New Hobby Is Producing Stuff - What Next?
July 10, 2013 7:01 AM   Subscribe

So a hobby I've picked up to help wind down in the evenings has started to produce items that might actually be sell-able. This is a new experience for me and I am at a loss as to what to do next.

I would love to have a hobby that is 'self sustaining' and maybe even able to fund a night at a B&B for my wife and I now and then. Although, given that previous hobbies involved spending hundred of dollars on little soldiers to paint, I'd be fine with breaking even.

I know Etsy seems like the logical option and I'll totally look into that, selling online sort of raises my hassle meter what with trips to post offices, dealing with PayPal, and so on. Luckily, the stuff I'm making fits in very well with the high tourism town I live in, but outside of wearing a trenchcoat and unfurling it to tourists with a "Hey, buddy, wanna buy a mystical charm?" I have no idea where to start.

So, questions:

1) How many Things should I make? Currently, I have two varieties of Things.
2) How do I price them out for sale? Thing 1 costs maybe 2.5 bucks + time, Thing 2 is closer to 4 bucks + time. 5$ and 10$?
3) How do I assess if there is a market for the Things? I've checked out the local shops and don't see anything really like them.
4) Should I look into craft fairs or just try to get one of the eight plus shops where the Things fit to sell them? How does that even work?
5) What sort of copyright/trademark/tax/legal stuff do I need to do? How pricey/hassle-y is all that?
6) How do I package Things? Display them?
7) Do I have to market the Things? I can barely market my blog, let alone something that actually costs real monies.

Summary: I'm not looking to make this a full-time or even part-time job. It's just something I do while unwinding in the evening that I think is fun. Other people have suggested I sell the product of my leisure, which I'm open to, but don't want the selling part to take the fun out of the hobby.
posted by robocop is bleeding to Work & Money (13 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
As far as pricing goes, here's a good discussion about pricing hand-crafted items on a quilting blog; the comments have additional observations and links.

I think the easiest possible option for you would be selling or consigning to local stores. No photography, no listing, no shipping, no time spent at a craft fairs, no internet marketing, no figuring out a display. I know someone who does this on the South Shore, and I also have family members who sell a handmade product to local stores up in Maine. In both cases I believe they started by talking to the owners of the shops to ask if they'd carry the items (and brought a sample or samples in with them to show, and had a wholesale price in mind). Start there, maybe?

The store owners should have a feel for whether the Things are saleable in their shop. If you get the Things carried in a store or stores, they will tell you how many things to make.

If you end up selling in more than one way, make sure you have both wholesale and retail pricing (generally wholesale = 1/2 retail). The price the local shops get from customers should be the same you would get from a direct-to-customer sale, or you're undercutting your retail outlets.

Another option would be a crafts co-op, but I'm not aware of any in Massachusetts -- only up in Maine. Also, selling at a co-op usually involves regular store hours, which sounds annoying.

In our area, we also have some local artists who sell through consignment stores, rather than gift shops or galleries -- you can tell because every consignment store has a very similar painting of the same lighthouse with the same "Local Artist!" sign. So depending on what Thing is, you could talk to local consignment shops as well.
posted by pie ninja at 7:24 AM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Some people sell crafts at farmer's markets.
posted by Dansaman at 8:15 AM on July 10, 2013

Or flea markets.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:36 AM on July 10, 2013

Depending on what it is, those prices seem low to me. But I guess it depends on time. Pay yourself a decent hourly wage!

Most people in my corner of the crafting world use (Materials x2 + Hourly Rate + Overhead).

I sell online, word of mouth, and in a few retail situations. Sometimes I'll do an event.

My favorite retail location is run by a non-profit with 50+ vendors. I pay a monthly rental fee, and they take a small percentage of sales. But they handle staffing and selling. I just restock and pick up my check every two weeks. All the money they make goes towards the non-profit.

There are also for-profit arts/craft co-ops like that around here.

Try flea markets too. Many places around here let you rent an outside area for pretty cheap. It's usually just a parking space or two and you have to bring your own tables/setup.

Let me try to answer your other questions based upon a similar situation I was in a few years ago when I started.

1. As many as you can.
2. See Above
3. If there is nothing locally, look online and see if you can find anything. Online and in-person pricing can be different.
4. In PA at least, most craft fairs require you to be registered as a business with a Tax ID. Bigger craft fairs usually have a website with vendor info and requirements. Some require that you get your own insurance.
5. Interestingly! You want to attract attention. Packaging really depends on the item.
6. I'd suggest at the very least a facebook page. I'd really try to put together a website as well if it really takes off (or if you feel like it.)

