Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
Hi, my name is Sam Gibson and I am a textile and mixed media artist and I have 3 Etsy shops, this one selling vintage haberdashery and 2 creative shops where I sell handmade items. I have a large studio that gives me loads of room to manage my Etsy stores in a coherent and organized manner.
This store sprang out of my magpie collecting tendencies, my studio was just groaning with treasures I had collected over the decades and I knew I had to do something about the haul. I sold a lot of stuff I would never have the time to make anything with and then I began sourcing vintage items that customers had asked about and it turned into a growing concern. I also had the chance to buy a roomful of trim from a market trader who was retiring and landed myself with a huge haul of absolute dream upholstery trim. It takes my breath away that it could have all ended up in landfills had I not by chance met this person. I love the thought of all the great things that have been made from this haberdashery being resold and reused and re-loved.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I discovered Etsy in 2006 when it was all starting, previously eBay was about the only place you could sell handmade or craft-based items. I had discovered the more left fieldcraft and the handmade scene that had sprung up in the US and it seemed a lot edgier than most of the stuff that was happening in the UK. Through message boards and craft fairs, more people began connecting, and then Etsy appeared it was a natural fit. At the time there was no social networking so Etsy forums were where you would meet up, share ideas, argue about stuff and generally find your craft people.
Etsy was a completely different place to what it is now and I think for the better. There have been many many developments and changes that have allowed sellers to grow and buyers to find fantastic and unique products. There have been many many shopfront platforms come and go but I believe the reach and ease of use the Etsy provides is second to none.
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 sell vintage haberdashery, mostly upholstery trim, but I have a vast collection of buttons, fabrics, and other interesting items that I list as and when I get to them. This approach suits me and my workload with my other shops and also keeps the inventory in the shop refreshed, enticing customers to return.
In this haberdashery store, it’s mostly about the customer recognizing a great vintage item and providing them with clear product details and good photos, people want to receive what you presented them with so you have to be honest, fair with pricing, and clear with descriptions. I have a huge white-walled studio so can take bright, true to product photos. This helps a great deal.
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?
( Not really relevant to this haberdashery store ).
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 wanted to be self-employed so it was a great way to realize that dream. I started when my children were tiny so it fits very nicely around family life, being totally flexible. I was lucky to have a supportive partner who could pick up the slack financially in the early days when earnings could be unpredictable. I consider online selling as important a job as being a full-time artist. It’s woven into everything I do.
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 started on Etsy with a shop selling handmade items so the early fears were whether the work was good enough. I quickly overcame that as good feedback was received. I strived, and continue, to try to improve everything within the shops regularly. Are the photos clear, are the descriptions correct and fair? Refreshing with new stock it vital, in retail stock turnover is as important as profit. With this haberdashery shop, I didn’t worry too much with product competitiveness as I knew the vintage trims and other items I had were gold… I just needed to find the right buyers. Social media helps a lot now, it’s a lot easier to find your buyer.
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?
It was so long ago that I made my first sale! it must have been pretty quickly for me to carry on with such positivity. It was much easier to make a sale back then when there were so many fewer sellers. I was hoping to be able to pay personal bills and my goal is to contribute healthily to our household money pot. I get enough weekly sales over my 3 shops to be happy with my Etsy shop/ artwork/ family life balance. I could grow it further but I like having the business be of a size I can manage on my own.
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?
I am a textile and mixed media artist and make work that is not intended to be commercial but comes from a more creative place. This fits with my Etsy shops as I can do both from my studio space. I have areas dedicated to each activity and work on different aspects of Etsy or my artwork as and when each one needs it. Some days it is all Etsy admin, which is a big part of selling on Etsy, some days it is making stock for my other shops, and some days it is pure art. I like that it is fluid as it stops me feeling like anyone aspect is a grind.
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?
( not relevant to this shop ).
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
Luckily with this shop, the outgoings are relatively low as I have been lucky enough to buy vintage stock in bulk from a retired market seller and have built up a huge collection of items over the years and years that I can now make money out of. Free postage on some of the heavier items can sometimes be a hit but it levels out over time.
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?
( not applicable to this shop ).
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?
