How did homeowners function before Etsy?Advertisement
Officially, Etsy is an online marketplace founded in 2005 where artisans and craftspeople sell handmade goods directly to consumers. Unofficially, it is a site where every shopping whim, no matter how fussily particular and seemingly impossible to grant, can be fulfilled.
Need a dog gate for your stairwell with padded ends that won’t mark up your walls? You can find one on Etsy.Advertisement
How about a leather cover to fit an 8-inch by 4-inch reporter’s notebook that flips top to bottom, instead of left to right? Someone on Etsy not only makes these, but will monogram your initials on the cover.
A set of drinking glasses hand-painted with a pattern popularized by a famous maker? A knockoff of a coat-dress worn by the Duchess of Cambridge? A spinning wheel at a rock-bottom price because it was made on a 3D printer?
Check, check and check again.
The online marketplace also helps sellers figure out if they have a viable business without the costs of a brick-and-mortar store. Statistics provided by the online giant say that 81% of the 4.4 million sellers active on Etsy at the end of 2020 were female, and 97% operate their businesses from their homes.
Not every shop thrives. But Etsy has helped some small business owners not just meet their financial goals, but exceed them.
Local success stories include a Havre de Grace mother who began selling tie-dyed clothing to raise money to send her son to a prestigious music camp, a Bel Air paper company so profitable it helps support four employees, and a “philanthropic jeweler” in Bel Air who donates 20 cents of every dollar she makes to charity.
About 14,650 sales since 2008.https://www.etsy.com/shop/inspiringcolor
In 2008, Zach Matteson was a 15-year-old aspiring violinist with tons of promise, and one of four children in a family without much money to spare. Zach’s father was a chaplain in the Church of Christ, so the family moved around a lot: Siberia (where Zach began studying the violin at age 5), and since 2016, Havre de Grace.Advertisement
The teen had his heart set on a music career, and aspirations to attend a prestigious summer arts camp.
“At the time we were living in northwest Montana, and Zach’s options were limited,” his mother Jill Matteson, 59, said. “He got accepted into the program at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. But it was quite expensive.”
Jill Matteson began brainstorming fundraising ideas and remembered the Christmas the family had made tie-dyed garments as gifts. Maybe she could do that again.
The result was the family Etsy shop, Inspiring Color Tie Dye. Customers snapped up bandannas, hats and T-shirts in colors so rich they should pay taxes — royal purple, turquoise, crimson and forest green.
Fourteen years later, Matteson still fills clothing orders on Etsy for prices that ranged recently between $4 and $70.
“It’s a creative outlet,” she said. “I like experimenting with different patterns and techniques.”Advertisement
Zach Matteson is now 29 and plays the violin professionally. He’s a member of nvoke, a Texas-based innovative string quartet with a national reputation and busy touring schedule.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mom,” Zach Matteson said. “I brag about her to everyone I know.”
About 122,000 sales since 2014.https://www.etsy.com/shop/YellowPaperHouse
Ammie Williams runs her own business, and she couldn’t get through the day without a planner to keep her on track. The problem was that the planner she was using seemed to hold a very poor opinion of its owner.
“Honestly, it made me feel bad about myself,” said Williams, a Georgia-based ceramic artist. “It would ask me leading questions like, ‘What could you be doing better?’”
Then Williams discovered Yellow Paper House, the Etsy shop run by a Bel Air mother and daughter. The planners that Donna Nohe and Kristin Juchs create and sell still allowed Williams to organize to her heart’s content. But, the vibe was entirely different: fresh and lively and fun.Advertisement
“The quality is incredible,” said Williams, 31, who has given several of the shop’s planners as gifts. “The paper is super thick. I carry it in my work bag, and the covers have never once torn or gotten pulled apart.”
Thousands of customers apparently agree.
The mother-daughter duo work out of their homes and have racked up more than 121,000 sales in the eight years since they began to sell on Etsy. The business began in 2014 as a way to bring the homesick Juchs, who at the time was living in the Midwest and working as an illustrator, back to Maryland.
One day on a whim, Juchs decided to make inserts for her leather notebook from colorful paper she purchased at a big box store. She and Nohe loved what she created, and co-founded Yellow Paper House.
The business sells made-to-order colorful notepaper, calendars, meal planners and journals. It was such an immediate hit that Nohe, 57, and Juchs, 32, quit their jobs six months after their Etsy launch to run the business full time.
Now, four full and part-time employees are on the payroll: Nohe, her husband Larry Nohe, their daughter Juchs, and the only nonfamily member, a printer. Items on the website ranged recently from a $1.50 hydration tracker to a $38 Doodle Diary.Advertisement
Nohe thinks the physical act of putting a pen to paper is more satisfying for her customers than logging an appointment into an online calendar. She thinks Yellow Paper House attracts the same customers who two decades ago would have made scrapbooks.
“It’s amazing that with the technology we have today, people still use paper and pen as much as they do,” she said. “But we found those people.”
She also believes her business is successful because it’s run just like that — a business that understands the importance of customer service.
“I’m a maniac about shipping,” she said. “A lot of shops don’t ship as fast as they should. Our stuff is made to order, and we try to ship within three days, five at the most. Customers want stuff yesterday.”
About 4,500 sales since 2019.https://www.etsy.com/shop/SettoShineJewelry
In 2019, in her senior year at Salisbury University, Laura Mrugalski was (in her words) “a broke college student.” She had just enough funds to pay her daily expenses.Advertisement
To raise extra cash, Mrugalski began selling jewelry she made in her dorm room: hypoallergenic brass earrings featuring ethereal fairies, delicate butterflies and sinuous snakes. But instead of saving up for an epic trip over spring break, Mrugalski founded Set to Shine jewelry so she would have money to donate to charity.
“At the time, I was volunteering at a local women and children’s center, ” Mrugalski, 22, said. “I was raised to be helpful and do good.”
In addition to doing good, Set to Shine also did well. Mrugalski’s jewelry sold as fast as she could make it. After just one year working as a geographic information systems technician for Harford County, Mrugalski quit her job to make jewelry full-time from her Bel Air apartment.
Set to Shine is described on Etsy as a “philanthropic jeweler”; Mrugalski donates 20% of her profits each month to a different charity profiled on her website. Etsy buyers have helped Mrugalski contribute to such causes as Action Against Hunger, The Nature Conservancy and the Organization for Autism Research.
Mrugalski grew up in an artistic family and began making jewelry when she was 10. “Beads were like candy to me,” she said.
Her jewelry is inspired largely by her passion for the natural world: the sun, moon and planets, irises, tulips, strawberries and mushrooms. Prices for the earrings range from $18 to $85.Advertisement
Each purchase is accompanied by a gift of wildflower seeds and a note from Mrugalski stating the sum being donated to charity.
Even small contributions add up; since 2019, Mrugalski estimates she’s given away tens of thousands of dollars.
Following one especially flush month, Mrugalski donated $6,500 to The Epicenter, a community social welfare organization serving Harford County residents and based in Edgewood and Aberdeen.
Zach Maclellan, Epicenter’s director of development, said that the Set to Shine donation provided funds for before and after school programs, hygiene products for the center’s homeless visitors, meals and winter coats.
“It’s so encouraging to see business owners like Laura make a real effort to donate to the community,” Maclellan said. “She has helped so many people.”