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March 21, 2016

What I learned from running an unsuccessful etsy shop - let's chat

For as long as I can remember I have been a crafter, whether it was painting signs for my high school cheering squad, sewing my own clothes, crocheting baby blankets, painting, paper crafts or just about anything else.  That’s why it seemed natural for me to open an Etsy shop.  People were always telling that I should sell whatever it was that I was making and what better forum than an online shop featuring my hand made wares?

an unsuccessful etsy shop

So I spent countless hours and more money than I care to admit stocking my virtual shop with pretty
things.  I read up on how to advertise, what things sold best, I even scouted the competition and priced my things just a bit lower than theirs in hopes of enticing the savvy buyer.


It was with much excitement that I announced the opening of my shop.  I can remember pushing that final enter on the keyboard and then holding my breath waiting for the sales to start rolling in.  Needless to say things didn’t go as I had envisioned.  Sales were infrequent at best.  I watched as other merchandise very similar to my own sold out in hours on other sites and waiting lists formed for the next batch. 


I saw that some shops were having huge success on Instagram so I made a run at that as well.  That one proved even more publicly humiliating because my lack of sales was out there for all to see (unlike my Etsy shop which was a little more discreet in its failure).


I even tried my hand at live in person craft fairs with much the same story.  People politely said my stuff was pretty and then moved on to the soy candles or puffy painted plastic glassware. 

So why didn’t I succeed on Etsy, Instagram or craft shows?  Why did my handmade merchandise fall flat with the consumer?  

Here’s what I think…

1.      A big name sells anything.  If you are a successful blogger, have a large following on Instagram or some other social media platform, your stuff will sell.  Even if it is just like a thousand other vendors, yours will sell.  I'm not knocking the hard work it took them to get there, just stating a fact.
2.       Finding the right target audience.  This one is big especially in live shows.  The things I made were not targeted at the people browsing at the craft fairs I was selling at.  With mostly young twenty somethings shopping, my quilted bags and colorful journals were not what they were looking for or in their price range.
3.       It’s easy to find what I made at a big box store for a fraction of what I can make it for.  Everyone knows that making crafts is not an hourly wage kind of gig but even just trying to make a small per item profit can put you out of the price point for most buyers who don’t appreciate hand made.
4.       Consistency of brand.  You have to love producing in quantity.  This one might not pertain to everyone but for me it was huge.  After the first few of any one thing I am ready to move on to something new.  What I made was always changing.  One show I was a mixed media artist, the next a sewer of dresses, a jewelry maker and the next a paper crafter.  Not a bad thing for my creative mojo but not great for creating a brand.
5.       And lastly, I wasn’t in it for the long haul.  I wasn’t willing to take the failures and learn from them.  I put in the hard work but I fell short on the persistence it requires to be a successful entrepreneur.


As in everything in life that you look back on, I learned a lot.  About business yes, but more importantly about myself.  Anything new requires time, acceptance of failure and the where with all to keep on keeping on.  I wanted the success, the appreciation and the income without the effort and perseverance it took to get there.  


Will I try craft sales again?  I’m not one to ever say never but at this point, I don’t think so but if I did I would definitely be going in with my eyes wide open.  Just selling what I want as I made it without any preconceived expectations.


Will I put what I learned into another entrepreneurial venture…ABSOLUTELY.  Because with all the negative stuff I learned about myself, I did come away with something positive.  I am a creative person with an eye for color and a heart to make ordinary life more beautiful.  Now it’s just a matter of finding the right vessel to channel that through and digging in for the long haul.

Xo, Patty

p.s. If you like this article you might like I remember Davey Jones and why I blog.  It's an oldie but one of my favorite posts.


19 comments:

  1. I related to everything!Thank you! Sharing.

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  2. Patty, this is a great post and much needed around the blogging community. I have never tried my hand at Etsy, but I'm relating this to the big bloggers who make the rest of us feel inadequate (without even knowing it).

    Yes, it takes hard work to make it big, but it also takes a drive and determination, along with sacrifice of other things in our lives. I'm pretty sure the only way I would ever make it "big" would be an act of God (truly) because I'm not willing to sacrifice my family on the alter of a paycheck or fame.

