Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
I have always loved to design and build things. When I was 5, I built a working go-cart with brakes and steering. I always have at least one project in the works at any given time. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and it helped me to learn better ways to design and manufacture things. I bought some shop tools including a computer-controlled mill, and that led to my being able to make much more diverse products. I made a line of titanium bike parts, and that led to titanium rings and other products.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I had started with a crude handbuilt website on AOL back in the day to help sell some onhand inventory of bike parts that I had made years before. I was able to sell every last part I had. This spurred me to make a real website, and then Etsy came along later. I saw it as a great outlet to show my rings.
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?
I make titanium wedding rings as my flagship items. I was one of the original makers of them, starting back in 1993. Most rings are fairly simple, so they are simply designed in CAD as 2D drawings. I have computer-controlled mills and lasers that help cut the raw bar to the near-final shape, and they are all finished by hand. I was the first to do wood inlays in titanium rings. The laser also allows me to make some more complex rings, like The Man Ring, which has tiny tools. I’ve also made such rings as a working handcuff ring that opens with a tiny key, and Iris ring, that has a camera shutter type mechanism that shows or hides a stone, and a combination safe ring, where when the proper combination is input, the safe opens to reveal a real gold coin. Another type of ring we are famous for is our meteorite rings, which have 4 billion-year-old material from space.
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?
I was entirely self-taught. It did take years to get to a point where I could make some of the more intricate mechanical rings and the tension set stone holding rings.
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?
Making the rings is definitely a full-time job. Selling online was a natural thing to do, as titanium rings are a fairly specialized field that would likely not support a physical store. We make most rings to order in just a day or two, so there is not the need for the mass of inventory needed for a storefront.
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?
I didn’t really know how well Etsy would reach the target audience. I knew there would be competition, some of which are better marketers, so there was some anticipation on trying to get the proper messaging out to the masses. There are plenty of makers out there doing it as a hobby, so we needed to differentiate ourselves as ones that do this as a living. Having more and better pictures and descriptions of the products have helped to level that playing field.
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 few days to get noticed on Etsy. There are a lot of people there, so we had to figure out how to get noticed. We were hoping that Etsy would be a real sales tool that would help get us recognized as one of the leaders of the industry. I think it helped to do that.
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 make our rings (and a few other items) full time, so most of my day consists of designing and making rings from the raw stock of titanium, cobalt chrome, zirconium, or other metals and hand finishing them. We do many of them with custom laser-engraved designs, so that artwork needs to be massaged to become laser code. There’s also a lot of time answering calls and emails and boxing and shipping items to customers.
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?
Our biggest selling item is our meteorite rings. We make the rings to order, so make the size and width the customer wants in a flat or domed shape, and of the material they choose. The ring is cut from a solid bar on a lathe and a groove cut in it. The groove is hand undercut by a rotary tool and a strip of meteorite metal is hammered into the groove. It is cut precisely to length with a jewelers saw and laser-welded at the seam. The ring is hand-sanded to flush and polished to mirror finish. The ring is then etched in acid to bring out the pattern in the meteorite and neutralized it.
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 factor in the profitability of the rings is the cost of the meteorite and the extreme cost of having it cut into slabs. The Gibeon meteorite is one that landed in Namibia Africa in prehistory and has been declared a national treasure in 1974 by their government, so there has been no exporting of the material since then. The meteorite is only found in collections of people that had imported it to the US prior to then, so it is very rare and expensive. It also is a solid metal rock, so is extremely expensive to cut to the final size. Pricing is usually dictated by how much meteorite is used and how much labor is needed in making a completed ring.
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 usually just start drawing in CAD. I have a lot of previous designs that I’ve done, so those are usually a starting point to a new design. Sometimes I will draw a quick sketch on paper and attempt to recreate it in CAD with more exact geometry.
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 do ship internationally. We use Priority Mail a lot, so that is in a designated mailing box that helps to protect the ring box that the rings come in. We do have lots of different options for shipping including a free First Class option to the US. Priority Mail usually takes 2 to 3 business days. International shipping might take a week or more.
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?
There are a lot of people that have gotten into our market since we started. We try to do some designs that others cannot make. We also have some tools like very expensive laser equipment that competitors are not as likely to have.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
Thankfully, we do not have many people who do not like their custom rings. We do make it right whenever it happens though. We try to do detailed writeups of the items and will contact the customer if we see something that in our experience won’t work well.
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 been a good part of our marketing strategy. We had certainly hoped it would be as successful as it has been and were not disappointed. There are definitely days when there is stress, especially when tight timelines are involved with custom made items, but we have done it for years and know the traditional ebbs and flows of the selling seasons.
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 are using more social media. We are active on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. We have tried ads in all of those and are continuing to try to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It seems to be a continually changing landscape there.
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?
I can’t think of particular things to improve upon. Etsy seems to be working well for us.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I think the biggest factor was to take better pictures. We have started taking multiple pictures of any new item we make, usually with nature background. I think that has helped to get our items noticed more.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Take multiple pictures of your stuff and try to have good descriptions of what the item is. It avoids a lot of potential issues if the customer knows pretty well what to expect and how it’s made.
Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion
Etsy is a great outlet for finding that niche buyer. The more niche, the better.