Shipwreck Beads: World’s Largest Bead Store Breaks Down Its Biggest Ever Buy-Out



One step inside Shipwreck Beads in Lacey and you instantly understand the enormity of its stock. The massive store carries the world’s largest selection of beads, all housed in an 80,000-square-foot building, lining seemingly endless aisles.

Shipwreck Beads does big things with the tiniest of products.

Last summer, owners Glenn and Lisa Vincent added even more inventory to their already colossal stock by purchasing a veritable mountain of vintage Italian glass beads from South Dakota’s Prairie Edge.

“We’ve bought several companies out through the last number of years,” says Shipwreck Beads General Manager Douglas ‘Buck’ Boling, “but this was a massive purchase – the biggest one we’ve ever made.”

The acquisition included more than half a million pounds of new product. “We bought them out wall-to-wall,” says Boling, “including the shelving and even their forklift.”

The vintage beads Shipwreck Beads procured are extremely old – between 70 and 100 years – and most are no longer made. The purchase included seed beads of every size and color imaginable, as well as long tubes of vibrant blue cane, used to make chevron beads.

All told, it took fifteen 53-foot-long semi-trucks to move the beads to their new home.

“When the semis started pulling in here one after another over the period of a week, it was kind of like, ‘Whoa! Where are we going to put all this?’” Boling says, laughing.

Shipwreck Beads rented square footage across the street to clean, sort, and categorize their new stock. They hired a team of five people to handle the purchase.

“Just washing the beads took us three weeks,” Boling says. “We had two people washing them full-time.” The beads were poured into custom-made racks with mesh screen and then rinsed, shaken, and dried out.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of pallets of beads,” Boling continues. “It was quite a process to get them dust-free.”

Once clean, the beads then needed to be categorized, weighed, and put into the store’s immensely detailed inventory system.

“Inventory control is always a make-it or break-it issue for a company of this size – and especially with the product we have,” says Boling. “If you don’t know how much you have and where it’s at, you’ll get yourself in a pickle real fast.”

As large as the massive store’s showroom is, its warehouse space is much bigger, and keeping that area organized is crucial to the store’s success.

If a big buyer or designer wants more of a certain product, its imperative that Shipwreck Beads pickers – the employees who work full-time to fulfill catalog and online orders that pour in from across the globe – can go right to it, get it, and fulfill any order, whether in person or via mail-order.

To ensure success, even when dealing with well over 20 billion beads under one roof, the store long ago developed a detailed part number system that identified every single product in its vast inventory.

“We’re at 53,000 part numbers at this point,” says Glenn. “ There are over 137,000 locations of product in this company. On the showroom floor, there are about 97,000 locations.”

Lisa Vincent took on the huge task of identifying all the beads that came in from the Prairie Edge sale.

“Lisa did a lot of hard, detailed focusing on the beads to determine what to call it and where it’s classified in terms of size,” says Boling. “She spent a lot of hours out there doing that.”

The packaging department – always busy preparing shipments – has taken on even more work with this huge purchase.

“They use specialized packaging machines to package thousands of smaller retail packages a day,” Boling says. “To keep up with the demand on these semi-rare, high-quality vintage beads in combination with what they do all the time has been a big challenge.”

To date, they’ve processed hundreds of thousands of pounds, and – judging by the enormous quantity of bags piled on pallets and shelves in the Shipwreck Beads warehouse – they still have a long ways to go.

“Our packaging team has been working their tails off and I’ve got to hand it to them, they’re doing a fine job,” Boling says.

One showroom aisle is filled with an array of the vintage glass Italian seed beads in a rainbow of colors, but there is much, much more waiting to be weighed and packaged in the warehouse.

“It’s going to be an ongoing process for months to come,” says Boling. “It will be trickling out onto the showroom floor.

Some big buyers have bought between $10,000 and $20,000 worth of beads in one visit, having been taken back into the warehouse to see the bulk products.

“Some of it is still on pallets and they can’t even see it all,” Boling says, “but they’ve seen enough to make some big purchases.”

Almost daily, the Shipwreck team uncovers new treasure in the sea of inventory that traveled from South Dakota – some new, rare thing they didn’t even know was in there.

“We pop another pallet band, get down to the second layer of boxes and go, ‘Wow, check these out!’”

Shipwreck Beads

8560 Commerce Place SE

Lacey WA 98516


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