I do ship internationally with the bulk of my items going to the US and Australia. I have seen a big uplift in UK sales this year which I know is directly linked to the amount of social media activity I have done. I do offer free shipping, especially on big orders, and have taken part in a pledge to provide US buyers with free shipping over a price point, this has been beneficial in terms of visibility in shopper searches. I think free shipping is a good way to ensure buyers return and if you are sensible about your prices you can cover these postage costs. You do have to do your research with international postage costs and weigh up the pro and cons of free shipping especially with tracking and insurance issues. I package my products with regular simple mail bags or boxes, I do try to recycle boxes I have received items in if they are clean and undamaged. Everything is wrapped in tissue and clearly labeled. I keep it simple with this shop but with my handmade items, it is a little more luxurious.
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 stand out?
I think you need to be aware of the market but I don’t worry about competitors, there is room for everyone. To stand out you just need to work hard, strive to improve, be clear and fair with descriptions and pricing, and give absolute top-notch customer service. Answer customer questions as quickly as you can, provide help when something goes wrong, and don’t take it personally if there are issues.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I try not to take it personally if someone did leave bad feedback, luckily it’s never really landed that way. I have always tried to make sure I have provided a good retail experience. I answer questions as quickly as I can. Most of the time people just want a bit of information. It’s good to remember that the customer doesn’t know your personal circumstances, they are buying something online and just want to ensure they get their stuff. Customers will have experience of buying from large businesses and sometimes expect that level of speed and efficiency which once you’ve got a handle on it all is easy to do. No customer wants to hear about your bad day, they often just want reassurance and an apology if something went wrong. It’s a skill to master but so much easier to run your business if you can emotionally detach when dealing with the admin.
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?
I guess it has in so much as I have built a working life with selling online as a big part of that. It fits alongside my other ambitions as an artist and meant I was closely around my children growing up. The flexibility has been priceless. It can be stressful when dealing with difficult customers but my background in retail enabled me to separate emotionally and not take it personally. It’s really easy to float above all that, it just takes practice. Customers are the reason we have businesses so we have to give great service and sell great products.
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 have seen social media grow up and I buy into it but not to the point that it means more than producing a quality product or selling a quality item. It is a great tool and I will link items to Pinterest and Instagram but it’s an exercise in showing what I have as opposed to gaining likes. Likes are no good unless they convert into sales. Social media is good in finding your buyer, linking to the right people, your people. I have never paid for advertising. I have a steady stream of sales which has been easy for me, on my own, to manage. Now my children are both in university I will probably up my social media activity as I will have more time to manage the potential uplift in sales. I think you have to offer a lovely slice of yourself without revealing too much but be approachable and offer a great product.
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 think Etsy is in a really good place. I have had great experiences as a buyer and a seller. Obviously no fees would be great hahaha, but seriously the exposure and usability is very very good. I think it is a brilliant tool that provides potential sellers with all the tools they could need to set up a small business and grow it to something really lovely. It caters to different levels of experience and hat in itself provides a diverse global marketplace.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Coming from a retail management background I knew the customer experience was key. That coupled with a great product and researching the rest of the site to see what else was happening was also very important. One important lesson is being prepared, be prepared to be busy. Make sure you have all your postal packaging prepared, make sure you have reliable suppliers for your materials, find a trusted technique to sped up your productivity if needed.
I appeared in the UK based women’s monthly magazine shopping page with a bracelet I produced linked to another handmade selling platform. I knew this was happening but had underestimated the HUGE uplift in sales. Magazines hit the subscribers first, getting posted to them before it then hits the magazine racks, then the waiting rooms and coffee table, it’s like a wave that starts before you realize and last longer than you’d think.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Before you open your shop do your research, read the forums, and help pages and have a look at the market as a whole. Your competition isn’t just people selling the same item as you… it’s anyone selling an attractive item that could turn the head of your buyer. They may have been in the market for woolen hats but left with a stitched piece of art. Look at what you would want to buy, why do you want it, what would make you spend your money?
Be prepared and plan ahead. Know who you can sell to in terms of national or international customers and make that clear in the shipping section. Have faith in your product and make or market it with passion, if you love it someone else will too. Strive to constantly improve.
It’s really hard work and you have to pay attention to the boring admin stuff as well as the juicy making stuff.
Don’t take it personally if things go a bit pear-shaped, its all ok and you can handle it. Enjoy it!