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 handmade crafting. I love up-cycling (I don’t commit 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? I’d still love to find a viable work from home situation. 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 are able or willing 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 for themselves. The squeeze put us mostly in vintage, rather than producing our own OOAK. I love vintage, the quality and the feel, that, and the lure of discovering and saving some treasure that others don’t recognize has kept me in thrift stores literally since I was a child. But even in that there are unrecognized hours.

With both, vintage and OOAK, it’s hard to reach customers without all the side services, SEO and advertising, and then some use coaches and productivity specialists. When Etsy changed management and went public, suddenly there were shareholders to please. The maximizing profit roller coaster created frequent changes. Learning what to do about them ate time. Dedicated artists and sellers had whiplash. It was, and is really hard to keep up. 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. I love the research. One of my dream jobs would be to work for History Detectives. But, paying the bills isn’t optional.

The personal life caused a rub too. The first go ’round with the “store” 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). I do however regret that the house with enough space that we could afford was a fixer in a neighborhood with an HOA and Guidelines that actually mentioned “an open look like a golf course.” It’s a pretty neighborhood, but that’s not who we are, or ever aspire to be.

Part of the reason we’re still selling on Etsy is the same fire. We decided to replace our 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 design of how things used to be made. And that’s when I became a borderline hoarder. I really dive into that thing I wander into. 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 house part of things didn’t go according to plan So, instead of moving into the notorious neighbor fixer with repairs completed. We moved in while still working on it, not with a big shiny moving truck or much in the way of new furniture delivery trucks. We emptied out the stored stuff we had accumulated one truck or car load at a time. The HOA was knocking on the door before months before we ever spent a night in the house.

The store actually 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

Anniversaries

Today is the two-year anniversary of the day the house burned. (As it happened, it’s also the anniversary of wedding my ex). So, I’m going to take some time for looking back on what I did right and what I did wrong. And, take time to make time to get back to writing. But I’m only looking back two years to the fire. I’m just writing a post, not a book.

The most important thing I did right was when I decided to settle with the insurance company. I didn’t want a false incentive to rebuild my life “cookie cutter” style, nor to work hard at digging deep for proof of all that I owned. “Cookie cutter” was the adjuster’s phrase. If you choose the “build your house back” option, cost overruns are only covered if you build back exactly as it was. Meaning that if you upgrade to stone counter tops or move a wall, any completely unrelated cost over runs in the basement or drive way are not covered. When you live in a house 23 years, you can’t help but see some things you’d change. I had one of the more modern floor plans for my neighborhood, but the house was more than 30 years old and trends change. It was still not what you would build from scratch for the next 50 years. I moved on and sold the lot. A builder put a spec home there. He did a nice job of building a current home that fit well in an older neighborhood and it sold for a top price. I thought the clean slate was a good result for the neighborhood that I called home longer than any other and I felt good about that.

There are drawbacks to a clean slate though. When you are building back cookie cutter, there are few decisions to make because you already made them. “Same” is the answer to everything and you just watch the contractor to be sure it’s done right. When you do that, moving on in ways unrelated to dwelling and contents moves up in the queue. When everything is a new choice, the layers of choices past aren’t there building the foundation of quick new decisions. A conscious choice to start from scratch is not for the weak at heart. Those decades of layered choices are how you ended up with the life you had, and even though stuff is just stuff, it’s the stuff you use for your life and insurance isn’t designed to improve your life, only to keep you from suffering if the worst happens. The mistakes you make while remaking your home are at your own cost, just like the original ones were. The more unknowns, the more likely it is that there will be mistakes.

The biggest surprise was how long things took. I thought there would be more Amazon.com involved in my rebuild, but things didn’t fall neatly together. There was the unexpected news that we had a seller’s market going on big time. I knew that neighbors weren’t having any trouble selling in my great school district, but I didn’t know just how hard it was to buy. We even went to a neighboring area where the school scores were a couple of percent lower, but finding a home was really tough, a big time sink. I was in that price range that has the most people in it, so well-priced houses were snapped up quickly. Now, I’m driving past houses we looked at nearly daily. I’m glad we didn’t end up in any of them and Russ says the same thing. But, there were complications and delays. We were still looking at back up houses the week before closing in case the deal fell through. I hated to ask to see a house when I had one under contract, closing in a few days, but I really didn’t have confidence in closing and I really didn’t have time to fail. If it hadn’t been for my allergies and that little hint of dog smell left in the carpet I might have jumped ship and be living in the last other house we looked at instead. Of course the irony there is that the house we bought had knock your socks off pet odors, but for that house the cure was to rip out everything and seal it with Zinsser.

