Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
Hi, my name is Kai! I’ve been a bartender for most of my adult life, but a designer since I was a child. It wasn’t until early 2019 that I discovered those two passions worked hand-in-hand and decided to create my brand Cocktail Critters. I wanted to combine the passion I have for illustrations with the expertise of cocktail making into a fashionable brand that anyone could enjoy.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I discovered Etsy when I began researching the best marketplace to sell my unique goods. I did not at the time have the experience of building my own website and wanted to get my products in front of a global audience as quickly as possible. I was familiar with selling on eBay, Craigslist, and other platforms but they didn’t have the niche following for small & design-focused goods as Etsy does. I began selling online because it was (and still is) the best way to reach the widest array of customers.
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?
Cocktail Critters focuses on hard enamel lapel pins, fashioned from gold/silver/black-plated metal. All of the designs are my own, from sketching to illustrating, to prototyping and approvals with my manufacturing team. My products focus on a unique combination of popular modern and traditional cocktails, with animals from around the world. The combination might be story-telling (Paws Off My Wine; a cat spilling its owner’s wine) or thematic for color (A Hoppy Giraffe; a tall animal, yellow in color paired with a tall pilsner beer, orange in hue).
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?
Is any artist truly happy with their creations? I believe there are always new techniques, new artistic liberties, and new designs to be learned and experimented with. My artistic style continues to grow, and I believe it is apparent in the style of lapel pins I produce today compared to where I started. I am self-taught, from drawing to the use of Adobe Illustrator. YouTube is a wonderful tool these days, and there’s a tutorial for just about every skill someone needs to learn.
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 bring my passion to life and provide a unique item to the communities I surrounded myself — the bar communities. Selling online granted me the ability to reach out to more of these niche communities around the world, and ensure that the voice behind my brand was communicated the right way. At first, I saw this as a hobby, simply crafting something for like-minded individuals to enjoy. But in 2020 my designs have taken off like a rocket ship and have now become my full-time commitment.
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 did not have any concerns or reservations before opening my Etsy shop. I started small, with a few designs, and only invested the finances I knew I could. As for competition, there was nothing truly like it on the market — despite there being thousands of other pin makers/sellers. I knew I had something unique. I don’t want to outpace myself and saturate/grow too quickly. So long as I keep growing organically, with an audience that enjoys following my brand, I’ll continue to overcome any doubts and grow.
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 about 3 weeks before I received my first sale on Etsy. It was about as long as I anticipated since no one had previously come to know about my brand. Since then I continued to grow my social media presence and began achieving about 10 orders per week (40 per week in November and December) throughout 2019.
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?
With the growing success of Cocktail Critters, I’ve just resigned from my full-time job. I have been the manager of the advocacy department for a brand in 6 countries for the past four years. In the past year, it has become increasingly difficult to manage two full-time positions, both requiring sometimes a full day. As of January 1st, 2021 I will be selling online full-time and committed to growing my brand through various marketplaces, social media platforms, wholesale, and retail partners. My days would often consist of 2-3 Zoom meetings (job), alternating with order fulfillment, purchases, social media posts, and photography/sketching/illustrations. No two days have been the same, but I make sure I have a task list for the following day to tackle.
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?
My best selling product is my “Scotch Ness Monster” pin, selling 10x more frequently than the next best selling pin. It’s a product that resonates with my audience deeply, and a great item to gift for Father’s Day, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. I create all of my products ahead of the orders, to ensure timely deliveries. Due to the nature of economies of scale, I will produce a bulk amount of my designs ahead of time, and advertise/market throughout the year to sell the inventory. All pins start with sketches on paper (now an iPad; Procreate), which I import and illustrate on Adobe Illustrator — and finally send off to prototype and manufacture. I do offer custom pins, and customers can email me for quotations. This is a small portion of my business that I am looking to grow in 2021, as the popularity of custom pins continues to increase.
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 impact on profitability is the advertising spend, required to draw in new traffic into my store via Facebook & Instagram ads. The cost of materials is low, and the price of my product ensures that I maintain <20% cost of goods sold.
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?
The source of inspiration changes week to week. Sometimes I find a cocktail or animal I’m captivated by, or sometimes my followers make recommendations that they want to see. I find that sitting in a cafe helps me the best, as it’s a different environment to sitting at home in front of my laptop (which I do for the rest of my duties).
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?
US Shipping: I only use USPS for shipping my products across the US. Although at times they lose my parcels, for the most part, the tracking system is reliable. I offer customers free shipping for orders of $35 or more, to entice consumers to purchase a third item (all pins are priced at $11.99/each) as opposed to paying $23.98 + $3.50. The additional $7.52 I earn from the sale of the third pin goes a long way in the bottom line. International Shipping: With all sales on Etsy, I use their USPS/Global Shipping methods, as they are embedded in the Etsy system and convenient for consumers to follow tracking updates. However, this method is expensive and can sometimes take 2-4 weeks to arrive at its final destination. For an inexpensive consumer product, the heavy shipping price often discourages people from buying. Packaging: For my pins, I use bubble envelopes covered in either leaves or pineapples depending on the availability of packages. I want to make sure that my package stands out in the mailbox, and embodies my brand imagery.
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 incredible sellers in the Etsy community — many grounded with 10-50x the consumer/fan base than I have built so far. While they are “competitors” in the market, I see them as aspirational brands that I want to build myself toward. Certainly, there are thousands of competitive sellers, all touting similar products. But what makes my brand stand out is the niche focus of product designs (cocktails & animals) and my original artistic style.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I always reach out to my customers after every sale to ensure they are happy with their products. It’s something that isn’t automatically generated, and is often time-consuming but is the extra step I believe that makes a difference. Sometimes customers prefer not to communicate privately, but let it be known that they were not happy with their item on public reviews. In every case, I try to remedy the situation. Whether that’s a discount, refund, or new shipment (depending on what was reviewed) — I always make sure to reach out to the customer.
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 online has definitely changed my life for the better! I would have never thought that my side-job would become my full-time job within two years. It’s absolutely remarkable! Like any entrepreneur, I get stressed about poor customer reviews/interactions, manufacturing delays, lost shipments, and more! They are all little fires that I need to put out weekly (if not daily). The best way to deal with all of it, is to work proactively, not reactively. Being proactive with my customers (e.g. reaching out after every purchase) as opposed to allowing them to reach me with a complaint. Being proactive with my suppliers (estimated delivery times, managing expectations on quality of goods) as opposed to receiving a late shipment of poor-quality items. These are just a few ways to get in front of the problems that may pop up.
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 vital and has been the key driver for the success of my shop. Cocktail Critters posts daily to ensure activity and awareness for our brand. We spend money on Facebook & Instagram ads to drive new/cold traffic to Etsy and draw hype around new product launches.
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?
Change the international shipping program from Global Postal Service to another platform. If the package is lost or tracking becomes inactive, the seller is held accountable. This is an automatic shipping type provided by Etsy, and it’s a poor one at that. If Etsy mandates the use of this company, Etsy must be held responsible for lost posts.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Be sure to make use of the product titles and search keywords. When I started, I did not capitalize on either and crossed my fingers in the hope to be discovered. I realized that it was the wrong way to go about it, and instead maximize my visibility with keywords that help my products be discovered more frequently.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
One of the biggest beginner mistakes I’ve seen from other sellers is not having good photography. Images are so important and should portray the design (or utility) of your product. Many of my customers don’t even bother reading the product description — so the images should be captivating!