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Honour the Child

Blog Archive

BTRT Patterns (on Etsy)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011
As you may know, this month is the 4th Anniversary for BTRT.
I was feeling reflective and thought I'd share some info and experiences, but thought I'd ask *you* what you want to know.
You can add your own questions HERE and read more about this (self) feature!

Four years ago, I was making more playsilks and painted clothing than one child needed, so on a whim, I opened an account at Etsy, a little handmade marketplace (2007). I hadn't planned on starting  a business.
It was a slow start, but it did take off in that way!
I then spent the better part of that year establishing a base at Hyena Cart.
And then looked back at my Etsy shop and decided to put a little effort into it (stock more items, promote a little more), and it really took off.

However, for new businesses just starting out today the Etsy world is a very different (and much much larger) place. And honestly, I am thankful for having had a chance to establish my business before Etsy tipped and became what it is today.

A reader asked:   I am just starting to sell my creations and am wondering what your experience has been.  How do you feel about Etsy?

I am ambivalent about Etsy.
It has been good to me, in the sense that it provided a marketplace for my work.
On the other hand, the exponential growth of resellers, the lack of support for existing sellers on business related issues (Etsy is 'hands off' and 'just a venue' so don't expect much!) and the move towards some ambiguous 'social shopping' thing has left me a little cold.
However, if you take it just at face value, as a marketplace, it can work for you!
Recent Product Picture

And the usual advice applies: excellent photos, a well stocked store (several pages of items), clear and concise descriptions, simple policies in place, good use of categories, attractive header...
You are creating a virtual store and people need to feel attracted, comfortable and informed.  They want to get a certain vibe that keeps them checking back and shopping.
Follow this with good communication, customer service and top notch products.

And the thing is... you can do *all* of that and founder in Etsy obscurity.

Joining a TEAM can help make the place feel a little smaller and more personable, it can also help with shared advertising and presence. The Natural Kids Team is a great place to start if you are into that sort of thing!

I try to follow all of that advice, and it contributes to success, for sure.
But I stand by my conviction that far more credit belongs to networking.  Not the shallow 'follow me, I'll follow you' numbers sorts of games. But creating real community and relationships with sellers and customers.
By knowing your niche market (#1 business tip as far as I am concerned!) and connecting, authentically with them, you create a true network.

I spent a *lot* of time in my first couple of years promoting others.  Featuring them on my blog, collaborating with them, recommending their work.  Truthfully, I received very little back in this vein in terms of direct 'pay back' but that wasn't my reason for doing it. I made connections, got to know the market and learned a lot that helped me hone in on my brand.  It was great market research and I made some good  friends and supports in this way. I still try and feature others' once a week on the blog, at minimum.

Growing the natural toy/ family sector together has helped everyone.
And you absolutely MUST make connections outside of Etsy for the Etsy shop to see much traffic.
I could say much more (ok, I know I could!), but it is probably more helpful to answer specific questions (so go ahead and add them in the comments!).

Next Question: Do you spend a lot of time doing markets and fairs and such?
 Nope. I don't do them.  I have done a few (2 or 3) and they were not worth my time.
Sales were fine. It was the set up + travel + child care + day away from home + making up in stock (all my silk is dyed to order in the shop) which was simply too expensive in terms of my time and energy. 
Because I have a full time job and we have a family business on top of BTRT I have to be very mindful of my time and its value.  We live hours from everywhere that would bring me in touch with my niche market and I have more work than I can handle most of the time from online orders so the gamble of a fair or market is too risky.

Question:  As far as pricing goes, how do you take into account your materials and time spent on your work and find a reasonable price to sell your wares so that they are not too expensive?
My time is valuable (to me & my family, at least!).  I carefully calculate the cost of my materials (ie wool roving can be weighed and amount used calculated) and pay myself an hourly wage, including the time spent on photos, listings, marketing.  I also build in a profit (which many people often forget!). It isn't much, but it makes it worthwhile.