The biggest mistake I made might have been having the urge to get on with things and buying before I had a permanent place to be. We had the goal to replace as much as possible through thrift stores and estate sales. It was the only way to get some semblance of the quantity and quality of what we had back. When you appreciate the quality, weight and feel of an antique tool, flimsy short term pressed sheet metal doesn’t cut mustard. We had to buy things when we could find them. They might not be available again. So, in some respects, it wasn’t a mistake to do it that way. And that may just be how it is when replacing a household, but it was definitely the hot spot. The place where it hurt was in the mix. Getting the right house meant getting a fixer because of the market, ours came with delays. We piled stuff on top of stuff inside of stuff and then rearranged stuff so that we could fit in more stuff. The irony being that 5 years from now we might have bought an Airstream (or a Spartan) and chosen not to even have a stationary home. It wasn’t 5 years from now though, it was two years ago. I replaced a lot of hobbies and do it yourself tools, household items and just plain stuff. The pile of stuff FOR the house gets in the way OF the house while we’re working on it, and it gets covered in saw dust too. My son downsized and wanted to fill my basement the day we closed. Life doesn’t stop going on just because we are still really, really disorganized and stressed. Moving stuff to do stuff. Moving stuff to clean it or clean behind it, or to keep from having to clean it. etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSd6-EvBgN4 We thought after things settled, we might take a long overdue vacation. One where we don’t carry our food and bed on our backs. One where we walk on the beach and sleep in a bed. Russ had an injury in the spring that lasted through the summer. There’s no telling how over due that’s gonna get!

The uncomfortable irony happened when we learned from neighbors that lightening had struck several times in the new neighborhood. So far, it’s been mostly tree damage. The old neighborhood was in a dip and I never worried about tornados. The new neighborhood had several new roofs due to storm damage. I noticed before we bought that several homes had new roofs, but I had guessed it was just the age of the neighborhood. Later a nearby house burned. I was coming home and saw the dreadful black plume. Every turn brought me closer to a home I’d been in for only a short time, and every turn I was unable to tell that the plume was coming from somewhere other than my home. I don’t wish loss on anyone else, but another fire before recovering from the first? I really hoped it wasn’t me. At the same time, I started going through emergency choices in my mind. I listed settling as the best choice I made, but that double edged sword also makes me wonder if it was the worst. The whole thrift replacement idea got me some cool finds, but all that time and gas… there is no reimbursement for that, and I was only able to do it because of my employment gap. I believe that if it ever happened again (please, NO!), I’d go the other route. Rent close by and rebuild. At least if you know where you’re gong to live, it is possible to know if you’re renting nearby when you sign the lease. This time no corporate apartment in an inconvenient area. Get a nearby rental house this time, and rebuild this time. Make it as fast, painless and finished as possible. I’m not sure I regret how I made my lemonade over the past two years, but the litmus test for any choice is “Would you do it again?” Right there in that moment, drawing closer and closer to a plume that could turn out to be my own? The road was long. The answer was “no.” For that house at that time, maybe my decision was right, but I hope I never find out what it would be if it happened again, and I hope you, dear reader, never have more than a passing interest in what your decision might be either.

Thrifting for a Day

One never knows what the day will bring when setting out in search of treasure. Many people look at fishing as a similar venture. My father was an extraordinary fisherman. People who went at it with less seriousness saw him as lucky, but I knew better. He had put in the time and effort to take luck out of the equation. When he was young he kept meticulous notebooks recording places time, weather, water quality, bait/lures and other things, and for the rest of his life he did mental editing. He knew when, where, with which tools and under what conditions the fish would bite. Like the younger brother who was described in “A River Runs Through It” my father on the other end of a fishing rod was an artist. He got there with practice, attention and perseverance.

