Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…
I started crafting jewelry and polymer clay beads as a child. My grandmother helped me get some of my items onto the store shelves of a local ice cream parlor in her quaint little town in Southeastern Washington State, and once I made a little money, I was hooked! For college, I found myself in a creative arts program, all the way across the world in Sweden. I continued as a maker, dabbled in painting, and kept on running my small beaded jewelry business while living there. Over the years I ended up back stateside and went to a trade school in Portland, Oregon to become a goldsmith. I opened up my fine jewelry company, Solo Artworks, and also my supply shop Solo Supplies to sell my extra beads and findings. Twelve years later and I am able to split my passion between crafting and craft supplies, and I couldn’t be happier.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I sold my own handmade items on consignment in local shops for many years until about the year 2000, when I also started selling extra beads on E-bay. I was able to be a part of the Portland Saturday Market while I lived in the city, and the people I was privileged to meet there introduced me to the wonderful world of Etsy! I’ve been on Etsy since 2007 now and selling supplies there since 2008.
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 focus now that I live in a more rural area without ready maker space, is my supply shop Solo Supplies. I have a passion for gemstones, so I scour resources all over the globe to bring in beautiful gems and other beads. I have had great success also offering kitchy and kawaii items, and since I absolutely love gardening, I have a lot of flower-themed beads and cabochons, and leaf themed findings to go with them.
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 don’t remember ever not crafting, in some way or another. If I’m not beading, I’m knitting, crocheting, quilting, pressing flowers, or lately, sewing masks to donate. I have taken dozens of classes including professional trade school, but my gemology knowledge is from studying and learning from fellow rock hounds and jewelers that I meet in my trade.
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 original goal was to make custom jewelry. This takes a lot of time, and a lot of conversation to get it right. Realizing that Etsy was full of other crafters like me, I think opening Solo Supplies was absolutely the right decision. Having an online shop is the best way for me to get my beads quickly into the hands of all makers across the globe. It is definitely a full-time job, though I do also have a part-time day job to get me out of the house – and so I don’t spend all day every day of the year making snacks and entertaining the family I now have! 🙂
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 have never hesitated to start the next venture in my business life. I’m more afraid of not trying, than failing! Over the decades now I’ve honed my accounting skills, delved into logistics, product research, and developed a customer-centric attitude. My worries about people not liking what I had to offer went away quickly, as there is always an audience for any product, shopping online 🙂
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 Etsy sale at Solo Supplies was almost immediate. In fact, I loved the comment so much I have to share it, from way back in 2008: “These are neat! 🙂 Bet you didn’t expect to sell them so quickly, huh? Thanks very much.” I never intended my supply shop to be my breadwinner, so for the first couple of years it was slow, and I only listed items I wanted to quickly de-stash. When we decided to have a baby is when I switched from metalsmithing, with blowtorches and chemicals, to focus on selling supplies. I hoped to make enough to earn spending money, but it quickly exceeded that thought and became a full-time job! Now Solo Supplies on Etsy sells a pretty steady 5-10 orders a day, and between that and my other venues, I’m quite happy and eager to further grow the business.
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?
Seasonally, I work as a paid Income tax preparer. My small business skills have set me aside as the office go-to for other sole proprietors, LLCs, and various types of corporations. After-tax season runs January through April, I go back to full-time Etsy seller. Luckily I can drink my coffee and eat my breakfast on the job because lately with quarantines in effect, I’m packing and shipping orders for easily 12+ hours every day. I tend to be a workaholic, so this is working great in my situation! My son is now old enough to be my assistant during summer break, too. He is quickly learning the ropes, and it’s wonderful to have him by my side.
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?
In the supply business, I see trends change very quickly. I will have an item sell 10,000 to 20,000 units in a month sometimes. Any time I can, I take my huge shipments from the gem cutters and other suppliers I use, and pre-package them into Solo Supplies packaging, just like you’d see on a brick and mortar store shelf. My office is literally lined with peg hooks holding little packages in nice neat order, ready to be picked and shipped. I do offer custom color choices but only on items that I can quickly count and pack. My best friends are my felted mats that cover my bead sorting desk, and my assortment of tiny metal scoops for picking up tiny beads and cabochons and packing them quickly.
What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
I used to struggle with under-pricing my items. I didn’t truly realize until I took the time to actually study accounting principles and pricing structures, and calculate actual overhead which most hobbyists don’t tend to need to worry about. I have a huge range when it comes to cost, but again, I’ve found that there is an audience for everything so I price fairly and don’t fret if something takes a while to sell – it will find it’s time to shine!
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?
My garden inspires me. As does the desert, and travel. My camera roll is about 50 percent beads and 50 percent vegetables, wildflowers, clouds, or water. I definitely have a theme going with floral items in my shop. It helps that I also love making my own creations with the same supplies I sell!
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?
I do ship internationally. I adjust my shipping and handling on the fly, raising it if I find that a customer’s order cost more than had charged them. I ship everything within 48 hours of payment, so typically my packages arrive very quickly, in fact, that’s one of the most common compliments I see in my feedback. I offer free US shipping on orders over $35, because most of my supplies are so small and light that it’s really no financial burden there. Plus when people order more than one item, I also know they’re very likely to come back again!
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?
After the first couple of years on Etsy, I decided not to pay my competitors any mind at all. I love to support fellow Etsians, including other supply shops! I use very strict pricing calculations on my products, and have been selling gems and findings so long that I know when I’ve got a good deal. I am in the midst of a HUGE amount of supply sellers, but luckily there’s room for all of us.
How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I am lucky to have kept a 5 star rating on Etsy since the very beginning. I am in the mind set of kill ’em with kindness, and I will bend over backward to make things right for my customers. The small loss if I need to refund or replace an item is not something to worry about. I use the app on my phone to be able to communicate with buyers throughout the day, and really love custom requests. Far and away, my happy customers far outweigh any issues that ever come up!
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?
Selling on Etsy has made me able to spend the time with my family that I was so worried I wouldn’t have. It’s connected me with people who are now dear friends, in various parts of the world. I’ve even been able to meet up with some of them, at gem buying events in Arizona, for instance! I used to get stressed if I had an unhappy customer, or if someone misread an item and was frustrated about it. Luckily I’ve been at this long enough now to know you always need to offer options to your customers with problems, even if one option is doing nothing at all.
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 have a bit of a following on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and I send out a tweet here or there. The funniest way to market is to join groups of people who craft! I get to see the amazingly cute creations they make, and get a good idea of what’s trending currently. I don’t spend much money on ads at the moment, but I do take an unwritten mental note of what seems to be the next up and coming trend and focus on sharing those supplies, or items I make with them myself!
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?
Etsy is a wonderful platform for easily uploading items you would like to make available. I would love if Etsy wholesale were more integrated with our regular shops, but I really have no major complaints!
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
My success really kicked in as soon as I decided to focus on my shop. I have always loved the business side of it, so the biggest lesson I think (and I’ve done it several times now!) is not building a big enough space for warehousing and workshop.
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?
Don’t undervalue not only your product but your time and your energy. If it’s draining you, it’s not worth it to sell! Pick something you know and love and can happily pour your passion into. If it’s having a shop as a hobby gives you joy, then by all means, pursue that joy 🙂