Thursday, January 3rd, 2013...4:09 pm
Online market a boon for creative Kentuckians’ wares
From gift boxes resembling lumps of coal to duvet covers for dog beds, from jewelry to baked goods, and from new to vintage photographs, items from Central Kentucky businesses represent our community well on Etsy, an online marketplace.
Patsy Lee Anderson of Lexington, for example, creates items for Patsy’s Joys, her Etsy store and a local studio.
“The things I sell on Etsy are my joys,” she said. Those items include jewelry, handmade ornaments and photographs she has taken in Lexington and on excursions in Kentucky.
She opened her Etsy store in February 2011, but she has been selling items locally for years. The online marketplace presented an opportunity for her to catch the eye of a wider audience.
“I sent two prints to someone in California,” Anderson said. “And I correspond with a woman from Wales. It is not just a way to sell items that I make, but a way to connect with other artists, too.”
Etsy began in 2005 as an online marketplace for handmade items. Founder Rob Kalin told Reader’s Digest in 2010 that the name was a variation of the Italian word etsi, meaning “oh, yes.” In Latin, he said, it means “and if.”
“I wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch,” he said then.
Etsy is now a magnet for those who can recycle or up-cycle items into quirky one-of-a-kind pieces.
Layla Sutherland has two Etsy stores: The Fish Jig Lady, where she sells her handmade jewelry constructed from fishing lures and accessories, and The Kitchen Witch 3, where she sells recipes for $2.
“I support my creative habits with the money I make from selling my original recipes all year,” she said. The small amount she charges “really adds up, and I’m able to spend this money on beads, jewelry findings and other craft supplies that are not readily in my monthly budget.”
Some of the recipes are for items her three grandmothers taught her to make when she was growing up.
But the jewelry-making is her real love, her main business. She also sells at vendor fairs and craft shows in the Bluegrass.
The Lexington mother of three and stepmother of four was formerly employed at the University of Kentucky before turning her creativity into a full-time job.
September through January are her best sales months, she said. “The rest of the winter and through the summer are really really slow,” she said.
Once a seller on eBay, Sutherland said she switched to Etsy because it was a step above.
This year the business became full-time because of disabling kidney disease. “It is really interesting the people I meet out vending and on Etsy, a lot of them are disabled people,” she said.
Etsy is based in New York and, according to The Wall Street Journal, has 15 million members in more than 150 countries. The company has 875,000 active sellers and grossed more than $525 million in sales in 2011, up 70 percent from the previous year.
Sellers sign up for free, but Etsy charges 20 cents to list an item for four months. The company gets a 3.5 percent commission on each sale.
Those fees might be a little costly for sellers who have a large inventory, but Anderson keeps hers at about 130 pieces.
She gives a back story for her photographs, coming up with something that makes them different.
“It is hard to stand out,” Anderson said, “but because so many of mine are taken locally, I try to create a Bluegrass niche, try to connect some history.
“It has challenged me to learn new things like creating banner headlines. If I had been technologically oriented, none of this would have been challenging.”
Tracy Crandall of Lexington, owner of Collections by Tracy, said she has been selling her handmade jewelry on Etsy since 2009. Although her sales have improved this year, the business is still a sideline that she hopes will evolve into her livelihood.
“You really need to take very good pictures” of the merchandise, Crandall said. “I didn’t realize that the best time of day to take pictures is about noon. You learn as you go.”
Plus, she said, you really need to know your product because buyers will ask about the content and other details.
Selling on Etsy also is a hobby for Lukas Murphy of Richmond, who owns and operates Family Tree Antiques and Collectibles. He is continuing his education with hopes of selling antiques full-time online and at local vendor malls.
“I enjoy attending auctions and have a long interest in genealogy research,” Murphy replied via email. “My passion is returning antique photographs to descendants of the family.”
Murphy buys identified photographs at flea markets and antique stores and researches the names to locate family members. If no one can be located, he sells the photos. Murphy also buys unidentified photos and other vintage items to sell.
He recently was in the process of returning a World War II uniform to the granddaughter of a soldier who is still alive.
Murphy joined Etsy as a consumer first, drawn by the website’s emphasis on buying locally. Later he realized it was an ideal place to sell the items he has found.
“I was also able to return a photograph to a descendant within my first week of selling on Etsy,” he said.
He likes the way Etsy allows customer tracking to show the seller what items are being viewed and added to favorite’s lists. That has become a bone of contention for some buyers, however, who dislike the loss of privacy.
All of the sellers were pleased with their experience with Etsy, but none has become rich.
“I am a fairly successful seller, but I’m a really successful buyer,” Anderson said. “I am constantly seeing other people’s beautiful things.”
Sutherland said the key is to be patient and not be discouraged. “I would recommend it as a cushion,” she said. “It all depends on how serious you are.”