Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
Unrefined Art is a custom art shop that prints your favorite photos on wood. We originally started this business right out of college. Back when we started we used a hand transfer style process that was extremely slow and not able to scale but over time as we saw that our product was taking off we were able to purchase a large UV flatbed printer. When we started I considered myself an artist and crafter but as we have grown I have worn many hats from CEO to the marketer, to sweep the shop guy. In a small business, you have to be willing to do whatever needs to be done.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
At first we didn’t think our products would sell on Etsy. We thought it was something that people had to see in person but once we really started educating ourselves on how to list properly and how to be found we started to see success. This was our first shot at Etsy so we really came in with no knowledge of how it worked or if it would work. We did a lot of in-person shows the first few years of business which helped us create a customer base and helped us to evolve our products as we received feedback.
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?
We sell custom, handcrafted woodprints. We print our customer’s photos on wood that we get imported from New Zealand. Customers provide their own photos and personalizations and then select whether they would like a rustic or modern style print. We then create a free digital proof for every customer so they can see exactly what their custom project will look like before we begin. The quality of our products definitely stands out among our competitors on both Etsy and Google because we are one of the few companies that prints on solid, high-quality lumber. Our profit margins aren’t as large as the companies that print on plywood but we see an average of 1/3 of our customers leaving 5-star reviews so that tells me we are doing something right.
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 grew up on a farm, we always had projects and odd jobs that needed to be done so naturally, I became fairly handy. This proved to be extremely helpful when we started crafting wood prints. With every craft, you learn as you go. If I’m being completely honest our first wood prints looked terrible! The way we crafted them, the hand-transfer process, the lumber we used, it all needed a lot of improvement but we had to start somewhere. Over the years we have fine-tuned the process and I can now say we have some of the nicest wood prints on the market. Every problem you run into in your business is another opportunity to learn, grow, and better yourself. We learned from our mistakes, we listened to our customers and we never claimed we had arrived at the perfect product. Even now our products continue to evolve as we grow.
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?
Our hope in opening the Etsy shop was to get sales. We learned that we could make sales in person but that took a lot of time and energy to set up at craft shows every week. I think that our Etsy shop came out of a necessity when we hit the slow winter months. We weren’t able to go to craft shows and we weren’t making sales through our website so something needed to happen. Early on in the business (about 2 months in), I jumped in full-time because I was at a place in my life and family that I was able to do that. I wanted to give this my best shot and if it didn’t work I knew I could go do something else later on down the road.
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 opened the Etsy shop in hopes that we would be able to start making some online sales. I don’t remember being worried about it at that time. I remember being concerned about advertising on Etsy and whether we’d see that money coming back to us or not. We started with a small budget and as it proved it’s effectiveness we grew it.
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?
Sales came in slowly at first but by the time we made it to our first Christmas season we were amazed by the traffic. We really didn’t have a goal set at that time for a number of sales, neither my business partner nor I were dependent on the income at that time so we had the freedom to just let it grow and see what would happen.
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?
I jumped into this business full-time pretty early on which was extremely helpful. Not everyone has the ability to do that but I was thankful I did. I’ve been full-time for nearly 5 years now and my time is split between customer service, marketing, printing, and managing my employees ( I have a full-time and part-time employee now). My business partner and I decided to split ways back in 2018. We each took a portion of the business and rebuilt. It was a terribly messing split and one of the hardest times of our lives. We went from being childhood best friends to enemies. I never wanted to see him again. Long story short, Jesus got ahold of both of our hearts and about 1.5 years later we reconciled. Jesus healed our relationship and we’ve become best friends again. Now we both run our own Etsy shops but trust that God will provide for all of our needs, and He has.
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?
Because our woodprints are made to order with the customer’s own photo we aren’t able to create a stock of products. We prepare components such as the backing boards, packets for packing, etc. Every product is customized with a personalized image and text if the customer wants that; we then send them a digital proof before starting.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
Our materials we use are not cheap but the quality is excellent s we order in bulk from our suppliers to save what we can. Our prints are priced by the square inch for the baseline and then adjusted according to the complexity of crafting it. Our products are on the higher side of the market but again I think our customer’s see the quality difference.
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 get inspired by other people’s work. Whether that’s while my wife and I are on vacation walking through a downtown shopping area or seeing what others are doing on Etsy. As an entrepreneur, my mind is always working so when I see something I like or think of a new idea I just keep working on it in my head for days until I begin to come up with a product idea. After that, I mock it up on photoshop, print it, craft it and then rework it again and again until I like the end result.
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?
All of my USA shipments are free to the customer (built into pricing) but international shipments are calculated per order. Because we craft such a large range of sizes (5×8″ to 38×60″) it’s very hard to set shipping costs that work on Etsy. Our products are packaged in custom cardboard boxes without any padding. I have found that 1 or two out of every 400 orders gets damaged so it’s not worth the cost of additional packaging.
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?
When I started on Etsy the competition was fairly low in my niche but since then it has grown to be extremely competitive. It definitely impacts my business as others are competing for my clients. I can find myself getting worried or anxious about it but then I surrender it up to Jesus because He is the one that called me to do this and I trust He’ll continue to provide me with the orders I need. We work hard to stand out on quality and customer service. About 1/3 of our Etsy customers leave 5-star reviews. I take the time to follow up with almost every customer asking if we met their expectations, and if we exceeded their expectations I ask them to leave us a review.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
We’ve never had a dispute thankfully. I am very quick to take care of any issues our customers have. I can’t tell you how many free wood prints we have sent out over the years to make sure our customers are fully taken care of. We even send out new prints for customers if it wasn’t our fault at all. We keep our clients for life, so we take care of them like family. I communicate very quickly on the presale and provide free digital proofs of their product before they even order. I take the time to follow up with almost every customer asking if we met their expectations, and if we exceeded their expectations I ask them to leave us a review.
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 given me the ability to run my own business, without it we would definitely not be where we are today. When we started Etsy I had no idea it would do this well. We still have a long way to go but have been blessed to see the success that it has brought. Running your own business is stressful. I work more than most people at “normal jobs” but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think it’s important to set boundaries for yourself though because I have had seasons that I can work continuously but that’s not good for my marriage or family. At the end of the day you have to remember it’s really not about the money, I trust God to provide for us and I treat each customer with love and respect even if they are being ridiculous. A gentle and caring answer to an angry customer usually diffuses them pretty well.
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 just starting to see success in social media organically. I’ve run some ads on social media but haven’t found the perfect formula yet…
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?
Overall I am really happy with how Etsy functions. They give us way more freedom to work with our customers than a site like Amazon. I appreciate that we can exchange emails and phone numbers if needed. I wish that Etsy would allow for hyperlinks in the descriptions and I wish they’d get away from having to put all of your tags in the title. It makes it hard for customers to see the name of the product.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I watched a ton of YouTube videos on Etsy. Anytime I could I’d have a video playing on my phone and just glean little pieces here and there. One thing I learned the hard way is to make sure you keep a close eye on your Etsy ads to make sure they are performing well. Some ads do great but others will drain your budget so you need to keep a close eye on them over several weeks.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Always be learning and never think you have arrived. I know a lot about Etsy but I still have so much to learn. Your product can do well but you have to continually work at it. Dave Ramsey says “focused intensity over time, times God = unstoppable momentum” and it’s true.