Argentium is that Argentium melts about 50 degrees less.
8:59 PM [Alan Buff] Sorry folks, but I've got to go. I've enjoyed participating. Good luck to you all.
8:59 PM [gwenfoxiii] Thank you Mr Buff.
8:59 PM [Jeff Herman] There's a short learning curve while discovering color differences when heating the two alloys.
8:59 PM [Alan Buff] My name is Alan!
8:59 PM [darylv1] Thanks!
8:59 PM [gwenfoxiii] Alan
8:59 PM [Jeff Herman] Thanks for joining us, Alan!
9:00 PM [gwenfoxiii] Thank You Jeff!
9:00 PM [Jeff Herman] I'll be here until 9:30.
9:00 PM [Danielle Culver] we pour long narrow ingots for flatware and my dad worries about the Argentium for this too even though SS has plenty of problems anyway. Would Argentium be better maybe?
9:00 PM [Jeff Herman] Does anyone else have any questions?
9:01 PM [Jeff Herman] Danielle: Why aren't you using rolled sheet for the flatware?
9:03 PM [Danielle Culver] We do but we make some items from ingots to recover sisal. My dad feels he can get better control of inventory when there is enough demand to pour at least 6 or 8 ingots. We have a large rolling mill and might get an even bigger one.
9:04 PM [Jeff Herman] Here is the first object made in this country made of Argentium: http://www.silversmithing.com/jherman5.jpg.
9:05 PM [Jeff Herman] You can read about how I fabricated the ladle here: http://www.silversmithing.com/1argentium.htm#Fabrication.
9:08 PM [gwenfoxiii] What is your opinion on using a kitchen torch for Argentium?
9:08 PM [Jeff Herman] This chat will be posted to the SAS site, so if you're coming in late, you won't have to worry that you missed something.
9:09 PM [Jeff Herman] A Bernzomatic?
9:09 PM [gwenfoxiii] Yes I bought an industrial one form William Sonoma.
9:10 PM [gwenfoxiii] pardon, a commercial one
9:10 PM [darylv1] When is the best time to visit Williamsburg to see about apprenticeship.
9:10 PM [Jeff Herman] You won't get the same control as a jewelers or silversmiths torch.
9:11 PM [Danielle Culver] Jeff, This is Dan Culver I usually not into group activities but to teach my daughter I am trying to do so. I started in 1984 working for older companies and I learned that silver is a good recession business do U think that will hold this time.
9:11 PM [gwenfoxiii] I live in an apt now, and no where to work at the moment. Thought it would be safer.
9:11 PM [Jeff Herman] Daryl: You'll have to contact Williamsburg: http://www.history.org/.
9:11 PM [darylv1] thanks
9:12 PM [Jeff Herman] Danielle: It all depends on what you're creating. Can you elaborate on what you sell?
9:13 PM [Danielle Culver] We sell pens, cups, trays, flatware (newer to us) and may add back belt buckle which is were we started.
9:14 PM [Jeff Herman] Gwen: You'll also have to consider the possibility of fire safety.
9:15 PM [Danielle Culver] Jeff, twenty years ago I was making belt buckle from gold in custom alloys pouring ingots every other night to get all these different colors. Dan
9:15 PM [gwenfoxiii] I'm working on it, thought I would get a small gas BB grill and only use it for my silversmithing on the back porch.
9:16 PM [Jeff Herman] Gwen: I wouldn't do anything with a flame in the kitchen aside from cooking.
9:17 PM [Jeff Herman] Danielle: Do you have any marketing or technical questions I can help answer?
9:17 PM [gwenfoxiii] On the back patio in a BBQ grill that will only be used for my work and never cook in.
9:17 PM [Danielle Culver] How do you feel the silver business will fair in this recession?
9:18 PM [Jeff Herman] Gwen: That sounds like an interesting idea! Keep in mind that you'll still want to wear a respirator in case the wind blows the fumes in your direction.
9:18 PM [Danielle Culver] What areas do you feel might do better, which might be worse.
9:18 PM [gwenfoxiii] Okay, I will.
9:19 PM [Danielle Culver] I want to focus more on jewelry which my dad hates and he thinks flatware might do better.
9:21 PM [Danielle Culver] Jeff, Dan here. I am also out of date in marketing, how does one get started on the new networking as is were?
9:21 PM [Jeff Herman] Danielle: Any luxury item is taking a hit right now. I would look at the time you're spending on manufacturing and see where you can possibly do things faster, therefore, bringing the prices down on your products.
9:23 PM [Danielle Culver] My dad is teaching me to work with both hammers and t-stakes, but also with manual presses.
9:23 PM [Jeff Herman] Danielle: As for flatware, I believe serving pieces will continue to sell well for weddings and general gifts. Sets of flatware are continuing to take drastic hits on price.
9:24 PM [Jeff Herman] Again, working with Argentium will be a big selling point for its tarnish resistance. No one has the time to clean anymore.
9:25 PM [Danielle Culver] I think that I can work faster with the press, but my dad insists I learned at least some traditional techniques, but college is only 2 years away so I don't want to waste time making something that wouldn't sell...
9:26 PM [Jeff Herman] Danielle: Your dad sounds very practical. Learning from someone who knows many tricks of the trade is an incredible asset.
9:27 PM [Danielle Culver] For gifts, do you see any sales in other areas such as baby, confirmation, graduation, and Jewish holidays.
9:28 PM [gwenfoxiii] You are one blessed lady! Learn anything you can from your Dad. Yo, go Dad!!
9:28 PM [Jeff Herman] Danielle, learn as much as you can from your father, because he knows how to make things quickly to survive. Once you get into school, you'll have all the opportunity to be creative and explore the direction you want to take.
9:29 PM [gwenfoxiii] Oops, you know what I meant ;-)
9:29 PM [Danielle Culver] Gwen: Yeah, my dad has 25 years in silver business and 10 years before in manufacturing.
9:29 PM [gwenfoxiii] That is so awesome!
9:31 PM [gwenfoxiii] Jeff, I have to go. Once again 1,001 thank yous for being the type of leader you are. I am glad I joined SAS.
9:31 PM [Jeff Herman] For additional insight on the topics of technique and marketing, read The 21st Century Silversmith: http://www.silversmithing.com/1century.htm.
9:31 PM [Jeff Herman] My pleasure, Gwen :~)
9:32 PM [Danielle Culver] Thanks for the chat. I think my dad is going to join SAS also.
9:32 PM [Jeff Herman] We'd love to have your dad as a member, Danielle.
9:33 PM [Jeff Herman] Happy to answer any other questions.
9:34 PM [Danielle Culver] Jeff, as far as gifts beside weddings what other area do you think could be good?
9:34 PM [Jeff Herman] Danielle: Regarding gift areas, yes, baby goods. Also, candle holders and vases have traditionally been good sellers.
9:35 PM [Danielle Culver] Alright. Thank you very much. Talk to you later. Bye.
9:36 PM [Jeff Herman] Also, consider picture frames.