Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…
My name is Troy Wilkinson, I am from New Zealand originally and I have lived in Panamá (Republic of Panamá) for 11 years. My business “Natasha Marq – Live Edge Design”, came about through a previous business I owned here in Panama by the name of Maderé in which we fabricated high-end furniture for residential and commercial projects and existing properties. One of the products which I stumbled across during my time in Maderé was the Live Edge tables made from one large slab of wood with natural edges of the side of the tree. Not only tables, but also other Live Edge furniture such as consoles, mirrors, coffee tables, and bed heads. Once I started getting requests for this style of furniture, I then found wood that was being cut from trees extracted from the man-made lakes in Panama. These lakes were flooded to serve the Panama Canal back in 1914 when the canal was built and at the time, they simply flooded areas that were populated by very large tropical hardwood trees. Once these trees were discovered, concessions were allocated by the Panamanian government to clear out the trees and those who gained the concessions, dragged the trees back to mills, and started cutting and drying the wood into various forms, including large Live Edge slabs up to 4 meters long by 4 feet wide!
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
One of my friends is very interested in the products we make and has always been fascinated by the beauty of the naturally designed pieces. He was the one who mentioned to me that this would be a great product to sell on Etsy. I had never done online sales before but Etsy makes it a fairly simple process to get set up.
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 ?
At Natasha Marq, we sell Live Edge tables and other Live Edge furniture made almost exclusively from wood which has been extracted from lakes in Central America.
We design our products, firstly with the help of nature which presents us with beautiful naturally formed Live Edge slabs with gorgeous grain patters and color and we add design, either minimalist or complex through the bases we design.
Our products stand out because we have the uniqueness of tropical hardwood and the story and durability of using wood which has been rescued from being underwater for 40 – 100 years!
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
As a furniture designer, the unique slabs make it very easy as we only really need to accent the features within each slab of wood. Our design process normally consists of finding the best possible way to promote wood pieces. I have had many years of experience working with wood in various ways which helped me find the best use and finished for the furniture.
Satisfaction for the furniture was immediate. Nature has done 90% of the work over hundreds of years prior to us putting any work into the creations.
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?
My goal on Etsy is to gain brand recognition, tell the story of where the wood comes from and to get our creations to the rest of the world. From a business point of view, Etsy is one of the ways we can find sales avenues as well as international recognition for our brand.
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?
My fears were initially that we may not be able to fabricate enough to keep up with the demand as the demand locally is fairly high. I have since discovered that gaining momentum on Etsy is a gradual process and is a fairly small portion of our overall marketing.
How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever thought you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was a goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?
We haven’t had our first sale on Etsy yet although we are very new. My expectations we a slow start and a little more exposure than we are getting, however, I have noticed that when we do Social Media posts that promote our Etsy page, the number spike well. As a goal, we only need to sell one article per month, to begin with while we build inventory.
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 have three businesses at varying levels of progression. Natasha Marq is the newest of them. My days are very full with the administration of the businesses and the time I dedicate to Etsy is very minimal. I am letting the internal Etsy marketing along with social media and website do most of the marketing work for Natasha Marq until I am able to dedicate more time to the brand.
How does your manufacturing process looks 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 tools that you are using in manufacturing process?
Our manufacturing process consists of a small amount of finished inventory, a fairly large amount of raw material along with offering custom made pieces which is a little more challenging on Etsy. On Etsy, we generally only post our existing inventory of finished pieces with descriptions of custom made pieces being available to prospective clients.
We have three workshops we work with to manufacture our products. We contract them to provide the labor and finishing side of our pieces and we provide the designs and raw material. All of the manufacturing is overseen by myself personally.
What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
The profitability of our shop is fantastic assuming we have sales. Although our materials are more expensive than traditional wood, we pass that value on to our clients through our very high-end products, brand, and target.
We price our products to attract a higher-end client who values the sustainable and eco-friendly aspect of our products as well as the fantastic story that comes along with each piece.
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?
Each piece of wood that gets extracted from the lakes is inspiration enough. Every single piece is so different and gorgeous having its own form and life. Once clients see the pieces, they normally come up with their own version of the base design, finish, size, or application that quite often surprises us. It all begins with the inspiration within every piece of wood. We also don’t discount the clients who see a finished product and fall in love, picturing that very piece in their home, beach house, apartment, hotel or restaurant.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
Our products are generally very large and extremely heavy. For the moment we only ship within Panama and into the US. The shipping is a large percentage of the cost of our products and we include it where we can. As we grow, we plan to have an inventory of finished products already in the US which will bring shipping costs down per piece. For now we ship individual pieces at fairly high shipping costs per piece.
All of our products get carefully packaged so as to avoid any damage during shipping.
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?
We do have a lot of competitors now who are selling similar products to ours for a variety of different price points. By focusing on the story that our wood is extracted from underwater and the fact that it has been underwater for more than 40 years, plus the unique tropical species that are found underwater, we are able to offer a product that s just a little different and special from the large majority of competitors.
How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?
We strive to respond to ALL feedback, both positive and negative, and communicate to our audience and clients that we care about their opinions and questions. We also maintain strong business ethics of excellent communication pre and post-sale. Our clients are very important to us and one of the most effective ways of promoting our brand is through excellent customer service and communication.
Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever thought you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?
We are new on Etsy, so we don’t have a lot of experience to comment from unfortunately.
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?
Social media is extremely important and one of the best ways to quickly and effectively connect with future and prospective clients. We use it to educate our audience as to the existence of our Etsy store as well as promote our brand and products. Our marketing budget is very minimal currently but we do spend money outside of Etsy. We create hype by promoting the story of where the wood comes from and sharing great images of the wood and products that speak for themselves.
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 customers satisfaction?
We haven’t had enough experience on Etsy to make any comments so far. From what we’ve seen the platform and layout is exceptional.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
The only lesson we’re learning so far is that things take time. Marketing takes time, business processes take time, sales take time and building inventory takes time. This is not really a lesson so much as a previously known fact that is amplified by certain circumstances.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering to sell on Etsy? How can they avoid beginners mistakes?
The best advice I can give is to create excellent quality content, spend money on marketing both for your Etsy store as well as your business and products.