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February 18. 2013 5:13PM

Nashua artisans find Etsy.com filling an essential niche


Etsy seller Kerry Barnes, who sells custom quilts through the online bazaar, manages her account. (SIMN ROS PHOTO)

NASHUA - Andrea Jette's day job is at well-drilling company in Amherst. On the side she runs DREmatic Designs, one of nearly a million boutique businesses on Etsy.com, a website that has fast become a bazaar for artisans the world over.

Jette learned of Etsy through friends who shop on the site. Soon she was selling her custom jewelry and high heel embellishments.

"When I started making my jewelry they suggested me going on and trying that as almost my website, as a way of selling to people who didn't already know what I was doing," Jette said.

In addition, Jette is developing her own website; she thinks it's important to go beyond Etsy. Still, she has found it to be a cheaper alternative to eBay, and more welcoming to sellers of crafts and their customers. Offering space for detailed seller profiles and community exchange has helped Etsy carve out its niche.

"It's very user-friendly," Jette said. "There's a lot of other shops that seem to be doing what I'm doing, they're doing something that they're passionate about. I don't know if it's full time for them . but you get to read about the people that are making it, so I like that."

As it happens, nearly all her Etsy customers are local. And even though using Etsy gives her access to almost every country, she's more interested in expanding at the local level.

The site is the brainchild of artist and carpenter Rob Kalin, who felt there was no viable marketplace to sell his creations online. With two partners, Kalin designed the site in just three months in 2005, according to Etsy.com. (Kalin was removed by Etsy's board of directors in 2011.)

Etsy exhibits everything from the uniquely bizarre to the commonplace - from art deco diamond rings to light bulb aquariums. The only criteria is that items be handmade, vintage (more than 20 years old), or crafting supplies.

Sellers start by setting up an account. Item listings cost 20 cents, and Etsy takes 3.5 percent of the sale price. That is far less than the commissions and fees charged by eBay.

Many find Etsy's website more attractive and intuitive than those of its competitors. According to Alexa, which tracks web activity, the site ranks 50th in the country for internet traffic, ahead of dot-com heavyweights Flickr, Pandora, Hulu and NBC.

According to its website, the company has 22 million members and over 800,000 active shops in nearly 200 countries. Headquartered in Brooklyn, it also has offices in Hudson, N.Y., San Francisco and Berlin.

Like Jette, Melissa Saggerer, a Merrimack native, first entered Etsy as a shopper.

"It is such an amazing place to find things," she said. "I'm always looking for great unique gifts and also fun things to buy for myself."

She liked Etsy so much that she began selling her own products - knitting patterns and many different types of crafts.

"It's remarkable that you can take your creations and put them in a fully functional online store with a built-in audience for such little capital, and see where it goes," she said. "It is empowering and scary, but it is also really easy to get lost in this huge market."

Saggerer said marketing is a hugely important part of online vending.

"I made up some business cards and I've handed them out, tacked them to bulletin boards and that sort of thing," she said. "So far it seems like good old-fashioned word-of-mouth has been the most successful.

She works a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a blog. She also has work on Ravelry, an online community for knitters and crocheters, and was recently featured on the blog Linkoutoure.com.

She has also been using Etsy's "teams" feature lately. "Teams can be awesome for networking and sharing ideas and strategies," she said. "Teams also are another way for buyers to browse shops, so it helps in many ways."

Like most users, Saggerer's Etsy income is supplemental. But she said there are plenty of successful "quit-your-day-job" stories that are posted on the site for inspiration.

In spite of Etsy's ideal image in the eyes of many users, the site has been criticized for overly commercializing as it grows into the big leagues. Wired.com reported on blowback among some Etsy users for policy changes designed to account for the growth.

The changes include plans to offer Etsy users the option to sell their goods at nationwide home-design chain West Elm, which is owned by Williams Sonoma.

At least for now, these issues aren't likely to impact users like Saggerer and Jette, or Kerry Barnes of Nashua. Barnes hopes to one day be able to pull significant income from the site. She got turned on to Etsy by a friend whose Etsy shop has resulted in a significant source of revenue for her family.

"She's taken off like skyrocketing; she's grown tremendously," she said, sifting through pictures on her friend's Etsy account on an iPad. "Where I've only sold a few pieces, she's sold thousands of dollars worth of stuff."

That shop, Lyla Bug Designs, offers customized, vinyl-coated tumbler cups. Barnes said Etsy enables her friend to remain a stay-at-home mom while contributing significantly to the family's financial health.

One of five owners of a downtown Nashua bar, Barnes uses Etsy as a way to connect with the craft community and move the quilts she makes in all sizes

"Now that's it's winter I'll probably be making more quilts," she said. "During the winter months I quilt quite a bit, and horde up to start selling."

Barnes said convenience is a key element in the Etsy's success.

"People love homemade gifts, and they love to give homemade gifts, but they don't have the time in their busy lives to make them," she said. "People love giving them - they just don't have the time to do it."

With 18 million items listed annually - and $526 million in sales in 2011 compared with $307 million the year before - Etsy has no doubt found a niche.

srios@newstote.com



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