Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
I had in mind to open a vintage shop long before, but the final motivation came after my grandmother passed away, while we had to empty her house. We didn’t have the space to keep all the old things from her and I was not willing to just throw them away. So I just quickly opened the shop on Etsy and found it very comforting to have beautiful pictures of all the treasured goods I just couldn’t keep in our house anymore.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I had a shop on Etsy for my handmade jewelry, opening the second one came naturally. I am based in Romania so to reach an international customer base I needed an international platform like Etsy. I also tried Dawanda and Ebay but Etsy just worked the best for me.
What products do you sell, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
I focus on finding and curating rustic items with a primitive touch.
I love wood items the most because they show the passing of time so beautifully. The rich texture and patina given by time is something you can’t get by just applying a coat of paint (if you think crackle paint is a thing you never saw an authentic old wooden item with paint cracked by decades of use and wear)
Also, the antique glass items are something I just can’t get enough of. The beauty of the bubbles and all irregularities that those handblown bottles and jars are showing is just impressive.
How was your experience in learning to craft, are you self-taught or did you have a mentor, how long did it take for you to be satisfied with your creations
Even in a vintage shop, there are a lot of things to learn. I am a crafty artist with interest in a lot of fields and I was surprised how much I learned since I opened my vintage shop. There is a lot of knowledge about the items I buy and sell, but I also learned to write better in English, to take better pictures, and a lot about SEO, marketing, and customer service. You can’t just go out and buy a course to learn everything needed to have a vintage store, you just do it one step at a time and after a few years, you can proudly look back and see how much you learned. Everything I know is self-taught by online research, even my English, as I never learned it in school or took classes to learn it so I might have some problems with grammar sometimes but I can communicate with a lot of people all around the world and that is just great.
What was your original goal when you opened up an Etsy shop? What impacted your decision to start selling online? Do you consider online selling as a side-job, full-time job, or extra income to pay for your hobby?
I always dreamed of living from making art. After I finished art school I tried to get an art-related job but the town I live in is just to small or I didn’t have the luck to find anything. I got a job in logistics and continued to create jewelry in my free time. The jewelry shop never worked well. I opened it in 2008, closed and reopened it and I should probably close it again as I have maybe 1 sale in a few months. But the vintage shop started to work. It is not yet big enough to consider it a full-time job but, as I am a stay at home mum right now, it is just perfect to round up our income while doing what I love.
Did you have any fears or reservations before opening up your Etsy shop? Were you worried about profitability or product competitiveness? What are some concerns and questions you had before you got started? How did you overcome them?
I am the type of person who jumps in the water without thinking too much about what I have to do to swim. I newer drowned but it doesn’t bother me if I just flow and don’t advance as quickly as others. I love to learn and learning involves failure, so I can’t say I had big concerns, I just tried everything that I thought I would like doing. If one thing didn’t work, the other did. I have something new in mind and I am still not worrying if it will fail or succeed, I will try it and see what it brings to me and solve the problems as they come along. I had trouble and no idea how I have to ship things overseas in more than one instance, but I always just jumped in, got an order, and then figured out how to solve the problem. I had some broken items once and learned that way to pack them better, I made some wrong price estimations and learned to pay more attention to that aspect, so that is how I overcome things, by resolving problems. Maybe it’s not the best way but it works for me and I never get stuck overthinking and worrying.
How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever think you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was the goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?
I think the first sale came in about one month and I was excited as at the jewelry shop it took about 4 months to get the first sale, so the surprise was quite big as I didn’t expect it to happen that quick. The first year was a slow one, but I never expected anything so each sale was a source of joy and a confirmation that there are people who have the same taste and interest as I have. My average sales per week are around 5 – 7.
Do you have a job outside Etsy? If not, are you able to commit full-time to online selling? How does your typical day look like? How do you manage time?
As I said I am a full-time mum right now so the time I have to manage my shop is not the same every day. I mostly try to do the photo shootings on weekends at my parents, where I can leave the little one and have a few uninterrupted hours to take pictures. The processing of the pictures, writing of descriptions, and other online stuff I do after he sleeps. Answering convos and even some acquisitions of items are done on the phone all around the clock whenever I have a few minutes. Preparing and packaging the orders is done by my husband in the evening when I put the child to sleep. It can get late if we have more orders to complete, then I help him and don’t work on posting or processing pictures anymore.
How does your manufacturing process look like for e.g. your best selling product? Do you create products ahead of the orders? Do you customize your products, if so how? What are the tools that you are using in the manufacturing process?
The first step in the process for my vintage shop consists of finding something interesting that I think someone else would love to have at home. Therefore I search for local flea markets, vintage shops, and a few persons to which I go directly to get some items collected from the small forgotten villages of Romania. I love to receive custom orders and search for specific items, it is so nice to know you can help someone find the item they are looking for.
The next step is cleaning, protecting, sometimes repairing and preparing the items for the photo shooting. My husband and my father are a big help in this and I wouldn’t be able to keep the shop updated with so many new items without their help, as this is a time-consuming step.
