The Bead Factory

A Conversation With Bead Expert Viki Lareau

Nearly 20 years have passed since Viki Lareau and her husband, Mark, opened their store, The Bead Factory. It all started when they met and fell in love while working at another bead company. They soon got married and had a baby.

Viki loved working with beads, but she wanted to work around her new family, so she and Mark decided to open their own shop. They have nourished The Bead Factory through thick and thin, and the business has grown extensively since the start. Recently they moved the store to a new, bigger location in Tacoma.

Can you tell us about your new location?
I love it! I love that our customers come in and are so excited. They say, “It’s so much bigger!” The new space is exactly 100 square feet bigger, which makes up our new employee break room. There is lots of natural light, which plays out the colors of the beads all around. It’s a happy space! People love the great parking, which was a big part of the decision to move. Plus, this area has more of the right energy for us and our clientele.

What are some challenges you have faced?
Popular bead stores in the ’60s and ’70s were often combined with shops that had hippy-related products. Breaking that image has been a battle for us since we opened. Today there are quite a few nicer bead stores, but that stigma is still there. There is also a belief that our customers must be mostly children and teens, but our store resembles a high-end boutique. Our main customers are 40 to 65, affluent, stylish women. We aim to show them how easy and fun it is to create fabulous jewelry. They can use crystals, real pearls and gem stones—even diamond beads if they please.

How do you keep up on current fashion and beading trends?
This is my favorite part of this business. Each year I travel to New York, LA, Bangkok, Delhi, etc. I’m always checking out the latest fashion jewelry. We look at high-end, well-established designers to get an idea of what trends are coming up. I read every fashion magazine and subscribe to all the major department store catalogs and tons of independent designers as well. I will often cut out pictures, make the same piece of jewelry, and put them both up in the store with a price comparison. It’s often hundreds of dollars less!

How does your store involve the community?
We are involved with several nonprofits through events or donations. We also make connections through our classes. Classes make up 50 percent of our business at this point. We do have a reputation for quality classes, and we have well over 60 per month. The attendees are mostly from Tacoma with a small mix from all over: Vancouver, Portland and Spokane. Some people stay in Tacoma overnight to take several classes throughout a weekend or plan vacations around them. Students leave with a great piece of jewelry and a great experience of sharing beading with others.

Katie Ardmore