Elizabeth Young runs one of Etsy's top vintage shops: Grandmother's Attic. The shop specializes in kitsch, children's books, ephemera, and collectibles and holds well over 1,500 items in stock at any one time.
In the interview below, Elizabeth shares how the shop came into being, her thoughts on social media, insights on making an income from one's shop, and tips on providing excellent customer experiences.
For how long have you been collecting vintage goods? When did you first decide to sell them, and what prompted you to take the leap?
I have been a collector for many, many years, so this business was a natural leap for me! In 1998, I opened a brick and mortar shop in a quaint river town in Southern Indiana. After meeting my husband a year later and ultimately moving to his neck of the woods in 2001, I closed the shop and took several booths in local antique malls.
Meanwhile, I was working a part time job and after a few years I left the malls. In 2004, I was asked to become a design team member for an online scrabooking kit club.
It was during my four year stint on the design team that I was first introduced to Etsy! Late one night I decided to open a shop on Etsy and sell some of the extra vintage goods I had collected for scrapbooking. On March 8, 2008, Grandmother's Attic was born and it has grown by leaps and bounds during the last 5 years! In 2012, I left my part time job to focus solely on my Etsy shop which had already become a full time effort.
How useful have you found social media resources (like your Facebook page) to be when it comes to driving actual sales? How actively do your attempt to drive customers to “like” your page?
Surprisingly, this has been slow to impact or drive sales. At the suggestion of a customer/fellow Etsy shop owner, I started the fan page for Grandmother's Attic on Facebook in July 2011. I regularly post pictures of newly listed items, offer exclusive sales and share photos of decorating ideas that I find on Pinterest or other websites. I found that I gained thousands of “likes” and followers once I incorporated the decorating ideas this past March, which in time will hopefully result in increased sales.
With regard to actually making a living from an online store, what sort of income can a first timer expect to make in his or her first and second years of business? What general income levels do most of your colleagues enjoy?
This is difficult to answer. Managing an online shop can be very labor intensive. Income levels depend on the price range of products sold as well as how much time a seller is willing to dedicate to his/her online business. I have always found that the more I work on my shop, the more I sell. I have put in many late nights and weekends- especially in the beginning. Obviously, someone selling more expensive goods will have overall higher sales in a year than someone selling goods in a lower price range. For some dedicated sellers, an online business could potentially make enough to support themselves, while for others it may be a nice second source of income.
Are you acutely aware of your Etsy competitors? Do you track what they are doing or use their pricing as a guide for your own? Do you feel there is antagonism between you or is there more a feeling of cooperation? Have you ever changed a product to differentiate yourself or more directly compete with other shop owners?
I have always found fellow Etsy sellers to be a fabulous community. There is a camaraderie amongst us and friendships have developed over the years as well. I do often search the site when listing items to see what similar goods are selling for at the time. I believe most sellers stay competitive with pricing so as not to intentionally undersell like items.
What do you do to give your customers a particularly good experience?
First of all, it is important to offer the items that customers are seeking. Exceptional customer service, clear and frequent communication, expedited shipping, and careful packaging are so important. Time and time again my feedback reflects that these things are what made my customer's shopping experience a positive experience.
I also keep a wish list for customers and contact them if and when I find what they have been seeking. I even have several regular customers who I will contact when I find items that I know they will be interested in.
What proportions of your time do you spend (1) marketing to new and repeat customers, (2) managing your shop, your inventory, and your finances, (3) finding vintage goods, and (4) fulfilling orders?
It varies on a day to day basis. Having an online business takes time and dedication. I spend a good part of every day working it in one way or another. If I am not out buying goods, I am listing new items in my shop, processing recently-purchased items, pulling and packing orders, or posting on my Facebook fan page. Communication with customers takes time as well, and I often go the extra mile to offer custom orders for someone seeking a particular item or items.
What are your long-term ambitions (professional, personal, or with the shop)?
I would like to see continued growth for my Etsy shop! I am currently #9 on Craftcount's (www.craftcount.com) top ten vintage seller's list!
Do you have any other thoughts or advice on the management of an online store that you would be willing to share with us?
I feel like I have essentially come full circle since I started with the brick and mortar shop over fifteen years ago. I tried my hand at renting booths in antique malls, dabbled on eBay, took a break and now have this wonderful online shop! Here I am again! While I don't necessarily sell the same items that I sold in the brick and mortar store, I am still selling vintage and that makes me very happy. It is only on a site like Etsy that some of these items would even be desirable. In a nutshell, Etsy has opened up a whole new world to me and provided an opportunity that I may not otherwise have found.
There is great flexibility with having an online business. If I need to take a day for myself, help a family member, make an appointment, run errands or take a short vacation, the option is there and so much easier to schedule than when working for someone else. That being said, I may have to put in several long nights or give up something another time to make up for that time off. I also strive to be accessible to my customers who often have specific questions about items or combined shipping rates for example. This can sometimes cut into an evening out, a vacation or holiday, etc., but I make it a point to be there for my customers.