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Etsy Turns Small-Scale Crafts Into Big-Time Business

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From personalized yarn bowls to hand-painted wedding toppers, the online marketplace Etsy is offering thousands of products made by artists who are now full-time entrepreneurs. NY1's Money Matters reporter Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.

Juan Carlos Donado could be called an "accidental" entrepreneur.

"If someone had told me, 'You would end up being a small business owner,' I would say, 'See you later pal,'" Donado says.

But that is exactly what Donado is. He and his wife Anna Leigh work full-time in the basement of their Brooklyn home, hand-painting wedding cake toppers and wooden figurines.

"So you basically can send us your photograph and we customize the toppers to look just like you and you can put them on your cake," says Anna Leigh Donado.

Their company, Goose Grease, has clients all over the world, including Australia, France and the United Arab Emirates.

This might not have been possible, had it not been for Etsy, an increasingly popular online marketplace. Last year, Etsy generated just shy of $900 million in sales.

"It's a big number of pretty small transactions. I think the average order is around $30," says Matthew Stinchcomb, the vice president of values and impact for Etsy.com.

Etsy makes a little bit off every order. Shop owners pay 20 cents to list an item on Etsy for four months. If it sells, the company gets 3.5 percent of the sale price.

Caroline Magda of New Hope Beading has sold roughly $50,000 worth of handmade jewelry, meaning Etsy's cut would be about $1,750. The New Jersey mother, who recently attended an Etsy conference, says her online shop gives her total flexibility.

"My shop has really taken off and now it's a full-time job and I sell full-time. And it's really wonderful because I can be there to get them on the bus in the morning and I can be there when they get off the bus in the afternoon," says Magda.

The site features the wares of 900,000 sellers across the globe. Most of the items are vintage or handmade — unique, often personalized products that come with a story.

The Donados, for instance, get their dolls from a carpenter in Colombia.

"And then we bring them here on a fair trade agreement and we paint them here in our Brooklyn studio and we send them to the customer, so it's a really personal experience," says Anna Leigh Donado.

That is exactly what Etsy brass says the site's 42 million visitors are month are in the market for.

"When you are shopping on Etsy you are buying directly from a real person who is selling something that they made," Stinchcomb says. "It's about more connection to things and the people behind things."

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