Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
To introduce ourselves, we are a husband and wife team, he’s Irish and I’m American, who lives in France. For a number of years now, we have had a business here on Etsy selling fine French vintage and antique linens, French and English Christening gowns, and a selected group of other vintage and antique items worldwide. I grew up in the south in a multigenerational home with women who sewed, knitted, crocheted …and cooked. From an early age, I learned to appreciate beautiful fabrics and linens. I learned to sew from my talented mother and to knit from my grandmother. My husband had run his own business in England. When I moved to France about 15 years ago, I was amazed to discover the quantity and quality of fine vintage and antique linens available at brocantes and antique fairs all over France. I started buying them and soon along with my husband, sharing our experience, opened a shop on another well-known site on the net….before we discovered Etsy.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
It was a natural fit to come to Etsy when I discovered it about 10 yrs ago. It was a French woman who told me about it! Besides featuring handmade wares, Etsy welcomed sellers of vintage and antiques, and they were more ‘personal’ than the giant site we had been selling on. We started selling online because we believed our largest market would be in the US and that has been true, but we have shipped items to over 40 countries worldwide. Here on Etsy, we found a friendly home here with lots of support for sellers.
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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?
As sellers of vintage and antiques we seek out a range of fine French bed and table linens, vintage linen nightgowns, and interesting small vintage decorative items for the home…but we have come to specialize in handmade heirloom-quality Christening gowns. The gowns made in France (and England) in the late 19th and early 20th century can be quite spectacular for their hand embroidery, lavish lace, and fine fabrics. We try to stock a variety of styles and to offer a range of prices.
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?
Again, we sell vintage and antique items…but in order to describe them accurately, we’ve been required to do some study too. After nearly 15 years of working with linens and the other things we sell, we can still be surprised to learn something about the origins of these beautiful things. For example, we often have ‘Ayrshire’ Christening gowns made in Scotland in the 19th century in the shop. I was amazed when I discovered that these gowns were a Victorian ‘cottage industry’ and the embroidery, which is some of the finest ones will ever see, was done by the wives of coal miners and farmers to earn a little extra.
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 husband and I were retired when we met and married here in France and we had a good bit of time on our hands. When we discovered the quantity and quality of linens available at the brocantes and antique fairs we so enjoyed visiting in our area on weekends, I proposed starting a little business. I had no idea it would grow into the virtually full-time business it has become.
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?
We started small but grew quite quickly, on the other major site I mentioned above, so I felt no fear about opening a shop on Etsy. As well, when we started about 14 yrs ago, there was hardly anyone else doing what we do online…now there are thousands, but I think because we decided at the beginning that we would offer only quality things and that we would make customer service a priority, we haven’t suffered much from competition.
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?
We were delighted to have our first sale (a French vintage linen nightgown), almost immediately, and then quickly several more sales very soon after setting up our first shop. That encouraged us to continue, but honestly, we had no idea where this might go, or that we would sell our items to thousands and thousands of customers in over 40 countries worldwide over the next 14 years.
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?
We don’t have other work outside our Etsy shop. We now try to commit to putting in a good 5 or 6 hours a day to the shop, but in the early years that was probably more like 8 or 9. We do try to take the weekends ‘off’ but still find that we need and want to give some attention to what wants to happen in the shop. We know that some people out there like to shop in the middle of the night and on weekends, so we check in every day. Even if we take a little vacation, we take the shop along inside our laptop!
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?
Since we are Etsy vintage and antique sellers this doesn’t much apply to us. I would say however that we ‘customize’ our linens by careful washing and ironing. Not everyone selling linens does that, but we think our customers would prefer receiving a beautifully ironed set of table linens or a smooth linen sheet ready for use.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
I think we have been so successful because we are offering beautiful…and oftentimes…rare items for making a home special. I think the French Country Cottage look has been so popular because it’s a look that is removed from the plastic, glass, and steel of so much of many people’s every day outside work life…and the things we sell have almost all been finely handcrafted…and they have stood the test of time. We realize that sometimes a rare antique thing in our shop may seem ‘expensive’ but that is because it is rare! Other things, like fine linen nightgowns or pillowcases with hours upon hours of hand embroidery seem a bargain. As to pricing, that is mainly based on our buy-in costs, plus taking into account the condition and rarity of the item. We are clear that a thing is only worth what someone wants to pay for it… and we have the goal of selling and sending out our items to those who wish to own them, so we price accordingly. Linen sheets and linen nightgowns may be old-fashioned but it is evident that many people long for the cozy and/or elegant look these things bring to a home. And of course, acquiring these ‘made long-ago’ items is so Green…the ultimate in recycling!
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?
We shop for items at the many ‘brocantes’ and antique fairs that take place all over French from early spring until late fall. And every time we visit one we find new ideas for the shop. For example, some time ago we discovered a seller who had for sale the contents of an old French bistro, closed for many decades. He had the beautiful glassware made for serving Absinthe, and heavy porcelain coffee cups called ‘Brulots’ that are so charmingly ‘French’. There were stacks of ‘torchons’, or French linen dishtowels, and much more. Anyway, that started our seeking out the Absinthe glasses and brulots which both proved very popular in our 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?
