Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
My name is Sophia and I work with my husband Andreas. This is our Etsy shop story.
To have a successful, online business was my ongoing, 90’s dream. Other than our local, physical shop, I craved to have an online presence that would be smart. elegant and articulate. Etsy made this a reality for me, for us, my husband, and my self. So we started ‘Arktos Collectibles’, our Etsy shop in the summer of 2012. We are crafters and artists and certainly make a lot of works of art. We make pottery, jewelry, worry beads, clocks, various art objects, wall hangings, lucky charms, you name it. We love making things that did not exist before or reassemble parts to create new pieces. We also work with vintage, Greek, and foreign. We are a Greek shop, based in Thessaloniki.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
It is funny how things work! I used to gaze at this lady’s jewelry shop on Facebook and her shop link sent me to Etsy. I kept looking at the Etsy page at the time and got be acquainted with it slowly. Etsy was very different in those times. I have seen a few platforms of shops before, but nothing like Etsy, it looked beautiful, hospitable, different, the place to be. I desperately wanted an easy to work online shop and Etsy provided that opportunity. It was such a lovely community back then! It still is in many ways, though.
I had a small selling online experience. Starting on Etsy taught me so much. Our country had entered a very bad economic depression and my husband and I needed a new marketplace. Etsy looked ideal for our purpose.
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?
Our local, as well as an online shop, specializes in handmade Greek art objects and vintage. We sell mostly decorative items or useful pieces with distinct decorative value. We work alone and with other, local artists too. We make ceramics, we work with metal and wood, we make a lot of jewelry. I love to crochet in my free time, to paint, keep journals, etc.
We often talk about our next designs and try to figure out what they will look like. I set out the details and my husband Andreas works out the technical process. When he throws pots or makes hand-built ceramics, I often paint these pieces. I make ceramics pieces my self, all hand-built. I do not throw on the wheel.
Our customers often say how well made out items are, how beautifully crafted, detailed, and finished. We take great care that our vintage pieces look that way too. We only sell unused vintage pieces, like folk art paintings, wooden boats, decorative miniatures, etc. Even for the smallest key chain we use beads and finds that the customer will love to look at and use for a very long time.
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 started making things in the eighties.Andreas went to work full time for an acclaimed, local potter and I also worked at another, pottery workshop as a part-time job. We started our own local art gallery in the late eighties and our own ceramic workshop in the early nineties. We were taught the art of pottery but went on to discover jewelry making and art objects creating by ourselves. We started making jewelry after we had to repair some jewelry pieces, funny how things work sometimes. Then we made lucky charms and key rings, then moved on to clocks and wall hangings, etc.
Because of the high standards set by other, Greek artists sold in our shop, we tried to make things that looked really good, or not make them at all.We made the things we could do and slowly expanded in other areas by feeling our way through.
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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?
For us selling online and selling on Etsy is vital.Now a lot of our business comes from Etsy, due to our own country’s stagnant economy. For me selling online is a full-time job and Andreas and I value out Etsy shop tremendously. As mentioned before, we were looking for customers all over Europe and overseas and Etsy seemed like the best place to be at the 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?
We did not have any particular fears, or reservations.I would have just welcomed a bit more help from Etsy or its community at the time. I did wonder what would make my shop successful and found out that it would be hard work, being the best I can be in what I do, being committed to my customers, and always look ahead at the next challenge.
When starting out I was concerned about how well I would be able to work my Etsy shop, how easy it would be, and workable. How much time I would have to devote to Etsy. Would my shop be seen and start selling? Etsy provided a very easy to work environment, an easy to create and manage the shop. It was also so beautiful! I couldn’t believe we had created such a lovely online shop. Aesthetics is everything to me and to our business as well.
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 took a month to get our first sale at Arktos Collectibles.I was so overjoyed with it. With the little champagne illustration from Etsy for our sale, with the actual sale, with having finally started to sell. The truth is that we were hoping for more sales as the years went by, but the competition on Etsy grows by the minute and then you have to compete with shops on other platforms too. I set a humble goal for my first year, mostly it was that we would see what to do as we went. We only had a few sales per week that first year, but never lost hope, or the greatest picture, which was being in the thousands of sales.
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?
Outiside of Etsy we run our local art gallery and ceramics workshop. It is quite a challenge. All the work gets to be done by two people, Andreas and me. Making and selling, marketing, photographing, curating, photo-shopping, etc. My typical workday is in the local shop in the morning, where, other than cater to our local customers, we answer emails, prepare the shipping of online orders, make jewelry, or small items like lucky charms and key chains. In the afternoon we take our midday break and most evenings I work online for our Etsy shops. It is true that sometimes the day is not long enough, but as time goes by I try to focus on what is essential and definitely plan ahead from the day or days before.
