My Etsy shop, JoySpark, finished up its second full year of operation in 2020 with positive growth and revenue. Although the sales numbers are really modest (still in the hobby-business range) the shop definitely grew and outperformed 2019. As it stands there are 196 sales, 30+ five star reviews, and double the favorites of last year (not sure if favorites mean anything… maybe social proof). Here are some screenshots.
Note: There have been fewer than 196 orders but some of those orders contained multiple models. Etsy counts each model sold as a sale.
One of the goals is to grow the 3D printer farm and sadly, these numbers don’t yet justify buying a third printer. Two printers handled the entire year just fine. The only pressure was in the first two weeks of December. Those 38 orders in December of 2020 actually happened in the first two weeks of the month. My two printers could barely keep up at 12-15 hours a day.
Printing 3D models takes a lot of time. The average small model I print takes 5 hours. The average large takes 20 hours. So, if I have just 10 orders of large models then it takes at least 5 straight days on two printers. And that doesn’t account for failures or mishaps or me sleeping in. You can see how 38 models in two weeks was difficult.
Improvements to the Shop
Our shop growth has been mostly organic on Etsy (see Etsy offsite ads section below). And although I have been tracking it, I can’t say exactly what causes the traffic. It was probably due to nearly doubling our product listings but I can’t really say. We would add a few products, get a few more sales, receive a review or two… and slowly our store developed an established little presence. Here are a few of the things we worked on.
During 2020 I added nearly 30 new products to the shop. This took significantly more time and effort than I anticipated. But creating the digital model, printing it successfully, taking photos, creating listings, etc. is a lot of work.
We explored a bit with different backgrounds for photos for the listings. Still haven’t figured out the best setup for this.
My wife officially took over all communications with customer inquiries on the shop. We discovered that this takes a ton of time and is very distracting. Now I work on managing the business and product development and she handles nearly all the communications and listings. So far it is a good distribution of tasks.
One thing that I think has helped improve the shop is that we have a goal of responding to all inquiries within a few hours. As well as following up with messages about how the order is progressing as it gets printed and shipped.
One thing that was recurring throughout the year was custom requests. Potential customers would message and ask about custom sizes, shapes, locations, etc. Some were reasonable and a natural part of our work flow like adding a date. Some were too big for my operation to handle like a request for the entire Sierra Nevada range on a 4 ft by 8ft model (my printers max out at 8 in by 10 in). Others were just super complex and out there like taking the elevation data and transposing it’s inversion on a sphere inside another sphere… or something like that. Regardless, it was really cool to get all the requests and interact with potential customers. Some of the ideas even led to inspiration for new products on the site.
But the truth is all that messaging back and forth took a lot of time. And the majority of custom requests never turned into sales. Often people would message back and forth a bit and even if it seemed to be going well they would inevitably stop responding. Some would pick it back up in a week or a month. Others we would never hear back from.
Even if the custom request turned into a sale the return on the time to communicate and then make a one-off (like a specific date on a mountain) wasn’t always profitable. In fact, I am confident it was only profitable 5% of the time. Why did I do it then? I wanted more sales. I wanted more 5-star reviews. I wanted customers to have a good experience with the shop.
Did it work? I think so. Custom orders became time investments that helped grow the presence of the shop. That being said, I am working out a profitability model and strategy for custom requests to try and make the effort involved a little more favorable to me going forward. Currently we charge a standard $10 custom order fee on top of the price of the product but will likely change this soon.
Etsy Offsite Ads
About the same time as the pandemic hit Etsy began rolling out a new option for offsite ads. It was an optional thing for stores (like mine) that made less than $10,000 in sales a year. Basically, Etsy would take my listings and advertise them across various online channels. If someone clicks through and purchases from my shop within 30 days then Etsy would charge me a 15% fee.
There are several things about this that rubbed me wrong and there are plenty of arguments about it across the internet but I thought that it couldn’t hurt as an experiment. I naturally expected the increased exposure to drive up traffic and sales. If the sales volume was high enough then the 15% fee wouldn’t hurt as bad.
After about 6 months my wife and I noticed that every time an order came through we were dreading checking if it was due to an Etsy offsite ad. Our sales volume is low and our profit margins are low. If we had to pay a 15% additional fee then our drive to the post office for a single sale wasn’t worth it. In other words, we weren’t making any money on them and we weren’t seeing much of an increase in traffic to our shop. And since most sales were not due to offsite ads we decided to save ourselves the anxiety and turned off the offsite ads option.
Although the goal is to grow the shop beyond $10,000 a year in sales, I haven’t figured out how to handle the mandatory offsite ads that Etsy imposes on larger shops. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Granted, if the volume of sales was significantly higher, say 50+ per month, then I could see the 15% fee being less of a burden as everything starts to scale up.
Looking Forward to 2021
2020 was a year of growth for JoySpark. Although modest, it was exciting to see the printer farm standing on its own and justifying its existence. It was also really great to have so much interest in the shop by way of custom requests.
In the next week or so I am going to publish an article on my goals and strategies for 2021. Mainly more of the same but maybe add some social media presence and work on driving some traffic that way.