One Seller’s Example of How Goodness Happens… to Those who Don’t Wait

Posted on August 5, 2009. Filed under: eBay | Tags: , , , , , |

We have all heard the saying “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait” and while that might apply to many things in life, it certainly doesn’t accurately describe a successful online seller.  Being an online seller requires many long hard hours of work; there is no waiting around for anyone to bring the sale to you and drop it off at your feet.  And, thus, one very important part of being an entrepreneur is that you have to be self-motivated.  Online sellers can’t sit around and wait for instructions from somebody else and expect to be able to pay the bills. 

Recently I had the great honor to interview an online seller who I think is probably the most self-motivated person I know.  She is a multi-channel online seller who doesn’t expect her business to succeed by just listing her items on third party websites and calling it a day.  This ecommerce merchant is a pro at blogging and promoting her items socially on Twitter.  This seller’s blog goes back to 2007 and day-after-day she continues to blog.  And reading her blog as I do, I am certain that her self-motivation is fueled in part by her passion.   She loves what she does and it shows.

I’m sure those who know her have already guessed that I am describing Mitzi Swisher.  You can follow Mitzi on Twitter HERE .  You can find Mitzi on Etsy in her  Vintage Goodness and Vintage Goodness Too  stores or in her eBay store Vintage Goodness Flea Market

Below is my recent interview with Mitzi Swisher of Vintage Goodness.

 

1.  Many people think of Etsy as being THE place to find handmade items but you sell vintage items there under two different seller accounts.  Can you comment on why you think offering vintage items on Etsy works so well for you?  And what is the reason behind you managing two different Etsy seller accounts instead of just one?

Vintage is Etsy’s best kept secret – the site has hundreds of amazing vintage sellers, and the Vintage category is one of the largest – I think I read a few months ago that it was #8! Etsy hasn’t done a great job of promoting Vintage, they have tended to focus more on their “core” identity as a Handmade marketplace. I think that is changing – slowly – but really it is the sellers themselves who do most of the work getting the word out about Vintage on Etsy.

I think Vintage is very complementary to the Handmade side of the site – both are niche markets based on unique items you can’t find at Wal-mart. Also alot of crafters and artists like to use vintage supplies and ephemera in their work, and there is a big trend of “upcycling” – taking something old and altering it into something new, giving it new life. I’ve sold tablecloths that were turned into aprons, and I sold an old candy tin to someone who was going to turn it into a Banjo… It’s great the way the two categories mesh like that!

I also think the buyer demographic between the two categories is also very similar and often overlaps – Handmade fans are often also Vintage fans, and Vintage fans are often also Handmade fans. It’s those folks who would rather buy something a little out of the ordinary, and that aren’t satisfied with running to their closest Target and buying the newest made in China items.

I have two shops on Etsy mostly as an experiment. One of the downsides of the way Etsy has their shops set up is that you only get 10 categories, and no subcategories. So you are very limited in how you can organize your items, and if your categories have dozens or even hundreds of items in them, those listings that are on the last pages may never get a look.

So I decided to take one of my categories – children’s items (dolls, toys, games, books, etc.) – and create a separate shop for them to see how it went, to see if niching down like that would be successful or not. It has worked fairly well, but keeping track of both shops is definitely extra work!

I think that having a niche shop has its benefits – you can organize your items more effectively, and you stick in people’s minds as the person who sells X, rather than the person who sells X, Y, Z, and everything in between. But I do think that having a more general shop has its benefits as well – more types of items can bring in a bigger variety and amount of shoppers, and the person who came in looking for a Pyrex casserole could leave with a few pieces of jewelry instead. So, I think it is definitely something that sellers should think about, though what works for some people may not work for others.

2. In addition to offering your items online at Etsy, you sell on eBay.  Because you generally sell unique one-of-a-kind items, how do you decide which items to list on each venue?

Almost everything I sell goes to auction on eBay first – auctions allow for a fast turnaround that keeps cash flow going. If something doesn’t sell at auction, then I am faced with the decision of where to list it – my eBay store, or my Etsy shops. I’ve found over time what tends to sell well on both venues, so it is a little easier to make that decision now than it was in the beginning.