    So, therefore, I appreciate products like yours that aren't so reproduced that they are without character and uniqueness.

    Your kind of shop is the one I search for, so I can have a "one of a kind" in my home. If I want mass produced, I'll go to Walmart :)

    So, although you have learned some valuable lessons, I hope you'll keep creating and showing us what you're willing to part with, because I come to your blog for these things :)

    Blessings,
    Debbie

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  3. I relate to your sales attempts since I am an author at a traditional publishing house and I agree it is hard to tempt people to actually buy! People with success in sales have all the attributes you mention (talent, hard work) but another key is luck. Many successful people say that luck plays a role. Your unique pieces are beautiful and I hope you keep on creating them, I am sure you will.

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  4. I did the same thing a few years ago. I made pillows. But eventually I lost interest, and at the time was having to take them to be mailed. Can't do that with my ankle. I made a little money, but now worth all I put into it. I know just how you feel! You do have a great eye for pretty things and color!

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  5. Even though I'm not a crafter nor a business person trying to sell anything, I thought this was an interesting post. Please don't ever think of yourself or what you try doing as "failure". It is a learning experience and growth.

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  6. Everything you say here is true. I think it becomes harder and harder to be really successful at etsy, not only for the reasons you mentioned here, but also because the market has become saturated with hand made items. By the time you take out what you spend on materials and the hours of work you put into it you make so little it makes you wonder if it's worth it at all. Add to that the fact that etsy now allows manufactured items and has many Chinese sellers, (and there we are trying to compete with that economy again!)and it's a losing battle for many of us. Craft shows are even more work and sales depend on timing, audience and the weather. Many of the things I used to sell in my shop I no longer offer, simply because the cost in time and labor just didn't add up to enough of a profit.

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  7. Thank you for this post . I'm a crafter , too. My friends have been telling me to start an e-shop or try to sell what I make through different 'channels' but I have instictively realized that it won't be worth trying it both money- wise and in terms of time .We all know that handmade items take a lot of time to make and people aren't usually willing to pay for an item that they can definitely live without.
    I was thinking that if someone is very creative, has many crafting skills and makes a variety of beautiful items but needs to make some profit , to keep the whole process going, it is probably a good idea to organize craft sessions and charge a fee. People are always happy to learn something new and are willing to pay for this knowledge.
    Thank you for sharing your experience . Keep creating lovely and unique items!!
    Tina

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  8. I know exactly what you mean. I too have an Etsy shop but thought it has a little sale now and then, I definitely don't "make any money" at it... I opened it just for a place to share my handmades and perhaps have a sale now and then... just a venue to place all the things I make! I've tried a few craft fairs without any success at all. It does depend on the type of people who are attracted to that particular show or fair. I've thought of closing my shop too but then what do I do with all the things I've made?!!!! hard question.... everything you said is so true.. about big names and shops that have hundreds upon hundreds of items to choose from. I think people like a choice and those of us who have maybe 50 or 60 items just can't compete. And I'm VERY SAD to see that Etsy has allowed mass produced items to be in shops now.. that totally ruins it for the smaller sellers whose things are handmade with time and love. I love your items and wish there was a place to market them.... sometimes finding a niche in a little gift shop is good, if the person's handmades match the market of that particular shop. I'm not a "cold seller" type of person, where you just walk in and say hey, can I sell my stuff here? that's hard for me to do, so even if I see a little shop that might match what I sale, I don't ask! I guess we just go on creating and making and giving our things as gifts!

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  9. Thank you for being willing to step forward and share your experience. I've had mixed results with Etsy as well. I made burlap tote bags and pillows right as the burlap craze was kicking into full gear. I also had great results with Christmas pillows. Honestly, shipping was killing me. I mean, now much are you willing to spend for a cute pillow if it costs $10 for shipping? By the time I could come up with a reasonable price knowing I'd be absorbing some mail expense, I was making $5-8 each. Not worth it.