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 create a lot of products ahead of time, we always want to be in stock and fully ready to ship any order, but it is not often easy. We customize our products upon our customer’s demands. We always get demands. For another color, a bigger piece, the name of a beloved someone on an article, etc. To make a bigger pot is quite easy. To make a bigger wooden boat, for example, has to be discussed with collaborating shop members, it really depends on the item, but most of the time we can make what our customer desires. We cannot alter vintage pieces, but most buyers know that already.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
Making a profit in handmade things is like many other businesses. You try to find very good, affordable materials and associates to work with. For handmade things almost all materials are expensive, but we also collect things like tumbled stones, driftwood, discarded vintage pieces, salvaged supplies, etc. For pricing, we estimate what we have spent and the tax we paid and the customer has to pay for each item and try to create a competitive price. It is not always easy. Especially if you are making handmade things in a market swarmed by Asian, imported, very cheap artwork and decorative artifacts.
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?
To make new things we just work and work more.When working all the good ideas come.When making, you come up with how you want your next piece to be.
Art is essential to me, vital I would say. I love the art of many different kinds from fine art to folk art, to illustration, to crafting, photography, decoration, you name it. Ceramics in the one is the one art we steadfastly make, but we dapple in some other areas of art as well.
I cannot have a day go by without an art experience of some kind, gazing through a magazine or on watching art online, looking at nature sometimes, being in nature is so uplifting.
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?
Our Etsy shop ships internationally from the first day.We are a small country and almost all of our customers are abroad and overseas. Sadly international postage is getting more and more expensive each day. We use free shipping for about half of our items, but many pieces are heavy or big, so we cannot have free shipping for those. Packaging our products is always a challenge for bigger of breakable things. We insist on very safe packaging and are rewarded by our customer’s satisfaction in this field. We use a lot of recycled paper and bubble wrap and cardboard boxes.
We gift wrap very often and use custom made had paper boxes with our logo that buyers will be able to keep.
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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 standout?
Competition is the nature of free market.We are concerned with other shops selling similar products, but we have to go on and to believe in ourselves and what we do. We try to stand out with quality, top service and always being there for our customers. Our experience in the local shop and the years we have been in the business have given us the expertise to create amazing, handmade products not easily found online.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
Diputes with customers and almost always about not having an order delivered on time. It is always about USPS delivered orders, about which we can do nothing about, other than advising our customers to go with expedite shipping. When selling we do come across some people who try to cheat and blackmail us, luckily these are too few. Most of our customers are very happy people and come back to our shop and our reviews more than prove that.
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?
Etsy has surely changed our lives.I think that we certainly have a long way to go still, but we have come a long way too. It can be stressful dealing with customers, not all remember to be polite, or thoughtful. The deadline is also another reason for stressful days at work when an order is not ready when it has to be. In such a case we discuss things with the customer. Almost always people are understanding and kind.
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 cannot say that I use social media so very much to promote our shop. I use Twitter and Pinterest always, Instagram too. I often use Facebook as well. You just have to be seen all the time, show all the new products and get reactions, see how well a new product will be liked. We sometimes advertise outside of Etsy, but not often. I am on the whole a bit wary of social media but maintain a strong presence there, I have to.
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 used to be such a wonderful place in the first years, but ever since going public it has become a lot like its rival online competitors, eBay and Amazon. It is still a nice place but often tries to spoil the good things and fix things that do not need to be fixed. Etsy is obsessed with trying out new things all the time. On the other hand that feeling of community and creators and crafters paradise is gone. We never see our colleagues on the Etsy pages like we use to. We have more difficult access to the teams. The teams of Etsy are so important!
Also, Etsy has become a really expensive place for sellers now and we just wonder why since its business keeps growing. Our business in each little shop is not growing with the rhythm is should be. Many of the more successful shops leave Etsy and start their own websites.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
What I have learnt the hard way is that you may be disillusioned and disappointed but still have to work your best and be there 100%.You have to bide your time and be patient.To always start anew.Sometimes things will seem settled and fine, but disasters occur anyway.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
If someone is starting an Etsy shop today, they should be truly commited and believe in ther product.They should be persistent and create a full shop of at least three pages with lovely things and really excelent service and customer comunication.
Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion
I still greatly enjoy being on Etsy and wouldn’t change it for other venues, but do expect a lot form the Etsy CEOs and people who own and run Etsy.We, the small shopkeepers, are the salt of the earth for Etsy and we should be heard. Many of us are having a very hard time, trying to stay afloat.
I would also like to thank Etsy for giving me the opportunity to be here and make so many happy customers and also meet so many talented shop owners worldwide.