In 2009, we started our Etsy Shop in order to earn a bit of extra cash without having to fit additional part time jobs into our weird college/parent schedule. From the beginning, we included a mix of vintage AND handmade items. Which doesn’t seem all that cohesive, but it worked for us.
Eliza, Jake, and I would go searching for cool vintage stuff in our free time, visiting thrift stores, estate sales, garage sales, and antique stores. But that was mostly for fun, and the majority of our stock came from one place: Rivermarket Antiques, a four story antique mall featuring over 200 different seller booths. And it just happened to be situated in our then-neighborhood.
I don’t think that we realized how important that store was to the vintage portion of our shop was until we moved in Autumn 2010. We didn’t move far: it’s only about a ten minute drive from here to there. But we’re a one car family, so any day trips I’d like to take to thrift stores, antique malls, or estate sales require not only toddler juggling (impossible), but also driving Jake twenty minutes to work and then twenty minutes back home. And then back again to pick him up. Being able to be a short walk away from restocking was important. And family swing-bys to those sorts of places on the weekends seems like so much more of a hassel now that we don’t live close to those places and we’ve got two kids to entertain while we’re there (the smaller of which would literally be like a bull in a china shop). So our vintage updating frequency dropped significantly, because we weren’t finding the time to go out and scout out products.
But we didn’t want to stop, because the vintage section of our shop has always been quite profitable. We would have never been able to come up with the downpayment for our house without it. After our pretty-much-famous Record Bookends, typewriters have been our best seller. And if you know how to find them and how to fix them, typewriters can sell for A LOT more than you find them for. It’s one of the things we’re KNOWN for (The guys at UPS call me “typewriter girl”). So giving up didn’t seem to make sense.
We’ve always priced vintage according to the going rate (as opposed to handmade items, which we price based on the supply cost and the time it takes to make them), so sometimes we’d find an awesome vintage item that was twenty, thirty, or even A HUNDRED dollars less than what it was selling for online. But we also found ourselves padding the shop with smaller things that we didn’t make much profit on (ten dollars or less) just so we could keep our look cohesive and keep the product movin’ out.
Even though we weren’t finding vintage as often anymore, having a small vintage section still seemed worth it. Until we did more calculations. And boy, was that eye opening.
We started seeing what the price of vintage items should be if we calculated their price the same way in which we calculate our handmade item’s price. We realized that it wasn’t just the time we put in looking for the items: there was also driving/ walking to places to find vintage items, time wasted “striking out”, time spent researching the item for information on the year and manufacture, time spent researching the market price, time photographing and editing each individual item, time spend uploading those pictures, time spend writing the description, time spent coming up with tags so that buyers could find the item, time spent answering customer questions about items, time spent buying shipping labels, time spent finding the perfect box and packing materials for a wide range of items, time spent actually packing the item… even when we were making a mark-up on an item that made us feel almost guilty, we weren’t making a decent hourly wage. And usually the hourly wage didn’t amount to more than a few dollars or less (on average). We didn’t realize that we put so much TIME into each item, because all of the time put in to each individual item was spread out. And after listing and re-listing and selling fees were taken into consideration, we realized that we weren’t really being reimbursed for our time at all.
So we made the decision to discontinue our vintage section, because that’s what makes sense for us.
We also realize that a lot of our handmade products, like our Mixed Paper Journals, have a lot of the same problems as the vintage time-wise: we have to take photos of each unique book, edit them, and make individual listings for them. But at least with the journals we can use pretty much the same listing and packing method each time. But, honestly, we’ll probably stop making them when we run out of supplies for them.
The items that make the most sense, if taking time and profit into consideration, are those that can be copied or unique items that have a high price point, like fine art. Our record bookends are a great example of the former: we have one stock photo, one description, and one shipping method for them. We’ve got it down to a science. The only time that we’re putting into them is the actual making of the bookends and the actual contact with the customer. We even cut out the time spent buying supplies by buying 4,000 in bulk (which is obviously a huge investment and not something you should do unless you’re confident that a product will sell).
Making the same thing over and over isn’t the most fun way to run a handmade business, but we’re hoping that making a bigger line of items that we can make multiples of will give us enough free time to actually execute our awesome handmade product ideas. And I’ll have time to do something I really love but haven’t been able to do since the shop took over: teach.
We’re thankful that we’ve been so successful at Etsy so far. We’ve gotten a lot of great press, have been featured on Etsy’s front page and in Etsy’s e-mails several times, and we’re currently up to 926 sales. And vintage made up a lot of that. We’re not knocking it: it can be profitable and amazingly gratifying work. But it’s not working for us anymore.
Here’s to a new direction!
Want more? You might also like these:
- The Story Behind the Nerd Nest | Interview at Campfire Chic
- Megan & Jake Get it Done | How We Work
- How to Find Good Vintage
- The Nerd Nest’s Vintage Featured in Flea Market Style Magazine
- See most of the vintage we’ve collected and sold over time in our “Vintage Products” Flickr Set
- The Nerd Nest’s Record Player on a Beautiful Mess
- Find the last bits of our Etsy shop here on eBay. We’re listing as we have time, so keep checking back.