Talented sculptural artist Doreen Kassel got her start on Etsy before she expanded to wholesaling her work. This is her story.
ABI: What made you expand from Etsy to a larger business model?
Doreen: I started my Etsy shop as an outgrowth of my career as a children’s book illustrator. I opened my shop a year ago, September 19th, 2010, and I was thrilled and surprised by the response. I started selling multiple items consistently almost immediately. The timing was perfect for me. I sell ornaments, and it was the Christmas season.
As I began to be mentioned on blogs and other social media, and my orders grew, I thought, “Wow, this can be a business!” At first I thought Etsy could be the business. But I realized the sales needed for a good income couldn’t come exclusively from Etsy, at least not for me.
The listing process was tedious and took many hours a week. It’s been improved, but it’s still very time consuming. The pricing skews low, and sales aren’t usually big or consistent enough to make a serious income. Part of Etsy maintenance includes a huge personal component – lots of messages and feedback back and forth. I really like that, but it is very time consuming.
In the back of my mind I recalled something I heard Bruce Baker say at an ABI session, “Etsy can be a nice ego boost, but it’s not necessarily a business”. That might not be a direct quote, but the gist of that statement stayed with me.
ABI: What steps did you take when entering the world of wholesaling your work?
Doreen: Having been an illustrator, I was used to working on my own, alone, long days, nights, weekends and deadlines. Wholesale appealed to me in that way. Fewer shows, more studio time. I still really struggled with the leap into wholesale. It seemed intimidating. I took a continuing ed course on selling your craft at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I also subscribed to a craft magazine and read what I could find online.
Then I attended the summer Buyer’s Market show in Baltimore just to take the Arts Business Institute courses. The way I learn is kind of layered – hearing different things until something really sticks. I enjoyed and learned so much from all the courses I took, but when I began to think about branching out, Bruce Baker’s statement about Etsy and business had the biggest impact on me.
I began to think that if I wanted the most workable, stable business, wholesale was the way to go. So I took the leap and exhibited at the summer Buyer’s Market show this year. It was a great success for me. I also entered the NICHE awards and won in my category! Now I’m learning about pacing myself, more about pricing (be sure not to undercut your retailers if you continue to do Etsy), and using a part-time employee to help with some simple things so that I can produce more.
ABI: Could you give some recommendations to other artists about what you learned about the business of art?
Doreen: When I went to college at the School of Visual Arts, I noticed a poster on the subway wall. It was a Milton Glaser SVA poster that read “Our Times Call For Multiple Careers”. That also stayed with me.
I think that successful, self-supporting artists need to be adaptable. Especially in times like these. We’re actually fortunate to be artists in this economy. If we come up with something special, we can work hard and sell it. I would recommend working as intensely as you can as an artist, focus hard and take advantage of classes & workshops about the business of art. “Our Times Call for Multiple Careers” also applies to creativity and innovation. Our process as artists gives us the juice to keep our work fresh and new. Without that, no amount of business acumen will work. The last part of that creativity can be applied to self-promotion and social media.
I spend a decent amount of time publicizing my work on Facebook, my website and blog. I feel the three platforms show my work well. I have the best chance of reaching the most people by using all of them. I encourage artists to get out there with great work & start spreading your name around. It’s wonderful to have the chance to publicize yourself without leaving home!
Visit Doreen’s Facebook page for more information.