I love to make things, and if I had a business or not, I would be making things.
But that doesn't mean I should do it for nothing (which this market sometimes forgets, or even holds against sellers who run a business).
 And as far as expensive... that one is tough.
What is expensive?
Are natural toys made with ethically sources wool or silk or wood, handmade by a single artisan, one at a time to last several generations going to be 'more expensive' than mass produced disposable factory plastics? You betcha.
But what about the 'expense' of those same cheap toys in terms of the environment as they sit in land fill forever? Or the 'expense' in terms of a child's imagination and ability to lead their own play?

Put those questions against the costs of natural materials (ie silk has tripled in cost since I started 4 years ago... I only made my first price increase a couple months ago), the limited (or lack of) buying power for the single artisan and all the other factors and the 'guilt' we so often feel (and may be made to feel by others perceptions or comments) dissipates.
An 'expensive' item :)

I decided long ago that I would rather make ONE quality item, price it fairly and wait for the right buyer, than to make 5 items, underpriced and have to work 5x harder for the same return.

Not everyone can or will choose to afford natural toys.
But I can't afford winter trips to the tropics or a new car either... I don't mean that to sound pugnacious, only that not every item is meant for every price point or market sector.
And honestly, a pair of playsilks is an investment in play that may far outlast and outplay many other toys purchased for the same money if we as a culture can let go of our need for more stuff..
(And I make a habit of donating some of my toys to various charities and resource centers to enable children who wouldn't normally come in contact with them to have the opportunity).

How's that for candid?!♥
I welcome your input~ questions, disagreement, insights... please add them to the comment section!


60-60 said...

I totally agree with what you said. I wish Etsy isn't like this now, but that's the trend and only way to go. They need to earn money too. I also am so glad I went into etsy a few years ago and built my business slowly back then, otherwise, I would got frustrated and quited in nowadays etsy.

Shantell said...

Thank you for your refreshing candor! I fully intend to purchase many of your wonderful (and "expensive") toys for my children. We purchase toys only once a year and do not have satellite. Our tv set goes away once the snow melts and is only allowed 1 hour a day in the winter. People are SHOCKED to hear this children are complimented every where we go on their manners, behaviour, and ability to entertain themselves. They don't have fits in toy stores because they know the answer is no. They do have toys. LOTS of toys. They manage to reproduce without our financial contribution (grandparents, friends...). But my children also love to play outside and run and jump and look for frogs in the streams. THAT is childhood. What memories will there be for children whose formative years were spent on their PSP?

Paula said...

People can't understand why I don't sell my knitting at the farmers' market but you said it. Some people don't like to pay a fair price for handwork, and heaven help if you are actually trying to make a living doing it. That said, as one hand work person to another, I think your prices are very reasonable for the work/material that goes into them. It's even worse with the pork, everyone wants $.99 pork, even though input costs have risen 400%+ since those days.

I have two questions: did you forget to send out the discount codes for promoting your store on our blogs? I'm only asking because Ella really loves your play silks. My second question is about shipping. How do you calculate Canadian shipping? It is so wildly overpriced and seemingly unpredictable.

Thanks for being so honest about us home businesses.

Heather Anne said...

Thank you dear Lori for taking the time, great answers! As I said in my comment on the FB post, I think your prices are awesome. But I have seen many folks, particularly on Etsy, that don't have much skill (or maybe don't use their skill to create quality work, but instead take the shortcut) and charge SO much for their things! I especially think all of your silk work is so well-priced and unique. It's funny that people consider the felted counting ladybugs "expensive" - if they only knew how long it takes to make just one ladybug!

What is Hyena Cart? How does it work? I've had several people tell me that I should open an Etsy shop, but it seems like such a black hole sometimes. The team idea is good though. I am in Mexico, so shipping nationally (and worse, internationally!) is a bit of a pain, that's where I'm stuck right now in regards to opening up for online sales.

Thanks again, you rock!

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