If you want some more specific advice, please feel free to memail me. Actually knowing what you are making would help in that too.

Don't forget to get listed at the Meta Filter Holiday Mall during the Holiday Season at the end of the year.
posted by PlutoniumX at 8:39 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go into a shop in your area and see if they'll buy them from you. That would be the easiest, most hassle free way to do it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:15 AM on July 10, 2013

I have an etsy shop and I do shows regularly throughout the year. Selling your stuff is work if you want to have a store and really do it right. If you just want to get rid of the stuff you make so it isn't lying around the house that is different.

1. Depends on your end goal. If you want to do shows you need a lot of product, if you want to do etsy or something you could do made to order but you'll at least need display ones.

2. Depends on your end goal. I make money off my craft business that means I pay myself a decent hourly wage which is factored in as a cost of the making the item (along with materials). I then multiply that by 2 to get my base/bare minimum price. I usually then multiple that by 1.5-2 to get my retail price.

3. Flea markets are fine if you just want to get rid of stuff but aren't great if you have a fine craft at a decent price. People at flea markets want to haggle and get things for a cheap as possible. I only sell at actual arts & craft fairs personally but I take this seriously I'm not looking to just keep crafts from taking over my house.

4. You are going to have to research. At the bare minimum you will probably need a sales tax permit but your state/county/city/town may also require some sort of business license. It could also depend on what you are making and where you are selling it.

5. Depends a lot on your product. I tend to not spend a lot of money on packaging but I still try to make it professional. My bags at shows all have a sticker with my logo on them, I tie a bow around my items when I pack them for shipping and I include a personal note. As for displays, at a flea market you can have a table or even a blanket and just throw your stuff out there, at a craft fair you are going to have to step up your game. Here is a great flickr with craft fair displays if you want ideas: Start simple and work your way up. The most important thing to remember about your display is that the most important thing is your product. Don't get caught up in "decorating" just make sure your items are the highlight and are easy to see.

6. I do all my marketing through facebook, instagram, and shows.

Absolutely feel free to contact me with any specific questions. If I knew what the item was I could give much more specific advice. You can also check my etsy shop (linked in profile) if you are interested in seeing what I've done. And I'll send you my (at the moment not awesome because I've been busy at my normal job) facebook page if you would like to see that as well.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:27 AM on July 10, 2013

I should say that I also do wholesale around the country. Most of my customers found me through etsy, a few through facebook, and a few through personal connections. I love my wholesale customers. Consignment is pretty common nowadays too but I wouldn't do consignment long-distance. That is my next goal, but that requires a LOT of work. Calling stores, making appointments, visiting owners, set-up, restocking, etc.

Do not just walk into a store and say, "hey I've got some stuff, wanna sell it?" that does not come off as professional. Call, speak to the owner and make an appointment that is convenient for them, you are courting their business so you want it to be easy for them to say yes. You don't want to be annoying or pushy or unprofessional. They need to trust that if they enter into a business relationship with you that you will follow through on your end of the deal.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:33 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The location is Salem, MA and the Things are new agey pendants such as these.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:06 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do a search on Etsy for similar items, and decide whether or not you can sell your things there in the same pricing level. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover that you can sell them for more than you think.

Remember that Telling The Story of what these things are is just as important as the things themselves - the sizzle is a big part of the excitement of the steak.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 10:44 AM on July 10, 2013

GO FOR IT! It sounds like you're already set up with supplies and a process, so it's not like you're making any risky big investments for unknown return. RE: Selling on Etsy specifically, they now let you accept credit card payments directly through them if you don't want to use PayPal. They take about 3% of the transaction amount (about the same as PayPal) and do a weekly deposit to a bank account of your choice. You can also print your postage online, which is a huge time saver. I would argue that Etsy is less of a hassle than trying to form relationships with local retailers and craft fairs, at least when you're in a "testing the waters" stage, because you can put as much or little energy into it as you want without being dependent on or committed to other businesses or events.

As to your questions:

1) How many Things should I make? Currently, I have two varieties of Things.

Start simple. Make the Things you already do well, and over time you'll get inquiries and feedback as to what other Things people are interested in (related to the ones you already make.)

2) How do I price them out for sale? Thing 1 costs maybe 2.5 bucks + time, Thing 2 is closer to 4 bucks + time. 5$ and 10$?