When I get a weekend with nice weather I take pictures of as many items as possible.
The final step is packaging everything up. I take great care in packaging and I learned what works best for every different type of item I sell. My husband started helping me out now and then and took over the packaging station after our son arrived so I can focus on all the other parts of the online business.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
The biggest impact in profitability is finding the unique items your clients are searching for. Vintage items are very unique and you have to search a lot to find something in good condition and with the right esthetics.
The cost can vary widely even on the same type of items so I always try to balance things and try to keep acquisitions within a monthly budget. Sometimes I spent more than I want on items because I can’t just let a good piece stand there so I stay in the monthly budget. If that happens I try to be more reserved on the next flea market.
Pricing is always based on scarcity and condition.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
I find inspiration on Pinterest. I love to see how people use vintage items in their modern homes. How they combine different styles and materials. I think that is the same thing I do with my shop as I never specialized in a single style or material with the items I curate.
I am also constantly thinking of ways to upcycle items and make old things suitable as home decor. I have a lot of antique rusty nails and other items that could be used in upcycling and DIY projects.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
As I am based in Romania I have to offer international shipping or I would have had just a few sales by now. The pricing for shipping from Romania is based on weight so I always try to combine shipping and to inform customers that I do so because the price for the first kilogram can be a bit expensive if you consider buying an inexpensive item.
I try to offer free shipping on pricier items because Etsy favors it in search, but I don’t really like it because it actually is not in the buyer’s interest to get an item with the shipping included in the price. It is not the best option neither for my customers in the EU because they would have paid less for shipping then a customer in the US and it is neither a good option for those who buy multiple items and can’t save from the combined shipping option anymore.
Shipping usually takes about 7-10 days within the EU, about 10-21 days to the US, and about 1 month to Australia. But there are major delays right now because the global pandemic slowed down all postal services, so right now there can be any estimates made about shipping times.
The packaging is essential to make sure all items arrive safely to the buyers. We carefully wrap everything in bubble wrap and cardboard. We try to be as eco-friendly as possible and reuse boxes and filling materials. I really think we are producing enough waste, so I try to recycle as much as possible. I haven’t found an ecofriendly alternative to bubble wrap, but I told all my friends to collect it, and I often reuse that. Some items can’t be sent without it because it offers really good protection.
Are you worried about competitors? Does it impact your business in any way? If there are a lot of similar products, how do you make your own standout?
I think vintage items are so unique that you can’t worry about competition. It is unlikely someone will have the same items as you are. Of course, there are similar products, but overall each item is unique. I try to stand out with my pictures and my style and hope that my curating skills can make the difference and bring me a sale now and then.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
Bad ratings are always upsetting but I try to get beyond the anger and always try to serve the customer and see what caused him to leave a bad review. As upsetting it might be for me it is even more annoying for them if they felt the need to leave a bad review. Most of the negative reviews I got were just small misunderstandings or customers who just got impatience and didn’t realize they were buying from Romania and therefore had to wait longer than expected to receive the goods. But all these are problems that can be solved with a message and a few nice and understanding words.
Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever think you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed about dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?
Even if my Etsy shop is not a full-time job it still needs a lot of time and energy to keep it running so there is an impact on my life, but I love to do this so much so I would say it is a good impact. I grew a lot of skills needed to get at this level, and I would have never thought it will be that big when I started. I remember, when I opened my shop, I was admiring shops with a few hundred sales, now I still can’t believe I have over 1000 sales and an inventory of 450 items for sale.
I was never stressed about dealing with customers because I enjoy it. I love to talk to them, to offer them the best items, to work out any problems, and even to negotiate on the prices sometimes.
How important is social media for your shop? What are some common tactics you use to promote your products? Do you spend money on ads outside of Etsy? How do you generate excitement/hype around your products?
I try to be present on Pinterest and Instagram but I haven’t enough time to make them work. I post now and then because I like those platforms but my main focus is on keeping my stock on Etsy as fresh as possible. I think if I don’t have enough goods in the shop then all the time spent on marketing is lost time because people who come and don’t find enough items are leaving quickly.
What are some things you don’t like about Etsy? If you could talk to the CEO of Etsy what recommendations would you tell him to improve sellers and customer satisfaction?
I don’t like their new approach to force sellers into free shipping. I can understand that it is a global trend but I think Etsy shouldn’t try to compete with Amazon or AliExpress. They should try to stand their ground as being something totally else, otherwise, they may lose the uniqueness of the platform.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Constantly improve your skills and stay updated with all the changes that are made on Etsy. If you just wait and wonder why your sales are going down you will not make sales in a few months. You have to stay informed and make SEO changes now and then if you don’t want to disappear in the masses of other items listed on Etsy.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Don’t try to hard to avoid mistakes they help you grow. Just go ahead and try out as much as possible, if you made a mistake learn from it, fix it and try again.