Some Tips From My Personal Experiences
by Barbra Davis
If you are ready to take a step from making crafts for fun to selling them for profit, here are some things that I have learned from the past 8 years of creating stained glass pieces to sell.
My husband and I opened a small retail stained glass store in 2004, selling glass supplies and custom panels. We quickly learned that people coming in to check out the “new store” loved the large glass panels, but couldn’t afford to purchase them.
We needed to add some smaller, less expensive pieces so folks could have affordable stained glass for their homes. As I added suncatchers, fan pulls and Christmas ornaments to our growing selection of items for sale, more and more folks started coming in to buy gifts. Cost is a clear factor when selling your crafts.
The other side of the coin is that I started selling my items at prices so low there was very little profit margin. When I first priced them, I figured the material costs but didn’t add much for my time, thinking I had to be in the studio anyway and folks liked to see what I was doing, so it was good advertising. I quickly got tired of “working for nothing” and increased my prices to compensate for my time.
You Can Make Money Selling Online
In Southwest Florida, where we live and work, the business is uniquely seasonal. During the hot summer months, over 1/3 of our population migrates north, leaving local businesses scrambling for customers. As October comes around, the “snowbirds” as they are called, return to our area, and business picks up quickly for about 6 months.
This meant I needed to find another outlet for my work and another source of income for the slower summer months. Of course, I turned to the internet. Since I was already an eBay seller, I started there. While I did sell some of my work, I found that bids were low and I wasn’t happy with the customer base.
Not knowing where else to sell, I did some research to find websites which sold crafts and started to list on a few of them. My eCrater, Artfire, Crobbies and UCraft accounts were fairly easy to set up, and I immediately added items for sale. Then I sat back and waited for the orders to roll in. And I sat, and I sat… You get the picture. Not much came of the process.
Then someone told me about etsy. It was a large site designed specifically for handmade items. It had a lot of customers and was very user friendly, so I listed there, too. The same process began again as I waited for my items to be found. Then I started poking around on the site and discovered etsy’s “alchemy” page. It was a section where buyers could request specific items and sellers could offer their work in response.
Some etsy Secrets
This was the beginning of some good sales on etsy. I often had an item which was unique or could create an item specifically for the buyer at a good price. It was a good lesson: custom work is always in demand. I added that note to my listings and my sales increased some. When etsy discontinued alchemy, I had established myself as a custom seller.
I also started reading the posts in the etsy forums and began posting my own thoughts. I checked out all the sellers in my area, then invited them to my studio for a meet and greet. This immediately increased the traffic on my site as all these people added me to their favorites and their circles.
One big mistake I made in signing up at etsy, though, was in choosing a name. Since I am a strong Christian, and I make a lot of “religious” pieces, I chose the name “Faithlady” for my user name. I didn’t consider that it wouldn’t tell prospective buyers much about what I sell. Now when I sign up at a site, I use names that contain “stained glass” somehow. My most recent is “Stained Glass To Go,” a name I especially like.
Narrowing the Field
It soon became clear to me that I didn’t have time to maintain 7 sites and still work part time and have a stained glass studio. Of course, I kept my etsy site as the primary selling venue, but I dropped most of the other sites. I did keep a few items listed in several places, offering to make them up when I got an order. This has worked well for me as I can just check the sites once a month or so and relist as needed. I stay with sites that are very low cost or no cost to list, so I don’t lose any money in the process.
One of the best side benefits of the online sites was 2 contacts from brick and mortar stores asking me to do consignment work with them. In general, consignment selling has worked well for me. I made some pocket money, got my name and website information out there, and expanded my market area considerably.
Consignment selling isn’t for everyone, though. You tie up inventory, sometimes for months at a time, without always making money. There is a risk that your work will be copied, stolen or damaged while it is on display. The owner isn’t as interested in promoting your work as you would be. However, a good contract can solve some of those issues, and you may be able to develop some good custom work from the contacts you make.
If you do consignment work, be sure you attach a tag with your contact information in case folks want more or different items. I always attach my business card, which is colorful and includes my website addresses as well as my phone number.
Keep good records, too. I have a form, which I give to the store and copy for myself, listing every item I consign, a brief description (so I know color, etc.), how much I will be paid for it, and how much they will sell it for. This helps me to determine what items to re-stock and what items to stop making for that venue.
Before you even begin consigning, talk with the store owner to work through details of how long your items will be displayed. I try to remove items that don’t sell in a few months time, replacing them with new and different items. People who shop frequently are looking for something fresh. If they see the same things week after week, they stop looking at your work.
What is a Niche Anyway?
Finally, I have found that developing a specific focus helps build business. If you have read any “how-to’s” on selling crafts, you probably know this is called “niche marketing.” I didn’t know what that was, but I did know I had been making small suncathers like mini palm trees, flip flops, paw prints, etc. for some time. One day it hit me that they would be wonderfully unique and creative favors for parties and weddings, and one of my niches was born.
I created a few sets to sell at lower prices and started listing them as favors. Since then, one lady has purchased favors for all 3 of her children’s weddings and is now ordering shower favors for a soon-to-be grandchild!
Another idea came from the cute glass paw prints I was making. A customer asked to buy a specific color in memory of her lost cat. Having just lost my beloved cat, too, I could commiserate. Then I realized that a lot of folks out there are pet owners, and many of them have probably lost special pets. Thus was born the pet memorial paw print!
I also sell a lot of memorial ribbon angels. I started making them as a gift for a lady I worked with who learned she had breast cancer–for the second time. I used the pink ribbon to create a special suncatcher in the shape of an angel so she would know I was praying for her. She loved it, and so did a lot of other cancer survivors.
It Never Hurts to be Generous
The ribbon angels led to a very special relationship with a buyer who is now very close to my heart. She contacted me about my donating an angel to her organization, which reaches out to parents who have lost children through miscarriage. Their ribbon is pink and blue, and it made a beautiful angel. I sent her 2 for her auction.
After a month, I got a thank you note and a request to purchase several for inclusion in their gift baskets. For 2 years I have been selling (and donating) angels to this cause! You never know what good will come from being generous.
And Some New Sites to Consider
Just recently I have discovered 2 new websites which I am trying: Meylah and Lilyshop. Haven’t been on them long enough to recommend them, but I plan to use one as a showcase for my wedding favors, and the other for tropical suncatchers. Then I can direct specific traffic there from my website.
So there you have some things I have learned from selling my crafts for almost a decade. Even though I spend a lot of hours promoting my work, it’s still fun for me or I wouldn’t keep doing it. That’s my last secret: when it ceases to be fun, quit!
Visit Barbra online at http://www.stainedglassone.net