    Here's my other gripe about Etsy: It used to be handmade, vintage, and craft supplies ONLY. I see a lot of stuff on there that is obviously mass produced overseas. If I had the IT skills, I'd create a TRULY handmade online marketplace. For now, I'm having fun learning a new skill, palette knife painting. I overhauled my Etsy shop, thinking about a new business plan, and I'm revamping my blog into an art blog. Best of luck with your next endeavor!

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  10. Patty, I know some people make a great living selling on line...I have no clue...But I do wish you well. My daughter talks of just having a booth in a building with others..My husband and I did the Farmer's market thing every Saturday morning for a year and part of another....people do not want to pay for your work...and barely for what it cost to make the product. We do not do the market any more. Now we just make things for family as gifts. I think it's all location for number one. Blessings, xoxo, Susie

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  11. I so get where you are coming from, l make lovely things and every day l am in my sewing room making some thing and my family say lovely things about what l make and tell me constantly to sell them but it scares me it's not as easy as they think l would be so upset if what l make did not sell l am proud of what l make and l enjoy it l don't want that taken a way from me because people wont buy it, a lady in a shop saw my bag and loved it and sked me to make her one l was over the moon l made it and took it to her and she paid me that was my first sale l also made her a book cover for being my first customer but she might be my last, but l felt good l would love to sell my items but l am happy to make things and to read your blog to day made me feel good because you have been there and l am glad l am not the only one that feels that way thank you for sharing x

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  12. Hi Patty, What a good article! I don't understand it exactly myself, but Etsy is an odd thing. I didn't like having to run to the post office all the time. And I didn't like the way Paypal HELD my funds for no reason! The most success I have had, has simply been word of mouth. And the boutique we had here at my house that one year was a huge success, but a LOT of work. It's a LOT more fun to create, simply for the sake of creating! We are makers, you and I. We make. We always will. Your eye for color is indeed remarkable. I think in the right market, you would do spectacularly well!
    I miss my gal pals from your way. We MUST do a get together soon.
    xo Kris

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  13. Thank you Patty for your honesty and for sharing your experience.
    It reminds me of blogging (do I sound like a broken record?).
    Sometimes things don't go as expected, but the cool thing is we can make a change as you did!
    It's all good.

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  14. My etsy and craft show experience is uncannily similar to yours. I was totally dumb when I jumped onto etsy. I just like making and I rashly thought everyone in the whole world thought just like me about what I make. I thought OOAK was exquisitely attractive but the world wants cookie cutter. Craft shows are usually a total time waster. I have greatly narrowed down what I offer on etsy. When I attended etsy labs, I kept getting told "your shop is too busy" "not cohesive". I wonder how creativity and cohesive can be in the same sentence. But I like to make and it's too much to keep in my bedroom so, etsy will have to stay. I guess you'd say its a hobby and whatever little compensation I receive buys raw materials to keep on enjoying my hobby of making.

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  16. This was a very good post, Patty. I appreciate your transparency. I almost opened an Etsy shop a few years ago, but then took a different direction and opened a consignment shop/art gallery where I showcased my husband's artwork. His paintings sold really well, and the consignment portion paid the overhead. So, I guess one could say it was a success We closed the shop after a year, though and moved to another state. Since then I've wondered about opening another brick & mortar store, but it's really hard work and we don't live in an area with the kind of clientele we had in Estes Park, Colorado. It's tough, because we're both very creative and wonder how we can just keep making things and not sell them. We give away a lot. It would be nice to make a little money, though. Our cottage is zoned commercial/residential, and we've talked about setting up a tent and selling on weekends in the summer. We'll see. xo

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  17. I haven't tried selling on etsy. Like you, everyone says I should. I have done a few craft shows with my daughter. She sells baby hats by the boat load. I couldn't give a baby afghan or a scarf away, LOL. So now I go, hang out with her, and enjoy the day.

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  18. Patty, this is so very true! Something that I've seen a lot of big brands do is get someone who their target audience pays attention to advertise their work on an Instagram or Facebook page. Everything now is so digital and that's a really big help! This was a great read and I'll definitely remember these tips when I start my shop!

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