Do not short-change yourself. Pay yourself a decent hourly wage and make sure that you're turning some kind of profit for all of your work. At a bare minimum your retail price formula should be:

material cost + (hours spent * hourly wage) + desired profit per thing

But another thing to keep in mind is the possibility that, if this takes off you may start to get wholesale inquiries, where other vendors want to buy a bunch of your Things so they can mark them up and sell them themselves. A healthier retail price formula is:

(material cost + (hours spent * hourly wage) + desired profit) * 2

The whole exercise seems arbitrary if you're starting out as the sole retail outlet for your own things, but if you're selling them on a razor thin margin and someone comes along asking if you do wholesale, you pretty much have to say "no" unless you want to be selling at a loss; they'll generally be expecting a wholesale price that's around half of your retail price. Of course, you may have no desire to get into that level of production, but it's something to keep in mind when setting your prices. Etsy has a pretty good blog post about figuring out what to charge here.

It can be tricky, but there should be a sweet spot where your price reflects the hand-made quality and uniqueness of your work and makes it worth your time, but doesn't strike people as being too expensive. One thing to keep in mind as you poke around places like Etsy trying to see what others are charging: There is always going to be someone selling stuff similar to yours for insultingly low prices. Trying to undercut everyone else is a race to the bottom. (There was one discussion somewhere on Metafilter where someone theorized that some of those people are selling at a loss, but get their supplies through craft blog sponsorship/tie-ins, so it ultimately makes it worth their while.) At some point you have to take a stand and declare that yes, your stuff is worth what you say it's worth and no less!

3) How do I assess if there is a market for the Things? I've checked out the local shops and don't see anything really like them.

It can be hard to say whether this means that there's no market for them, or whether it's an untapped market that nobody else is catering to. Or whether there's a good market, just not in your physical neck of the woods. (This is another argument for starting out with an Etsy shop, because the built-in customer base is so much larger than your local area.)

4) Should I look into craft fairs or just try to get one of the eight plus shops where the Things fit to sell them? How does that even work?

Craft fairs can vary as far as exclusivity and requirements, but usually they'll want to see photos of your work and possibly of your booth. Many will expect you to have your own canopy, tables and chairs, and you'd also need to consider decoration and any display fixtures you might need as startup costs.

5) What sort of copyright/trademark/tax/legal stuff do I need to do? How pricey/hassle-y is all that?

As has been mentioned, many fairs will be looking for a Tax ID number and/or sales tax certificate.

6) How do I package Things? Display them?

If you're selling on Etsy, it's largely about good product photography and descriptions. (I'll defer to others about packaging/display in a physical setting, as that's a weak area for me)

7) Do I have to market the Things? I can barely market my blog, let alone something that actually costs real monies.

This is another argument for an Etsy shop, where your items sit there passively and (if well tagged and described) will attract shoppers organically via Etsy and internet searches; the more promotion you do the better, of course, but having your stuff readily available online 24/7 is a good start.

Feel free to MeMail me, too, and good luck!
posted by usonian at 11:07 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

See also on Ask MeFi: how to sell stuff at a festival?
posted by usonian at 11:17 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have no experience selling crafts but looking at your picture I think the prices you quoted are too low (not sure what is inside the little bottle though, hard to see).
I could imagine that young stylish women, especially fashion bloggers and fans, would like your Things (little terrariums and terrarium pendants were very popular recently). Not sure if you used that search term on etsy yet.

"Don't forget to get listed at the Meta Filter Holiday Mall during the Holiday Season at the end of the year." posted by PlutoniumX at 8:39 AM on July 10
Good luck!
posted by travelwithcats at 1:29 PM on July 10, 2013

Sell them for as much as you can get, not for as much as you think they're worth. If sales stop, you've gone too high. Do it online so you aren't embarrassed about it.

To get away with charging more, "personalize" them, but make the personalization thing so automatic that it actually takes you just a couple of minutes to do. For instance, you could put a personalized charm message scroll thingy rolled up in a bottle, where making the message only involves printing a standard tiny text with one name variable changed to match the buyer's request ("Make [name] love me forever."), rolling it up into a little scroll, and sticking it into the bottle. The message could be in some other language (maybe a weird made-up language). People who buy into this sort of stuff will buy this stuff.

In addition to pendants, make little charm/curse bottles they are supposed to bury somewhere. To make it feel authentic, you can probably find "real" charms and curses used by witches in history. Get some in foreign languages from foreign witches. It's all the same to you: print out the charm, stuff it in a bottle, package it up, and mail it out. Send them a standard description of the curse and how it was used in ye olden days, and tell them how to use it now. (Maybe only hint about burying it on other people's property because you don't want to get in trouble.) Now you've got people buying and burying your stuff in their yards, or in the yards of people they love or hate, and maybe coming back and buying a bunch more if they think the charm or curse worked. Good fun.
posted by pracowity at 2:40 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

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