Saturday, March 12, 2011

Etsy Seller in the News

Getting Goods on Store Shelves
Etsy seller featured in The Wall Street Journal

In mid-2009, Janie McQueen asked retailers in her native Beaufort, S.C., if they would carry a line of baby apparel hand-sewn by her mother. But even though she knew many of the shopkeepers by name, none would bite.
So she turned to the Internet, listing the bonnets and bucket hats on, an online crafts market, as well as on a website she created for her business. Still, only a handful of buyers placed orders through either platform.
Finally, a networking connection introduced Ms. McQueen to a sales representative specializing in children's attire. The result, she says, was a contract that landed her mother's craftwork in 48 clothing boutiques nationwide by the end of her first year in business, in exchange for a small percentage of the wholesale price of the items they sold.
"It helps to have a rep," says Ms. McQueen, because such a person gives an unknown entrepreneur "more credibility." She counts her mother, Mary Patrick, as her business partner, and says their start-up, Susu & John, ended 2010 with $25,000 in gross sales. The company is now profitable, she adds.
For entrepreneurs with products to sell, a wide range of sales channels abound -- from boutiques to big-box stores to online marketplaces. But identifying appropriate retailers -- and striking deals with them -- can be a challenging first-time endeavor. Experts say the best strategy is to research venues that are a strong fit and prepare a compelling and succinct sales pitch.
"You want to look at outlets that sell similar kinds of products. You try lots of different things and see what works," says Bruce I. Newman, a professor of marketing at DePaul University in Chicago.
For some entrepreneurs, cold calling retailers does work. Sisters Kim Mack and Staci Douglas did this when launching Out of the Box, a Clayton, N.C., wholesaler of key chains and ID tags. The duo targeted dozens of shops that sold similar or complementary products. "Sometimes we were fortunate, and sometimes we weren't," says Ms. Mack, adding that for every client they signed, they requested referrals to other potential buyers.
They also paid for booths at consumer-product trade shows, spending as much as $3,500 for a five-day event. They snagged 12 retail clients at the first one alone. And they met industry professionals, who later introduced them to merchants who became clients. Networking is "a way of opening doors," says Ms. Mack, a stay-at-home mom who took up entrepreneurship after her husband became unemployed in late 2008.
Today, Out of the Box's products are for sale in some 200 gift boutiques nationwide. The company's revenues more than tripled last year from 2009, yielding a net profit, says Ms. Mack. The duo is now ramping up production for a deal in the works with a major department store.
Betsy Hauser also secured her first retail customers through a trade show. Her start-up, Mutt Huttz, a Cramerton, N.C., maker of customized dog-crate covers, charges brick-and-mortar clients $20 for a floor sample, fabric swatches and a catalog to showcase in their stores. The shops' customers can then place orders that Ms. Hauser fills and sends back to the retailers.
Ms. Hauser started Mutt Huttz in 2007 because she was struggling to make ends meet in a low-paying job at a nonprofit. To secure more clients, she next launched a direct-mail campaign, sending promotional postcards to 150 pet boutiques and doggie daycare centers around the country. Twenty-five placed orders.
Separately, Ms. Hauser spent $2,500 to build a website that could process orders direct from consumers. To draw traffic, she spent $150 a month on Google AdWords to get her website high on search results for terms such as "dog crate covers" and "luxury pet kennels." Later, she hired a search-engine optimization firm to boost her website's rankings, for a one-time $1,200 fee.
Ms. Hauser says the online exposure led to deals with 15 e-commerce vendors, who take orders for her crates on their sites in return for a small percentage of the wholesale price of each order they process.
Mutt Huttz posted $100,000 in revenues last year and is now profitable, Ms. Hauser says.

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