Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
My wife and I met through a mutual love of art and furniture. We initially started working out of our garage mostly refinishing vintage pieces until I encountered an issue with an old drawer slide and became obsessed with learning how to make new ones by hand. My wife got me a Japanese pull saw and the love for woodworking quickly took off. As we settled into our new house we had completed lots of custom furniture. One-piece my wife requested was a console table to go in an odd-shaped nook in our family room. We decided to start listing our projects on Etsy because we enjoyed the process so much and figured we could just make some extra money doing what we love.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
My wife had previously run an Etsy shop a few years before we met. She knew the local market was saturated and that we would have great visibility on Etsy.
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?
When we first started we listed all types of products some were handmade and others were refinished vintage items. Today we focus almost exclusively on smaller tables (console tables, desks, end tables, etc.) My wife loves the process of creating unique stains so she developed custom wood stains to offer our clients. We spend a lot of time working on good product photos and staging items in a way that will resonate with people.
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?
We both had a lot of baseline knowledge before starting our Etsy shop. As an Art Major and Manager of paint, I had extensive product knowledge already. Outside of previous experience, we are both self-taught. Many hours in the garage testing methods and learning better techniques. We both agree that we are never truly satisfied with our creations. We are perfectionists, and see the minor imperfections that make every piece unique. We never send an item out the door that we wouldn’t be proud to have in our own home. We are constantly striving to expand our skillset.
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?
Initially, our goal was just to earn some extra money doing what we love. Within the first three months, we realized we could make enough money to pay our mortgage and possibly even our car payments every month from this so it was exciting. The real game-changing moment was when my wife was laid off due to Covid-19. She was looking for another full-time job but decided to invest more time and energy into growing our Etsy shop and it took off really fast. So much so that we were getting more orders than we could handle since I was still working a regular full-time job. We decided we needed to be all in or all out and with that developed a business plan and invested in a commercial property for our business to grow. Today, both of us work at our shop full time.
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?
When we first got started we weren’t worried about our product or competitiveness as it was just a side gig. Once we decided to do this full time, we spent a lot more time researching similar products and seeing what was selling well. One of the biggest challenges we have always faced selling furniture is the cost of shipping. It has taken us a lot of time, energy, and money to figure that portion out.
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?
When we first started we got our first sale within 1 month. We had hoped to average 2-3 sales per week by the end of the first year because back then this was really just extra income. We quickly exceeded that goal and set new ones.
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 wife and I both run our shop full-time. To say this is a full-time commitment is an understatement. We spend 10-12 hours per day at our shop (almost always including weekends) and when we are home we are working on listings, SEO, marketing, and brainstorming on how to improve processes. We use a calendar to manage our production timelines and have a well-organized system through spreadsheets to manage new orders.
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?
We have had to re-imagine our shop many times as we have grown. The products we used to focus on aren’t ones we even sell anymore. We had to take a more business conscious approach and really decide what products we could produce quickly and scale. We have a production calendar that my wife manages and have dedicated days where we are doing many of the same repetitive tasks for a group of orders. The key to success with this is being extremely organized.
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 cost we face is shipping. We stopped selling larger items because of the shipping costs and now focus on items that we can break down to have customers assemble. That has helped some but shipping remains our largest expense. Pricing is difficult because we offer free shipping. When we have a new product or variation we spend a lot of time researching what it will weigh when packaged and cost to ship to our most common geographic regions. Our materials are pretty much standardized so we can calculate cost but we also have to consider how much profit we need to make on each item.
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 are inspired by our clients, our families, and our own life experiences. We have found that we personally relate to many of our clients, that they are seeking out exactly what we were initially trying to build for ourselves. We try to keep that in mind when we come up with new ideas and we will run them by family or friends who have similar styles.
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?
We have not sold internationally to date although that is something we want to do in the future. We offer free shipping so we can be competitive, we know consumers want free shipping. It’s challenging to figure out how to price things correctly but it is possible. We build our own boxes from recycled cardboard.
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 aren’t worried about the competition. We know that the products we build are of excellent quality and we are good at what we do. The clients we serve appreciate our exceptional customer service and craftsmanship. We spend a lot of time and energy on quality product photos and staging items in a way that will help clients envision the item in their home.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
We have been fortunate to have many wonderful reviews and only a couple of difficult ones. We recommend reaching out to the client who is dissatisfied to try and reach a mutual agreement where they would consider removing or changing the review. If that doesn’t work, look at it as a learning experience. Whether or not we agree with the client’s complaint is irrelevant, it is a chance to learn and change.
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?
Selling on Etsy has drastically changed our lives. We have never worked so hard and been so emotionally invested in what we do. Despite all of the stress and anxiety, we have also never felt so proud and encouraged. Our kids see us building a business from the ground up, and are learning what it takes to be a successful business owner right along with us. We know that every dollar we earn was earned in the most honest and rewarding way because it was done with an item we built with our hands. A piece of us goes into every order we fill and we take a lot of pride in that.
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 an important driver in our success. We spend a lot of time promoting items and gaining followers on Instagram and Facebook. We would like to invest more time into Pinterest as well but we are stretched pretty thin at the moment. We spend money on targeted ads through Instagram and sometimes Facebook. It’s important to get followers to like and share posts.
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?
Etsy has been an amazing platform to launch our small business and we are so grateful for the traffic that we see because of it. The only complaint we have is the free shipping model because it is so difficult for us to sell large items and be competitive if we have to offer free shipping to have listings prioritized higher. Although we have found a way to make that work by eliminating some products, I worry that a lot of shops have not figured that out and it could be a deterrent for anyone considering becoming a seller.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Writing clear and consistent item descriptions is really important. Using all 10 photos on each listing and now that video is available, we use that too. The biggest lesson we learned the hard way is to make sure you use all of those photos and really show any imperfection in the item (for us this was a big deal with vintage furniture). If a client gets a large item and didn’t realize there was an imperfection, the cost to ship it back is huge and really eats into profits quickly.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Be realistic with your workload. It is so tempting to accept any custom order request, we love to problem solve so custom dimensions or styles are usually really fun for us. However, when you start getting busy with a lot of your standard orders you will quickly lose time to focus on the custom piece you agreed to. The hardest thing we’ve had to do was start telling customers no on certain custom order requests.
Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion
We love Etsy and support other small businesses every chance we get. So I would just encourage everyone to do the same, almost anything you need can be found on Etsy and it feels great to support another shop owner.