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Etsy Website Fuels Passions, Business In Md.

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By COURTNEY POMEROY

The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Some are doing it just to make their hobby self-sustaining. Others, to bolster their children’s college funds. A few manage to make a real living at it after quitting their 9-to-5 jobs. But all see it as an outlet for their creative energy.

The “it” is Etsy, a 7-year-old online marketplace for jewelry makers, accessory or home-decor designers and crafters of all kinds.

In the six months after it first launched in June 2005, about $170,000 worth of merchandise was sold by “shop owners” on the site. Last year, sales totaled more than $525 million.

Frederick shop owners say the site has grown for a lot of reasons — among them the fact that artists and crafters who feel the creative drive to produce more items than they know what to do with could use the extra cash.

One such person is Julia Redman, a 33-year-old from Thurmont who sells orchids in her Etsy shop.

Redman was interested in houseplants from an early age. Sometime in high school, “I decided that orchids were the holy grail,” she said. She has been working with the notoriously hard-to-grow plants ever since.

“It finally did reach a point where I had more plants than I had room,” she said.

That’s when she got the idea to sell plants on eBay. Eventually, she moved her business to Etsy and created her shop, Sapphire Child. While she would like to do more business through Etsy someday, she doesn’t have the time or resources to turn a profit quite yet.

Vicki Robinson owns Glass River Jewelry and lives in Frederick with her husband and three children. She started a shop in part to manage a growing collection.

“Once the kids started going to school and stuff, I wanted something to do,” said Robinson, who once worked as a nurse.

She took a jewelry class and started making pieces regularly in January 2009. In October of that year, she started her Etsy shop, listing 18 of her items at first.

According to Robinson, “once you sell your first thing, that’s when the addiction takes off.” After gaining more business-sense through the site, “I can just fuel my addiction,” the 45-year-old said.

Robinson said she reached $30,000 in sales last year from her glass-bead earrings, bracelets and necklaces that range in price from roughly $30 to $90.

“I’d love to make more money off it,” she said. But for now she’s happy being able to contribute to household expenses as well as save up for special family vacations.

Robinson is not one of the Etsy artists who aims to own a physical store. “Here I just have more control,” she said.

But 27-year-old Amanda Baker, of Myersville, hopes to take her Milk and Honey line of handbags to a brick-and-mortar location one day.

She appreciates the start Etsy has given her.

“It has its own global traffic that you automatically get by setting up a shop there,” she said. Since starting with Etsy in 2009, she’s sold 314 of her handmade bags.

And while the expenses of a building would include monthly rent and electricity, Etsy allows her to work from home and only charges her 20 cents per listing and a small percentage of each item sold, she said.

“It definitely is a great way to get yourself out there and build an online portfolio,” she said.

Like Baker, 43-year-old Lesley Hornbeck uses Etsy as her primary source of income. A Frederick mom of three children 6 years old and younger, Hornbeck once worked in an office.

With her husband, a government contractor, out of the state or even the country for extended periods of time, “It just got to be too much,” she said. And, like many people,” I really wanted to not have a boss.”

She had some experience with making applique bags as favors for a friend’s table-scaping business. After quitting her office job, she decided to explore bag-making further.

She started an Etsy shop in April 2011, and this year, she expects to make $75,000 in sales.

“It was a lot of trial and error,” she said. “But people were interested in the bags.”

The shop, Whimsy Bags, experienced its first growing pains during the 2011 holiday shopping season, when Hornbeck woke up one morning to a few hundred new orders. Shortly thereafter, she hired an assistant who now does a lot of her heat-pressing and shipping.

From her home computer, Hornbeck creates graphics from nonlicensed images she finds online. Then she prints them out and uses a commercial-grade heat press to apply them to tote bags, shirts and pillow cases. She’s made more than 2,000 sales so far.

She credits her success to marketing herself, communicating with customers and frequently adding new products. Her process is also not very labor intensive.

“We can conceivably put out 100 totes a day if we need to,” she said.

That is not true for shop owner Stacie Spencer, who makes jewelry out of precious metal clay in her New Market home. One of Spencer’s pieces requires several time-consuming steps, even the smallest charms. Her prices range from $18 to $200.

“I would love to grow my Etsy shop into a full-time job,” she said. Her goal is to save enough for college for her two children.

Through building a presence on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, plus maintaining a blog, she has increased her customer base significantly since she opened the shop and is on track to double her sales from last year in 2012. She has also taken photography classes at Frederick Community College to optimize the online images of her pieces and taught herself about adding key words to her listings to make them easy to find.

“You get what you put into it,” said Spencer, 50. “If you put the work in, you’ll see good results.”

Chrissy Gemmill, of Frederick, agrees.

“I worked so hard to get established online,” she said. “To sell online you have to work a lot harder to kind of help your customer know who you are.”

Gemmill, 40, owned a physical store in downtown Frederick for about three years starting in her late 20s, and she says brick-and-mortar and Etsy both have their advantages. She also had an independent website showcasing her jewelry for a while, “but I didn’t know how to manipulate it myself,” she said. “(Etsy) gave me the power to customize it.”

Etsy also allows her to stay home with her 4-year-old son.

While she can spend as little as an hour per day working on different aspects of her shop, “I pretty much am always thinking about it,” she said. “I absolutely love it.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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