Wren Maczka was nervous about putting the first pairs of arm warmers and fingerless gloves on her Etsy shop that mostly sold trim and lace.
“I knew I liked my stuff. And I knew my friends liked my stuff,” said Maczka, 29, whose Etsy shop, Zen and Coffee Design, is now filled with hundreds of her glove designs, which range from white lacy bridal and black satin corsets to casual stripes and one-color sets.
Three-and-a-half years later, Maczka spends her days – and sometimes nights – checking for orders, communicating with customers and designing and sewing from her Raleigh, N.C., home studio. She has sold hundreds of her “arm warmers and fingerless gloves for all seasons and styles” to people across the globe. About half of her orders go to Canada, but she also has customers in Great Britain, Australia, Norway and Italy.
“Surprisingly, I get a ton of orders from Norway,” she said.
Maczka is among the more than 900,000 sellers on Etsy, an online marketplace where people sell handmade and vintage goods that include jewelry, candles, clothes and art. It has more than 300 million members in 200 countries. Etsy doesn’t release numbers by region, but a “team” of Maine-based shops on the site has more than 700 members.
The Etsy community generated more than $895 million in sales in 2012. Sellers pay a listing fee of 20 cents for each item added to their shop, and Etsy retains 3.5 percent of the sale.
While Maczka is happy selling just on Etsy, other artists and small-business owners use it to supplement their sales, test their market, get ideas from customization requests and as a stepping stone on their way to wholesale or a larger marketplace.
“Just because you open an Etsy shop, it doesn’t mean at all that sales will just roll in. You have to spend just as much time bringing your own traffic to it,” said Kiona van Rhee, who designs and sells her jewelry wholesale through her Raleigh company, Lucky Accessories, to about 40 stores across the nation.
Van Rhee uses her Etsy shop as her retail outlet for her handmade items, which include colorful enameled “lucky penny pendants” and a “peapod” line with freshwater pearls wrapped in silver.
Etsy newcomers can get started by turning to its “Seller Handbook,” the marketplace’s business education blog, and by joining Etsy “teams,” which are self-organized groups that can provide support and motivation, Dana Mauriello, Etsy’s director of new business opportunities, wrote in an email.
“It’s more than just listing a few items in their shop,” Mauriello wrote. Sellers need to spend time thinking about their brand and their target audience, then take steps to engage with the community.
Once an Etsy shop is set up, sellers should think about other ways to expand their business, she said.
“They can consider adding customized items to their shop, look into wholesale opportunities, or marketing opportunities,” Mauriello wrote. “We encourage our seller community to utilize all resources to help grow their businesses.”
Van Rhee learned about Etsy shortly after it was founded in 2005. At first, only crafters knew about the site, van Rhee said, and she used her Etsy shop to sell clearance items.
After a few years, van Rhee noticed customers at shows asking if she had an Etsy shop.
“Then I started to pay a lot more attention and put a lot more products there,” she said.
Van Rhee also experimented with the way she advertised, and found she had a lot more sales when ads directed people to her Etsy shop versus her website.
“I cut down my own shopping cart completely,” she said.
Over the years, the quality of items and the competition on Etsy has increased, but van Rhee has stuck by the company as it has incorporated improvements that have made it easier for her to accept coupons and print shopping labels.
“I just really like what they do, and I really like how they grow,” she said. “In general, I think they are a huge part of the average consumer buying handmade goods.”
Etsy also recently introduced a payment platform that makes it easier for buyers around the world to make online purchases using their own currency and method of payment, Mauriello said. The company is also helping sellers increase revenue through seller-support programs and a wholesale marketplace that connects sellers with small boutiques and larger buyers such as Nordstrom.
“One thing that we heard from our sellers is that they are active in, and looking to grow in multiple sales channels, including wholesale,” Mauriello said. “We also believe that one of the best ways that we can support our sellers is through empowering them with information and improvements to Shop Stats,” where sellers go to gauge the health of their business on Etsy.
Maczka started selling her gloves on Etsy in early 2010 as a side gig to her full-time job in quality assurance for a game development company.
In 2009, Maczka started experimenting with making gloves after she grew tired of store-bought gloves that fell apart.
“I have a background in sewing. I love fabric already, and I have all this material sitting around, what if I just try to make a couple?” she said. “Once I started designing, I couldn’t stop.”
By July, sales started to pick up after word of the gloves spread, and she started promoting the items through Twitter and other social media sites. Maczka left her full-time job that fall. Her revenue reached six figures in the company’s first year.
While Maczka loves her work, the life isn’t necessarily easy. She works on weekends, through holidays and pulls all-nighters.
“I sew and sew and sew until I pass out,” she said.
“I am huge on customization. One of the great things about Etsy is that it allows you to connect with a customer on a personal level.”