In thrifting it’s the careful attention and plodding perseverance that are most useful. I’d like to think my good results can somehow be attributed to skill, and it is important to know your stuff, but a lot of it is just putting in the time. Some stores will have habits and knowing them is useful. But, they don’t always stick to their own habits, and they are dependent on sometimes unpredictable things, so going back again and again is the only way. It also works in their interest to make sure you have to set foot in the door, to be in impulse purchase mode, to find out if they have the thing you really want. We who love to thrift are particularly susceptible to impulse purchases. That’s how some of us become hoarders, and how others of us end up donating our purchases back to the place where we bought them to be resold again.

Wednesday, I made a big loop. It was about 15 stores, a tank of gas, a whole day and two meals out. So, maybe $300.00, nine hours and 100 or so miles were what it took to bring in my treasures of the day.

Here are some highlights.

Handmade Oak Craftsman floor lamp, needed a harp and a finial. Retails at $435 The harp and final requires a trip to a lamp store for a sturdy harp and a finial worthy of its lamp. That was an extra 2 hours and $20.00 cost added to acquisition. I gave the lamp to Russ for his Valentine’s present.

9 shortbread molds, sometimes I’ll go months without finding any of these at a price I’m willing to pay. These had sold prices on Ebay from $9-200. The more expensive ones had papers, and I’ve been throwing out my papers because I plan to use these in a bakery offering on Etsy. The larger one is still in the dishwasher. $120

A stainless steel double boiler style steamer for personal use. $15

A large heavy duty restaurant sifter well made $10

A Paula Deen ceramic tube pan retails for $40.

A handmade lazy Susan that the maker still sells for $70 needed a bit of steel wool and some new oil, or $5 more dollars and 30 min.

An assortment of vintage goodies that I will sell in my Etsy store or one of my booths. $150.00

So, I had a very good day. I built my household, my Etsy business and my local business, The gain was around $500, but there’s always a but. Only around $150 is in salable merchandise and there will be percentages as well as overhead (like booth rent) taken from that. Most of today’s finds will go toward the “How much of our household can we replace through thrifting” part of the equation. We got a really nice floor lamp that retails for about 4 times what we would have paid if we were buying a new household item and it was the showcase item of the day. I’m very happy with it and Russ is too. However, it is important to note that a large part of my gain comes from attributing retail value to that lamp, rather than valuing it at what I could ask for it if I were to sell it second hand. Much of my gain for the day is in having something nicer in my home than I could otherwise afford to buy.

Another big part of my success lies in the fact that I had several goals. That allows me to find more things that fit. If you’re looking for 20 different kinds of things it is more likely that you’ll find one of them when you go out.

Photos of some things will follow, but it’s time to publish, my technology is not playing nice today and I have appointments to keep.

Thrifty

Cookie Jars, LostBefore the fire, Russ and I were frequenting thrift stores and estate sales to find things to up-cycle, re-purpose or re-sell for our vintage and handmade business. Our treasures were available (and will be again) online at Etsy.com shops Six Degrees and Lost Vacation and in booths at local Antiques and Interiors stores. Woodstock Antiques and Queen of Hearts in Marietta
We love the manufacturing standards of older things as well as giving new life to things that might otherwise be lost forever. The treasure and bargains that you can find are amazing, especially in an affluent and densely populated area like the one we live in.

We also find things that friends and family are looking for. When I see something that makes me think of them, they may get a “Hey do you want..?” call, text or photo. Some of my stories of bargains sound great, just like those shows on cable. Sometimes I see a sofa or a trinket that I have… scratch that…had, or that my grandmother had. Finding those “usta haves” will be important now. But, it is a take what you find kind of pursuit. In a full price store, you know what to expect and have a reasonable idea whether or not the thing you want might be on the shelf. In a thrift store, you can find great bargains, but the stellar price may not be on the something that should take up space in your own life, business or hoarder home. So, how practical can it be to rely heavily on a commitment to thrift store purchases for replacing the must haves?

If you are up-cycling or reselling there’s a lot in knowing what things are and what they are currently worth. But it is hit or miss even then. Some thrift stores charge as much as some retail stores (I’ve even seen things priced as much as double retail), but they don’t offer returns or warranties, believing that dedication to their cause will get enough customers to buy their wares. And there is all of the time and gas involved.

