Local artisans setting sales on Etsy

Sellers connect with customers around the world to offer wares in online marketplace

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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For more information about buying and selling handmade goods, vintage items and crafting supplies through Etsy, go to http://www.etsy.c...

Pricing matters

Because many people are hesitant to purchase high-end products unless they can touch them or try them on, Etsy sellers often have more success offering moderately priced goods, said local jewelry designer Shannon Miranda.

When it comes to fine jewelry, many people are reticent to buy online, said Miranda, who uses sterling and fine silver, gold and stones such as rough diamonds, larimar, Tahitian pearls and turquoise in her pieces.

“People like to see it, hold it, try it on,” said the 42-year-old Vancouver resident.

She also sells her jewelry at brick-and-mortar shops including Angst Gallery in Vancouver and Alchemy Jeweler and The Real Mother Goose in Portland.

Prices on her eponymous Etsy shop typically range from $350 to $3,850, but she’s adding more items in the $95 to $150 range to make her jewelry more accessible.

“For people who are new to my jewelry, that’s the entry price point,” Miranda said.

Sue Anderson was excited to discover that the unwanted sails taking up space in her and her nautically inclined friends’ homes could get a second lease on life.

Anderson, a technical writer from the Lake Shore neighborhood who’s active with the Vancouver Sailing Club, recently began taking old sails and transforming them into totes and wine bags.

Anderson realized there was a demand for such handcrafted items both inside and outside the sailing community, so last month she and Becky Burton, a friend from Portland, started the business Second Chance Sails.

They bought a couple of domain names for a future online storefront, but decided that, for now, their time would be better spent creating merchandise and spreading the word about Second Chance Sails than designing a website and e-commerce payment system.

So they followed in the footsteps of a growing number of creative Clark County entrepreneurs. They joined Etsy.

Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., Etsy is an online marketplace that was founded in June 2005 and bills itself as “Your place to buy and sell all things handmade, vintage, and supplies.”

In 2005, $166,000 of merchandise was sold through Etsy. Sales have increased each year since its launch. Between January and October of this year, $235.9 million of goods sold through Etsy.

Etsy now has more than 6.4 million members from more than 150 countries. More than 400,000 people sell items through Etsy, and currently 7.3 million items are listed, according to the company website.

Anderson and Burton created an Etsy shop, and they now pay 20 cents to list each item. If items sell, Etsy takes a 3.5 percent cut. Anderson and Burton set up their shop to accept PayPal, credit card, money order and check.

Etsy has the e-commerce infrastructure already in place, as well as a loyal following. That has allowed Anderson and Burton to focus on building Second Chance Sail’s inventory and name recognition without getting bogged down by the nitty-gritties of starting an online business.

“We could get up and running a lot faster” with Etsy, said Anderson, 54. “The tools are in place.”

If people do run into any difficulties setting up their shops, Etsy offers good customer support, said Yacolt historic costumer Rebecca Morrison-Peck, owner of the Etsy shop The Thatched Cottage.

“They’re very responsive,” said Morrison-Peck, 59, who sells vintage accessories and clothing and vintage reproduction items on Etsy. “It’s very, very easy.”

Etsy’s broad reach and strong reputation make it stand out among other online marketplaces that cater to artisans, Anderson said.

“The people that I’ve talked to who are looking for quality, handcrafted products, they’re typically looking at Etsy shops,” she noted.

Etsy has a passionate membership, with more than 278,000 people “liking” its Facebook page. There’s even a social network called We Love Etsy (http://www.etsylove.ning.com). It’s not affiliated with Etsy but serves as an online community for fans of the site.

Trying to get noticed

That kind of devotion helps drive traffic to the site, but there’s also a downside for sellers to Etsy’s popularity, said Erin Lynch, who along with his wife, Jill, runs an Etsy shop called Dolls for Friends.

When they joined Etsy in 2007, the Lynches were among about 100,000 active sellers. That number has since increased by 400 percent, making it more difficult to get noticed by potential buyers, said Lynch, a 38-year-old graphic and Web designer from Vancouver.

When buyers do a keyword search for a particular item, Etsy shows the most recent listing first, by default. With more items being added to Etsy than ever before, new items don’t stay at the top of the list for long.

“It takes more work to keep yourself in the consumer’s eye than it did three years ago on Etsy,” Lynch said.

There are some tricks to making one’s Etsy shop more visible, though.

People can freshen their shops by renewing their listings. Like an initial listing, this costs 20 cents per item, but Lynch feels it’s worth it. He and Jill try to add three whimsical plush dolls to their Etsy shop each week, and they renew each listing at least once.

The Lynches are still experimenting with strategy, trying to determine the most effective time of day to renew listings (too late in the day, and most people on the East coast are asleep). Etsy’s blog, Storque, provides good marketing advice for sellers, Lynch said.

It’s also possible to purchase a place on a Showcase, Etsy’s advertising program for sellers. This costs either $7 or $15, depending on the Showcase, and helps boost visibility. However, it also drives up production costs, which might have to be passed on to the consumer for sellers with low profit margins, Lynch said.

One way to get free publicity is to have an item be selected by other Etsy members for inclusion in their “Treasury.” Adding something to one’s Treasury is a way to acknowledge interesting items others are selling. Being on a Treasury list increases the odds of being picked by Etsy staff for the Handpicked Items section on the home page. However, this, unlike paid advertising, is beyond sellers’ control.

Building community

Features such as Treasury help create a sense of community on Etsy, something Washougal artisan Kerianne Christie really values.

“It’s a support network for people who are doing similar things,” she said.

Christie, a 40-year-old teacher at Washington School for the Deaf, has two shops on Etsy. The first, Titania Blossoms, is where she sells “upcycled” apparel and accessories. Upcycled is a term coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart to describe the practice of transforming an article into something of greater use and value. For Christie, that might mean taking a ruffled pillow case and repurposing it into a little girl’s dress.

In her second Etsy shop, Felted Finery, Christie sells felted apparel and accessories made from old sweaters and raw wool.

Christie also has a Titania Blossoms shop on the online artisan marketplace DaWanda (http://www.dawanda.com). DaWanda is based in Europe, and it’s the source of most of Christie’s overseas sales. However, about 90 percent of her overall online sales come through Etsy, and only 10 percent through DaWanda.

Christie lists items in her Etsy shops, but she also does custom orders. Etsy has a feature called Alchemy, where shoppers write about what they’d like to buy, and sellers can respond with bids. This is how Christie ended up making a custom sporran — a kilt accessory — for a woman who wanted to give one to her Scottish husband as a Christmas gift.

“She said he loves it and uses it all the time,” Christie said.

Sometimes custom orders work the opposite way, with buyers coming to her and asking for specific items not listed in her shops.

Christie has also formed connections with other sellers. She joined an Etsy group called EcoEtsy for environmentally minded artisans. Through this group, she has been able to trade raw materials, sending her husband’s old cigar boxes to someone who would turn them into guitars in exchange for old sweaters to felt.

These types of connections are central to Etsy’s mission, said press manager Adam Brown.

“It’s about the fact that you can really express who you are,” he said. “You can find people on the site and connect with them in meaningful ways based on common interests.”

Etsy recently created even more ways for people to connect by adding two new features to the site. In late November, Etsy added Circle and Activity Feed functions to bring members together.

When an Etsy member adds someone to his or her Circle, everything that person does (add items to the shop or Treasury, add people to the Circle, etc.) appears in the Activity Feed. Members also can look through the Circles of people in their Circles to discover others whose work they might enjoy.

“That’s a great way to find people with similar interests,” Brown said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.