Shipping! Shipping is such a huge part of selling online, so we give it much attention. My husband is our ‘Shipping Department’ and he prides himself on his truly professional attention and cares with packing the brocante and antique items we sell. We use the best quality packing materials, and as well, we often use recycled plastic water bottles to cushion breakable items. Our linens are packed in acid-free tissue paper and then boxed. When we can, according to size, we use the strong packing boxes supplied to us by the French Post Colissimo service. In order to provide such careful and safe packing for International shipping, our items usually do have a shipping fee and we think our customers understand that. We have never charged more than the actual shipping cost and more often than not our charge is Less than our actual cost. Also, we provide insurance at no extra cost. Delivery time of course varies all over the world, but our shipping time now to the US, for example, is generally about one to two weeks. I might note that almost all our Reviews mention our excellent packing and 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?
As I mentioned, when we began our business about 14 yrs ago there were very few others with a shop similar to ours. Now there are literally thousands of ‘French Vintage” shops selling similar things. I do believe that because we were among the first sellers of French vintage linens and small French vintage and antique items that we were able to build up a loyal clientele early on that keep coming back. We know that there is a lot of competition out there,(some who have unashamedly copied our style and even our descriptions), but rather than looking sideways at what others are doing, (save for the occasional glance), we have continued on with our own style for the shop… and we continue to seek out quality and unusual items and go our own way.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
We are proud to say that disputes and bad feedback have been exceedingly rare for us. Have a look at our Reviews! When they have happened on occasion, we try our very best to work things out (this generally means a refund if the customer is not happy with the item). But I will add that online shopping is a two-way street and buyers should, for their own sake, ask questions, ask for more photos, if they have any doubt about buying a vintage item. We are always happy to provide all information requested because as is fair, we will want to receive the item back before a refund….but again, such problems have been rare. We try to give a full and honest description because our goal is to have Happy Customers.
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?
Yes! is the answer to that. Etsy has changed our lives. Never in a million years would we have expected to be running successful vintage linen and antique business from France at this stage, (grandparents of 4), in our life. Interestingly I don’t think we had any particular ‘ambition’ for the business, but have just grown with it and shaped our lives around it. Of course, there are stresses, like someone writes 5 messages with questions about an item which we take the time to answer in detail and then that person doesn’t buy, or the woman in Australia who bought a beautiful vintage linen sheet, dyed it purple and then wanted to return it because she decided she didn’t like the shade (Honest!), and any number of other things that come up when dealing with the public. But by and large, our experiences have been positive…we have even made some wonderful friendships.
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?
We do use Instagram to some degree to promote our items and we do intend to up that usage in the coming months. Still there are only a certain number of hours in the day, and we just can’t do everything. One thing we do to generate more interest in the shop is that we have on occasion offered a Sale price on some or all our items…and in fact, we will do that again, starting on the 15th of Oct. with 25% Off on many items as a ‘pre-holiday’ promotion.
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?
We LOVED Etsy when we first found it over 10 years ago, and we still do love it. But as with many relationships, things change over the years. We would have quite a long list of recommendations for the CEO, but then again, he is managing, surely to the best of his ability, a huge public company….now so much larger than it was when we joined it. I think it would have been impossible to maintain the cozy, homey atmosphere we felt at first. And honestly, we really can’t complain as our business continues to thrive here on Etsy…and we know that is, in large part, our own responsibility. We are grateful that Etsy provides a platform for us to have our own successful business with a good bit of freedom as to how we run it.
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What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
From the beginning, we stressed Customer Service, honest descriptions of our items including any flaws with detailed photos, and we’ve tried to make those photos visually pleasing while actually showing the items clearly. We set a ‘style’ for the shop that we thought attractive and have essentially maintained it over the years with, of course, some occasional tweaks. Also, we try to be manic about responding to customer inquiries as soon as possible, to ship purchases as soon as possible, and to always say ‘Thank You!” I can honestly say that I can’t think of any lessons we’ve had to learn “the hard way”.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
We would say that probably the most important thing is to have a great product that you believe in. Second, we would hugely recommend finding an Etsy mentor to help you get through all the vagaries of set-up, rules, costs, shipping, etc…and I would expect to pay that person for their time! And thirdly, would be not to expect to list a couple of items and have Instant Success. Probably doing more self-promoting than we did at the beginning would now be helpful, for example. I would guess that starting up now would be somewhat more daunting than it was 10 years ago for us, so I would expect to work hard at making your shop the best you can, keep at it, and not give up. Build a better mouse-trap and they will come!
Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion
First, thank you so much for inviting us to participate in this new endeavor. We appreciate this opportunity to reach new customers thru Storepreneur….a great idea you’ve had! I would give you the gentle nudge to take into account with your questions, the many vintage sellers (who have at times felt like the neglected ‘step-children’ of Etsy). We know that many, many buyers come to Etsy looking for interesting, unique, and special antique and vintage items.