And Then, The Etsy Store

At one time, seems like it was around our unemployment year, I thought I (or we) might make a business with Etsy. I love crafting. I love up-cycling (not sacrilege, I only up-cycle things that can’t be restored). I love thrifting, when it’s in vogue, when it’s not. These were all things that had a robust market on Etsy and with Russ’ help, that had to be a good thing for a Second Hand Rose like me. 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 what you’ve got 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 our 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

LOL, Interupted by a Screech, or Not

Last week I heard about more “Driving While Texting” accidents than ever before. The problem has drawn heavy attention from lawmakers and law practitioners. Oprah is talking about it. The Georgia legislature is looking into the problem. A local news station is promoting pledges from its audience and running safety segments every time surf past.

We have evolved to this problem socially with emphasis on greater productivity, multitasking and multimedia ad nauseum. We took our children from one planned activity to the next with Gameboy in hand while also attending radio, video, conversation, whatever, . We used television as a baby sitter in the home and in the car. There is a constant feed of multiple stimuli in every aspect of life with no down time, constantly training us all to have divided attention. It is not surprising that we would carry that one step further to the operation of a car. The words usually used to describe a quickly growing problem like “epidemic” or “rampant” are so over used as to be meaningless, but the difficulty with divided attention and driving is growing at such a rate that “Texting while Driving” covers those concepts without any additional words to convey the magnitude or prevalence of a problem so large.

There is hope. Sometimes the solution to a problem lies in finding a way to accommodate a desire rather than trying to suppress it. There is a way to get commute time and down time or text time at the same time. Those kids in Japan wearing the school uniforms know the answer. It’s called public transportation, something we’re strangely lacking and strangely resistant to in the United States. On a recent visit to Japan I was invited to dinner by a Japanese family. The son travels a long distance to go to the better school and excused himself to go study. A friend asked “Do you study while you commute?” The mother interrupted protectively “NO, no no, that is his down time” and went on the convey that he uses that free time to relax, text, listen to music and “regroup” on the way home. Public transportation is magic. It allows one to do the impossible, to multitask down time. How great is that? And you won’t drive your car through someone else, their bumper or their living room while you do it.

I dream of the day when I can multitask my commute with down time or distractions without embarking on international travel, but unfortunately, public transportation is not practical from my home to anywhere else. The attempt to use public transportation from my home reminds of an old family story ” Lawd, you caint git there from here, yous gots ta go someplace else ta staart.” I’m also reminded of a neighbor who left Georgia saying that she felt like a prisoner of Marietta. She could never get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time, but we can have our cake and eat it too. We don’t need to pave over paradise to put up a parking lot, or make more lanes to accommodate more gridlock. We don’t have to spend our mind space primed in anticipation of hitting the brake when 70 mile per hour, bumper to bumper traffic converts to gridlock in a hiccup. We can switch to seeing faces instead of tailpipes and and let someone else do the driving. When I hear the idea of public works projects as a means to stimulate the economy, I think of all the compound ways that investing in public transportation that the public can and will use pays off. It just makes so much sense. Some day maybe my dreams will come true.