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.