After the fire, Russ and I wondered how much of our world we could put back together in thrift stores, estate sales and auctions. We’ve had some good finds, but are they good enough to justify the time and expenses as anything more than a hobby or an amusement? We were working on finding out if what was primarily my pursuit born of unemployment could grow into a realistic replacement career. We had built our stock and planned for a strong and busy holiday season that would boost this pursuit into a full fledged business, but it is not a metaphor to say that it all went up in smoke.

And then there is the time component of the up-cycles. It makes great entertainment to see a save on a show like Storage Wars when a cast member makes a great up-cycle from old junk into cool stuff, but they never talk about how much time that takes, especially if you don’t have a team of helpers to get it done on the filming schedule. Those shows give the numbers people want to consider, actual purchase price versus potential sales price without regard for time, gas, storage, marketing or other expenses. In other words, they ignore all of the inconvenient real costs for the camera. There are clear winners on the occasional miss in the pricing departments of most thrift stores, but do the bargains come often enough? That is our experiment. To call it a success, we believe that it has to justify the time spent, just like work. If I put a year into this and haven’t saved at least as much money as I would earn working at something else, then I would have been better off doing something else.

Few people have a fire sweep their lives, and adding up the real costs? That doesn’t make as good a show as just looking at the fun and interesting parts, so why would I put all of this time into writing a blog about this stuff? Even though a fire isn’t the most common thing, many people do have to start over for any number of reasons and when they do, it’s pretty daunting. So many decisions, and no time to make them be the best ever. So whether you are overloaded by a reboot, or just looking for some weekend project or entertainment, I hope that I can share something fun or interesting with you.

So that is what we will find out, that is what this blog is about now.

How much of our lives and our business can we recreate second hand through thrift stores, estate sales and any other source out there in three R land?

Soon we will have the name and look that my tech advisor recommended, but all the old content will still be in the background.

Gift Giving, The Lesson of the Aprons

By Karen

I write this as we move into what is, for many of us, the biggest gift giving season of the year. Some of us are approaching the season in “business as usual” mode, some are looking at gifts and consumption in a new minimalist light, while still others are economizing based on need to do so. But, all of us want the gifts that we give to be enjoyed and appreciated.

Everything I’ve done lately is marked by sentimentality and a sense of family. I’ve done a lot of looking back as Russ and I have been working to open our Six Degrees Store on Etsy. We’ve entirely rearranged the house, turning one bedroom into a studio, moving many things to the attic and making all of our spaces more artisan friendly. One thing I came across while turning my home upside down was a stack of my great grandmother’s aprons. We called her Grandma Pill. She wore an apron every day, all day. It was part of her uniform and she wasn’t dressed until she had it on.

When I was a child, I taught myself to sew making clothes for my dolls. One day my grandmother, we called her Mimi, got out the pattern to make her some new aprons for Grandma Pill. I decided that it was time to graduate to making gifts and I asked if I could sew Grandma Pill’s new aprons. Mimi granted my request, handed me the pattern and showed me some available fabric to choose from. The pattern was made of newspaper. It had evolved over time as Grandma Pill tweaked it now and then and it had been traced time and again as each new original became worn. It was plain, with just a little shape and one or two pockets.

I wanted my gift to be special. I pulled out some of the fancy patterns that I had my eye on out from underneath the large oak buffet and suggested that I might make one of them. Mimi said “Well, you can make one of those if you want to, but if you’re making an apron for mother, you need to use this pattern because this is what she wants.” I was disappointed. I was still in Barbie doll land and Barbie is a fashion doll. Plain was not really what a little girl who was hoping to make something special really wanted to think about, but Mimi had a very certain tone in her voice and I wanted to make the apron, so I did what she told me to. I made a plain, ordinary everyday apron, at least I conformed to one as plain and ordinary as I could force my child’s yearning heart to handle, and it was exactly what Grandma Pill wanted. She was delighted. I didn’t learn any significant new sewing skills that day when I moved beyond doll clothes, but I did learn a lot about gift giving.

