At one time, seems like it was around our unemployment year, I thought I might make a business with Etsy. I love crafting. I love upcycling (not sacrilege, I only upcycle the unrestorable). I love thrifting. These were all things that had a robust market on Etsy and with Russ’ help, that had to be a good thing. If our shop became big enough, Russ could “quit his day job”. Yeah, everybody wants that, right? For a while there was an amazing market on Etsy for a nice range of things that Russ and I could do, but we weren’t in on the first years at Etsy and so we didn’t get the heyday halo.
One of the things that people are looking for when they shop Etsy is “One of a Kind (OOAK) The biggest problem with OOAK is time. Everything takes so much of it, and so many customers have had a steady diet of mass produced economies of scale. It is really hard to get a handle on how different things are, in production costs as well as costs to bring anything to market, when you move to OOAK, and then there’s the cost to get it in front of a customer’s eyes. Each one of a kind item has one-off photography and listing requirements. And every business has its life cycle. Soon there was a lot of competition from people who didn’t keep track of their time or expenses. One person would undercut prices, and the next person would more than match the undercut. Artists often find it exhausting to become adept at marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). People trying to earn a living were competing with people who just wanted to defray the cost of supplies so they could keep on doing their thing. There’s a lot to learn and you need to learn it from the people who are finding success on all those disparate fronts while competing with people who are selling at a loss.
On top of that, customers can’t often tell the real handmade from the mass produced. Most of the things I truly appreciate and want to do take a great deal of time on a level few people understand, and far fewer want to pay for. Big course stitches is the only way some people can recognize hand stitching and, on Etsy, things can be called “handmade” because a person sat in front of a sewing machine. Big course stitches can be beautiful, but tiny stitches with fine threads are too. It is just hard for some shoppers to comprehend that a person would voluntarily take all of those stitches with a needle and thread in hand. People who are interested enough to know the difference in these things are usually interested enough to be doing it themselves.
And then came all the side services SEO and advertising, and then coaches and productivity specialists. Then Etsy changed management and went public so, suddenly there were shareholders to please. The maximizing profit roller coaster created frequent changes that ate time. Dedicated artists and sellers had whiplash. It was, and is really hard to keep up with. And then that old issue of valuing time intensive original and handmade items, it still doesn’t jive with trying to match Amazon style margins and productivity. Even selling vintage things is time consuming for the one-off nature of listing what you find. Researching, photographing, writing up and packing up are a couple of hours, or more, per item and there’s a limit to how much efficiency can be squeezed into of the process.
And then there was the personal life. The first go ’round we lost all the crafts, supplies and items in a house fire. That was at least 50K uninsured. And then, It took time to rebuild the “stuff” of our lives. We briefly considered spending a few years as homeless vagabonds boondocking in a travel trailer, but made a more family oriented choice instead (no regrets there). Part of the reason we’re still selling is that same fire. We decided to replace things by buying as much second hand as we could. We couldn’t replace our own grandmothers’ things, but we could substitute someone else’s grandmother’s things. We both love the weight and feel of how things used to be made. And that’s when I became a borderline hoarder. I really dive into the thing I wander into. The housing market at the time was a seller’s market and it took a while to find the right house (whether we were successful in that is a long story in itself). I was spending a really insane amount of time in every thrift store, estate sale and garage sale we passed. “This is nice and I may never find it again…Oh, that’s better and I can put the other one in the travel trailer, or sell it, or give….”
The store has been a success in a lot of ways. I’ve had some cool experiences, united some people with the work of deceased relatives, made some people happy. I’ve always treated my customers like I was in business, but we’ve had the Etsy store since 2009 and, on average, sold just less than 1 item per week. It’s not a “real” business by any standard. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been worthwhile. If I didn’t like knocking around in thrift stores and estate sales, I wouldn’t have a basement so full that I’m overwhelmed just trying to organize it. The difficulty in organization is spilling over. I’m not really sure where the shop is going next. I don’t know if we’ll expand and turn it into a legit business on Etsy or elsewhere. Maybe we’ll shift into something altogether different. But one thing is for sure. The basement and my mind need some clearing. So, take a look in the store and see if there’s anything you’ve been longing for, something you didn’t know you needed, or that perfect gift. https://www.etsy.com/shop/sixdegrees