VOL. 127 | NO. 224 | Thursday, November 15, 2012
New Business Avenues
By ERINN FIGG
Kent and Loda Hatcher of Germantown are corporate refugees. Three-and-a-half years ago, they decided to put aside their careers in project engineering and customer service and journey into what they considered uncharted territory.
Loda Hatcher finishes a custom table for a customer from Etsy.com. Loda and husband Kent make custom furniture and accessories, including tables and mirrors.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
“We essentially had a bit of a mid-life crisis,” said Kent Hatcher, 49. “Corporate life was getting difficult and we just didn’t feel like it was an environment we wanted to play in for the next 15 years. We decided we had to do something different with our lives.”
After discussing various options, they chose a path that an increasing number of entrepreneurs and even seasoned business pros are venturing: Etsy. Founded in 2005 by three New York University students, the steadily growing online marketplace for handcrafted goods, craft supplies and vintage collectibles has more than 800,000 active shops from sellers in nearly 200 countries. More than 500 of those shop owners are from Memphis and the Mid-South area.
In the first week of November, the company passed the $700 million mark for sales in 2012, compared to $525 million in 2011. For further comparison, in 2009, sales on Etsy totaled $177 million. This figure jumped to $306 million in 2010. Many business pundits cite the struggling economy as the motivating factor for the increasing number of Etsy sellers seeking alternate sources of income.
At first, the Hatchers decided to sell earrings and birdhouses in their Etsy shop, Inspired by Nature (etsy.com/shop/natureinspiredcrafts). When that idea didn’t take off, they heeded age-old business advice and started examining what needs the current Etsy market might not be fulfilling. People were gravitating toward handcrafted furniture with character – things that combined artistry with functionality and perhaps even harkened back to shoppers’ cultural roots, when most furniture was created by town craftsmen, as opposed to mass-produced for big-box stores.
“We knew the way to play the game was to listen to customers, and we immediately started modifying our product,” Kent Hatcher said. “We started tinkering with coffee tables, end tables, sofa tables, mirrors.”
The two had not had prior experience making furniture, so their endeavor started as a trial-by-error process, using their complementing strengths along the way. Loda Hatcher had the artistic eye, while Kent Hatcher’s analytical and organized approach smoothed over the logistics.
The end result was a collection of nature-inspired pieces that merge male and female attributes, Kent Hatcher said – rugged, weathered wood with gleaming accents, shimmering copper tiles, and details that emphasize beauty and color. Their current work ranges in price from $28 for rustic crosses to $2,300 for entertainment centers built from reclaimed wood. The Hatchers take an eco-conscious approach to their creations, using natural materials to build pieces that will last generations.
When the couple first opened their Etsy shop in August 2009, their first month’s sales total was $150. This past September, they made $15,500. On average, their Etsy store brings in roughly $11,500 per month, or $140,000 annually, Kent Hatcher said.
He attributes this increasing success primarily to listening to customers and responding to their needs.
Kat Baggett, 18, of Memphis, agrees. She opened her Etsy store, PlugsByKat (etsy.com/shop/PlugsByKat), in late June. In her case, she also saw a need that wasn’t being fulfilled on Etsy – distinctive plugs for stretched earlobes.
“I saw a girl in a YouTube video who had some really amazing plugs made of resin with key charms in them,” Baggett said. “I thought, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen that style before.’”
Meanwhile, Baggett’s father recently had passed away from cancer.
“I inherited my dedication and creativity from him,” Baggett said. “Losing him made me realize I needed to make the most of life, so I decided to take a risk and open an Etsy shop.”
Baggett made an initial $1,500 investment in the materials for her shop. Her work, which includes a variety of plug styles as well as bracelets and necklaces, range from $12 to $36. So far, she’s made about $500 in profits, but she says one of the greatest benefits she’s experienced is that her work caught the eye of a local tattoo shop manager, who ordered some of her plugs to sell in store.
Meanwhile, she uses her Etsy money to supplement her income from her full-time job at Michael’s craft supply store.
Susan Kizzee, 27, mother and a freelance graphic designer, also uses profits from her Etsy shop (etsy.com/shop/SusanKizzee) to supplement her freelance income. Kizzee uses creative typography on vivid backgrounds to create maps of Memphis neighborhoods, customizing them at some of her customers’ requests to highlight businesses, addresses and specific neighborhoods.
“Memphis is a really distinctive city in that it has a lot of different neighborhoods in close proximity to each other, and each with its own flavor,” she said. “I see a lot of neighborhood pride as well as city pride, and I wanted to show this sense of community in my art.”
Her prints range from $75 to about $300, and, since her shop opened in June 2011, she’s sold about 40 of them. But like Baggett, she says her shop has played a big role in generating new clients and business outside of Etsy, driving traffic to her Website, susankizzee.com, and resulting in commissions from local businesses.
While all three shop owners have different motivations for selling their creations on Etsy, they all share the same advice for people considering starting their own shops there.
“You really have to look at it as a job, and it requires time commitment,” Kent Hatcher said. “It’s so much more than just the art. We do everything a large corporation does, from communicating extensively with customers to keeping spreadsheets to shipping operations. You’ve got to have a high level of passion and dedication.”