Etsy@Six Degrees

We recently opened our Etsy.com store and it’s been a long time coming. Opening the “store” seemed a perfect idea. I’ve been collecting fine craft and sewing supplies for many years, but I had stopped using them a few years back. My empty nester house was filled like a craft store, closets and shelves overflowing. It seemed a perfect fit in our recent stint of unemployment. We had extra time and extra stuff and arts in crafts are in my blood, a family tradition. As long as we used only personal supplies that we already had, the risk would be time alone. We could make lemonade from our lemons. I guess we are not the only people to decide that crafting might be the solution. This week there was an audio spoof on The Onion, “80% of the Nation now selling handmade jewelry“. Though there is currently no jewelry in our collection, there’s nothing quite like seeing yourself parodied just as you are getting into something you’ve been working on pretty hard for a while, but in today’s age everything is spoofed and you’d better be able to see the humor, so I write this for others who may be considering doing something similar.

There were several challenges in opening our new store, large and small, and the jury is still out on our attempt to make lemonade. Here’s are some examples of small: A serger is the machine that makes the overlock stitch you see on store bought clothes (especially stretchy ones). A serger comes with these nice bent tweezers that are very useful. They look like a dentists tool and they help you to thread the needles because fingers don’t fit very well between the knives that trim the fabric and the needles that pierce it. The problem is that these handy tweezers are useful for everything under the sun and actually keeping them in the serger tool door where they belong is a challenge that I am not always up to. I should have several pairs and keep them placed at strategic places around the house. Oh, and there’s the baby doll crib I’m working on. I need to use ribbon. I have a box with literally hundreds of spools of ribbon, but do I have the right color? The idea that there would be no risk but time, well that sounded good in theory.

And the example of large? Well, that same Babylock serger that I bought when sergers were new to the home market was an experiment. It wasn’t just a threading problem, it stopped working altogether, just when I had a lot of Halloween stock underway and not much time to complete it. So here I am, in a rush and the sewing machine repair man is telling me that they didn’t know how to cast the metal when my machine was made. They used pot metal and if the machine sits for long periods of time it often ceases to function. I’m thinking “They knew how to cast engine blocks long before that, the knowledge wasn’t transferable?” Regardless of why they did it badly, they did, and I am the beneficiary of that unfortunate fact. The cost of the replacement part and service to install it was close to the cost of a new machine, so they stopped making the part. I had taken my Babylock to a non Babylock dealer and I did that for a very specific reason. I had come out on the wrong end of a repair in the past and didn’t want to support the dealer who had made me pay for their mistake. Still, this was information that needed confirmation. I swallowed, went to the local Babylock dealer and asked. The representative said “Sounds right” before moving into sales mode. The machine that would give the best value/cost trade off if my business takes off is a third higher than what I originally paid. I’m thinking of the no lose, no financial cost, only time investment decision that I made when I decided to start, and that was several unexpected costs ago. The decision to buy some type of serger seems pretty clear, at the same time, it doesn’t. When I get ready to buy, I remember that the machine I want comes from a dealer that I don’t want. The Etsy store has not progressed to the point where we know that we will make it a business rather than a hobby. I need the serger for most of the things I want to sew, but the decision to buy gets stuck in my throat. Now I’m looking at Christmas, I’m even looking at it late and still I can’t follow through to make the purchase. It’s more than the risk of spending a large sum of money when you started off with a no risk game plan. It’s deciding to give that money to a business that didn’t treat you well last time you gave them a couple of thousand dollars.

There is the up side though. We really are having a blast imagineering. Creative pursuits are by far the most energizing (and agonizing). We are having fun collaborating, asking each other for second opinions. We get so excited when we make a sale. We’ll be beside ourselves if we ever make a profit and turn it into a going business. You’d think that we were 5 years old and really had made lemonade, selling it on the corner. And, we watch a lot. We are in a fledgling stage and trying to decide which of our talents to pursue. Kids in a candy store. We watch the Etsy Store page to see what people are looking at and try to decide which projects to prioritize. There is a whole community to the Etsy.com organization. People put together collections and interact in various ways. It’s an adventure and a journey and all those things that dreams are made up of. One of the reasons the idea has such appeal is the real dream. If it were to really take off it would be wonderful to build it into the idea that I wrote about in this story.

We invite you to join us! Tell us what you like. Tell us what you’d like to see.

SixDegrees