By Michele Bacigalupo
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The business of buying and selling original handmade art and craft pieces is rapidly rising in popularity across the web. With online stores such as Etsy, Shopify, and Storenvy, it’s become easier than ever for artisans to sell their work. For many, the digital venue for distributing crafts has triumphed over the traditional exchange conducted at craft fairs and markets.
Etsy has the simplest layout of the three sites and is the easiest for a novice to use, while Shopify and Storenvy require some background knowledge in website design.
Etsy is a website designed to convey the semblance of a farmer’s market, while eliminating the hassle that comes with navigating a physical store. Etsy was founded in 2005, and since then has become a tremendously successful ecommerce site, with gross merchandise sales reaching $1.35 billion in 2013. Despite the expansion of the company, Etsy has maintained its initial homegrown start-up feel.
For the artists who distribute their work, the beauty of Etsy is that is simplifies the process of running a business. Many crafters consider themselves to be “Etsy success stories” by achieving their first profit with a single listing.
Photo courtesy of Ronda J. Smith.
BTR: What is your experience with Etsy?
Ronda J. Smith: Etsy is the first place that I ever listed a pillow. I made a pillow based on my cat, and I thought to myself, “I could totally sell this! Who wouldn’t want to buy it?” I listed it and within 24 hours, I had made my first sale, and I was also asked to be in my first store. I actually still sell in that store almost five years later. It’s the Brooklyn Collective over in Redhook, Brooklyn.
BTR: What kind of marketing or self-promotion do you do?
RJS: I talk a lot. Everybody I meet–they get to hear about it. I also leave custom flyers around. I always have a little stack in my purse. I get a lot of what I think is just word of mouth and referrals from people who saw me somewhere. I’ve never paid for advertising besides paying for the flyers. I got about 100 hits on average each day on my Etsy site.
BTR: Do you sell products at craft fairs or markets, or is your entire business conducted online?
RJS: My company is online-based. I also sell on other people’s websites. I have done craft fairs in the past. I’ve done Renegade for three years in a row. [Craft fairs] are a lot of work, and the booth fees are very high. I didn’t sign up for any this year or this holiday season. It’s a lot of work for what it is. The reality is, sometimes it doesn’t all sell. I’m not sure if it’s worth it. I don’t really have a problem with getting sales [online]. In the meantime, I like selling at museums. Craft fairs, with the price point, I feel like people are looking for something that’s 20 bucks, not a $65 pillow. I run into that problem too.
BTR: It seems much harder to present the true value of the product in person. You have to deal with their faces and their initial reactions, whereas online, you see a price, and then you start reading comments and reviews and you decide, ‘I guess it is worth that price.’ It’s probably easier to make sales online for that reason.
RJS: Right. At craft fair markets, they’re getting really oversaturated. They’re not as curated [as digital markets]. I would rather step back.
Photo courtesy of Ronda J. Smith.
BTR: In the Seam seems like a big operation. How would you describe the success you’ve had so far with the business?
RJS: It’s wonderful. Overwhelming at times, but overall great. I’ve learned a ton. I’ve learned how to run a business. A lot of the times, I find there’s more paperwork than necessary. You’re just dealing with paperwork 90 percent of the time. [Once the first pillow sold], from then on, I was just out making pillows. I thought I could make some extra money, no big deal. I never really knew what I wanted from the company. I never had a business plan. And here I am, almost five years later.
BTR: Do you build any sort of relationship with customers through custom orders, reviews, or comments?
RJS: Most definitely. Every custom pillow that I sell—it goes through me. I email back and forth, and I think people appreciate it. Custom pillows are where I have the most one-on-one [time] with the customer. I never take any money or payment until the customer is happy and approves the image. I think that really determines the feedback, and that’s why I take the time. There are other websites where you can just upload your image and get your face printed on a coffee mug or a t-shirt, and I feel like there’s no “customer love” there.
BTR: What is your view on customer feedback?
RJS: I’ll look at the Etsy feedback and just see what people are saying about my pillows. I go on every once in a while and make sure it’s all in check. I make sure that no one was unhappy or anything. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but I think it helps me. If my name’s on every single pillow, they have to be perfect.