For example, I move all of my vintage costume jewelry to my main Etsy shop if it doesn’t sell at auction. I never had much luck selling jewelry out of my eBay store, but on Etsy I tend to sell a few pieces a week. I don’t charge a whole lot for jewelry – most items are under $15 – so the lower fee structure on Etsy is a big factor as well – the bottom line is much better on lower dollar items on Etsy than it is on eBay.

There are some things that I have better luck on eBay than I do on Etsy of course – dinnerware and kitchenware especially. Unless it is something really kitschy and quirky, most of those types of items go straight into my eBay store. If it hasn’t sold from there after a year or so, then I will try it on Etsy.

I hope this is making sense – it really is something that you learn over time, with experimentation. It gets to a point where you are making decisions based on feeling as much as logic – I feel that an item would do better on one venue over another. (Sometimes I’m wrong, but sometimes I’m so right it is scary. I’ve listed things at auction on eBay that never got a watcher, and once I moved them to Etsy they have sold in a matter of days.) It’s a pretty subjective process.

3. How does selling items that are not new-with-tag affect your return policy and is online returns problematic for you in either online venue in which you sell?

I try really hard to describe flaws on items when I list them, and to take close up photos of any imperfections. That alone helps people to know exactly what they are buying, which keeps my return rate low. On those occasions that someone is unhappy with an item, I make the decision on how to handle it on a case by case basis.

4. I have enjoyed reading and viewing the pictures of you placing some of your items in the Hocking Hills Antique Barn recently. Is this your first time to sell off-line and what insights have you gained thus far from the venture?

Yes, this is my first attempt at selling offline, other than the few times I’ve set up at a flea maket. It’s really an experiment, just to see if it is a useful outlet for me or not… So far I really like it, it is less labor intensive than selling online, that’s for sure. No weighing, measuring, taking photos, shipping, etc. That alone makes it an attractive option for me!

But what it really comes down to, as always, is the bottom line. I’ve only been in my space about 2 months, last month I didn’t make rent, so I am waiting to see if this month is any better. I figure I will give it 3 or 4 months, and if I am not making rent then I will have to give up the idea.

5. Doing all that you do seems like it would take a small full-time army of people.  About how many hours a week do you estimate you work?  And what do you enjoy doing when you are not selling online at Etsy and eBay or offline at the Hocking Hills Antique Barn?

I wish I had a small army of people! Really it is just me and my boyfriend Will. He does all the packaging and a good chunk of the photo taking, as well as most of the housework and cooking. My time is taken up with shopping, listing, marketing, customer service, research, accounting, printing postage, paperwork, etc. etc. etc… the list goes on and on!

Not only do I have the side of my business that we’ve been discussing here, Vintage Goodness – http://www.vintagegoodness.com – to take care of, I also have an online vintage directory website – http://www.thevintagelist.com, and I do freelance work for a company here in Columbus that sells Antiques & Collectibles price guides – http://www.booksfyi.com – I manage their online presence for them. So my plate is definitely pretty full!

I have no idea how many hours a week I work – I can tell you that I work every day, and most days it is from the time I get up until the time I go to bed, with an hour here and there taken out to eat, run errands, catch a short nap, or watch a movie or a bit of TV with Will. It’s very rare for me to take an entire afternoon or evening off, and rarer still for me to go an entire day without doing any work at all.

It’s a demanding and time consuming business, definitely not one for the faint of heart or someone who has trouble self motivating! I think I am lucky that a lot of the things that I do for the business are things I used to do just for fun – shopping at garage sales and flea markets, blogging, even selling online – it started out as my hobby, what I did in my time away from work. So while it does feel more like work now than it did back in those days, I still enjoy it and can’t think of much else I would rather be doing with my time!

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2 Responses to “One Seller’s Example of How Goodness Happens… to Those who Don’t Wait”

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Great choice, Brews … wonderful stuff, Mitzi! Excellent nuggets in here for the new seller to learn from, especially the trial and error involved in learning what sells where. As a veteran vintage seller just trying out Etsy for the first time this past month I found those parts very helpful, thanks for sharing it!

Cliff

Thanks guys, you both rock 😀


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