Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…
I spent many years in electrical retail witnessing the chronic waste produced in our modern society. This experience spurred me to set up a recycling business in 1993 which would in turn lead me to develop recycled products made from reclaimed materials- hence the name, Used2bee.
Used2bee would achieve recycling rates of 1000 tonnes to date, industry awards, Observer magazine articles, and TV news features with RHS Chelsea. I have been keen to design products that balance easily the materials used with its intended usefulness. I believe the product should fit neatly into your life and survive well into the future. I can’t stand waste!
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
My first experience with Etsy was as a customer buying a gift for my brother’s birthday. At the time, my wife Joanne and I were running a small retail gift shop in Torquay selling the craft we made and some fairtrade items too. I had worked hard pushing the website but was also looking for a crafters market place to sell on too. eBay was too mass-produced, Amazon too impersonal and Alibaba was focused on B2B sales.
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 ?
My product line is furniture for the home. My designs focus on wood crafted storage which usually contains reclaimed timber.
The majority of my orders currently are for either my stunning retro record cabinets or the vintage shelf units. The cabinets use MDF and solid recycled oak in their make-up with a polished eco-paint surface and amazing door designs.
The shelf units are made using solid pine, finished with eco emulsion, distressed with a coat of beeswax.
They are unique because the quality of finish is excellent, singular design and also I offer custom options too!
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
The wood craft I learnt from school and as a hobby since. Its the years of experience and sharing ideas with similar crafts people that help you build better creations.
I believe that most people fail because they fail to take advice and learn from others.
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?
The goal for Etsy was always to earn a living. I planned in 2012 to close our shop, move to the country, and work online. I have achieved all that now.
Back in 2012, it was a part-time indulgence, a planned path of research into a potential full-time income.
I gained insight into product development, trends and seasonal demand for online sales.
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?
At the beginning I would not worry if it was going to work out on Etsy, I only wanted to have fun! It was exciting, a new start.
I think you worry more as it develops as you become reliant on the orders to pay Bill’s.
I knew I had some unique style, that came over in our little shop. I just had to project that into my Etsy shop too.
I was fortunate that I already had 20 years of business experience going in so was not daunted by the financial aspects, it was the technical bits I had to learn!
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?
My first bunch of listings was some coffee tables that I had found at a charity warehouse. These were upcycled or restored depending on the age and style. I remember I was excited about my first sale and checking every hour for a sale.
It came within a few days, a beautiful Danish retro table bought by someone local, only 30miles away in Saltash. I contacted the customer to say I would deliver it myself that day!
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?
My recycling business and shop was my full-time income when I began on Etsy. Now though it’s a full time online.
I begin and end the day with answering messages and emails, then complete urgent tasks, such as packing orders, painting jobs to complete that day.
I usually can start a new cabinet before lunch then maybe some smaller jobs in the afternoon.
The challenge is to manage my work space so the bench is not tied up too long.
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?
Record cabinets are made to order and now make up most of my income from orders, its something I enjoy doing.
Firstly, these are cut from sheets of 18mm and 9mm MDF using my Evolution Rage3 saw, then trimmed perfectly square using a Bosch professional sander, so the joints are really tight.
The dividers and weight-saving are cut and once jointed, then dried, the assembled carcass can be painted.
I use a plain foam roller with a lot of learned skills to achieve 7 coats of eco- emulsion and varnish in a perfect streak-free finish. This is then polished using cutting paste on a foam mitt and my bosch sander.
The doors are painted in the same way but will be finished in a variety of different vinyl, oak, or metallic chrome.
I complete each cabinet with a fixed oak top, skirt and legs finished in my dining room with 7 coats of natural linseed oil, by hand over a whole day.
The last job before packing is fitting leg plates and the door hinges.
What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
Materials cost have been affected recently by Covid19, I expect that’s true for everyone, but my biggest cost can be delivered.
it’s expensive to ship abroad (up to 30% of the total costs) and packaging costs often cannot be included in the delivery price too as it becomes too expensive. This has to absorbed by profits.
The materials cost is usually less than 20% of the order value, but as you would expect my labor cost is higher at about 50%. The rest is made up of other general business costs like tools, stationery, energy costs, phone services, and car fuel.
I am hoping to reduce some of these costs in the near future by going carbon neutral. This can be done by using solar energy with an EV car.
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 think about my customers when creating. I think about them when listening to music, especially vinyl records. They like the things I like, I think. I was born in 67 and grew up with punk, disco, new wave, Americana, space-age, new romantics, house music, and the start of hip hop. I imagine my creations are influenced by this and attract a similar following.
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?
Around a third of my customers are outside the UK so I rely heavily on getting the best deal for these customers. A cabinet may cost £300 or more to send to the US and the choice of carriers is now shrinking due to acquisitions. Usually, we opt for 5 days of standard international service for these parcels.
In the UK we use a fast local-based national next day carrier called APC which has been very reliable and easy to deal with.
I have not used free delivery on my Etsy items as it would only work if I was in the US.
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?
Competition is often helpful. It gives customers choice and if your good, you stand out from the crowd. Never considered myself to be a sheep really, I have always aimed to be different and that works well for me.
How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?
The lowest rating I’ve had is 4stars due to the item size (they didn’t read the description properly!)
I am thankful that all my feedback has been fabulous. I care a lot about replying quickly, politely, and concisely. They ask me for product information and I will give all they ask and more. I find Etsy’s personalized custom listing useful for this.
My customers are kept up to date with each stage of making their orders including delivery day. Then I request a pic of the cabinets in their home too.
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?
Oh yes! It’s a different life. Freedom from the 9-5, your own boss, love the ka-ching sound when you get an order!
But, you can’t avoid stress in business, there is always a problem to solve and I would say its rare for customers.
For us, most problems are caused by delivery. Damaged items, lost or delayed deliveries, surcharges, and excess weight charges. It’s horrible!
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?
Vital! You cant do business anywhere today without it.
I used to pay for Google and Facebook ads but can’t be sure if it helped long term.
I love the updates feature on the Etsy app, it’s easy to post across my Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.
Twitter is great for instant reaction but pinterest is better long term.
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?
It still seems a little US central. I would like to see all features available in all countries.
Also, when customers enquire I cant see where they are located. This is useful as they are often asking about cost of delivery!
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
The lesson learned hardest is finding your niche. It takes time to settle into the thing that earns you money.
this can take years so the best thing I did for success was research.
You have to know your customers, so read the stuff they read. TV movies, social media all affect buying trends nowadays so I take notice.
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?
I would advise new sellers to list 30 different items as quick as poss, then review them each month.
Chop out the weakest 10 and replace them with something new. Soon you will have top 10 sellers that can give you an income.