Thursday, 20 November 2014

Etsy - a new adventure

SO at the encouragement of my little sister, I've been giving Etsy a go. I can't say I'm much of a marketer, and especially not an internet marketer, but at least it gives me an outlet to share the stuff I'm making in the garage. Lately its been recreating the wooden train set my Grandfather gave me when I was very small, but I have plans to make more stuff in the next few weeks that will get away from just train stuff. I've been spending gobs of time in the garage making sawdust lately - I've even assigned myself the title of 'Chief Sawdust Maker' on twitter.

But trains are fun to make. And they are great for kids to play with. In fact, the 35 year old train that I played with as a kid has the same appeal to my guys as it did to me - which is why I started making copies of it in the first place. So far I've done engines and tenders, but I'm hoping to have some cabooses made up by the weekend. The boys each will get one of their own, and then my original can get put back up on the shelf as the pattern-maker going forward. Right now it is being well loved - and a little bit abused.

Back on topic... I'm not sure how an Etsy store gets traction. According to my sister, her online business  grew more or less organically. It started with friends showing support, and then grew with inventory attracting customers and reputation leading the way. A twitter page and a facebook feed now sell her products as fast as she can make them. The Etsy storefront seems to no longer be the heart of her business - it seems like now its just another marketing tool. I'd like to get to that same place and build a business that supports itself on reputation and product rather than depending on an outside source of customers. It looks like that will take time, and I'm impatient.

My first listing on Etsy was a set of blocks, it was an eye opener:

When you go from making things as a hobby to making them in a the context of a business, you start tracking time and materials and tooling. Suddenly you are acutely aware of how much it costs to make a simple thing, and how much time you have invested. It is an unfortunate reality that many online shoppers are hunting for the lowest price - the race to the bottom. And its easy to get sucked into dollar point competition where you devalue your time and materials until you are giving away your product.

I figured out that based on the value of the time and materials I put into the block set above, I had to sell it for about $55.00 to make a little under minimum wage. I can buy similar sets made in China at Toys R Us for less.  Details like relieving corners and squaring the sides on the blocks are more easily done in a mass-production environment than a home workshop. It seems like that race to the bottom is a tough question to answer when it comes to right-pricing items online.

Where I am super-weak though is marketing. I am not a salesman, and I am not a deal closer. By trade I am a machinist-turned-engineer. I have never had to come up with catch-phrases or market to a broad audience. I can negotiate on a position of standards and safety, or based on what the math shows. Many of my posts here are more about 'what happened next' than 'what I want you to do next' and the few sales pitch type posts I have put up for things like Walk to School Day or donating to worthy causes have some of the lowest hitcounts of anything on this blog.

Oh - and my sister's dolls are adorable, which is maybe the very best marketing tool of all. I need to embrace cute. Being a guy who is out of touch with mainstresam, I'm not sure how to do that:

So I'm turning to people like you for ideas - how does one go about marketing an online business? How do you attract the core group that will keep coming back and then spread the word? How do you avoid the race to the bottom, and encourage someone to buy handmade/homemade/quality items?


  1. ooh, like your stuff....I'm especially drawn to those cube things. I always get scared away from Etsy because people talk about how hard it is to establish yourself there and all the networking you have to do and all. I'm awfully encouraging, aren't I? Okay, so I know nothing about promoting on etsy, but I'll give you a shout out on my facebook page anyway :)

    1. Thanks Gretchen - and you are encouraging! This doesn't look like an easy path to get rich fast. I think it has to be one tool in a box of many. I'll figure this out. One step at a time...


Please take a minute to share your thoughts!