The Ottumwa Courier

March 7, 2014

Ottumwans taking their small businesses global

By LAURA CARRELL
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Usually people think of major industries as global businesses. Several Ottumwans are changing that point of view without ever leaving southeast Iowa.

The Etsy website gives small, artsy, often home-based businesses a platform to sell their wares. While the artisan is responsible for listing their own items on a personalized page, Etsy provides the opportunity to sell in a national and global marketplace.

Many local crafters have found that this is the place for them to sell, buy and build relationships with people they never would never have the chance to meet otherwise. And they all agree that Etsy has been an outlet to share their crafts in a user-friendly environment.

• Monica McWilliams began SeptemburGurl in early 2012. She's always been into crafting and reusing items that would normally be thrown out. Selling on Etsy was the perfect way for her to share her creations with a wider audience than she could have by starting a brick-and-mortar store.

"I make more than I can use myself, and I'd seen Etsy advertised all over. I thought that maybe I could sell some things there," she said.

McWilliams says that is was incredibly easy to set up a shop, and the website's creators offer helpful guides to get started and grow your business.

"My shop is pretty eclectic. I like to recycle, so there's crocheted rag rugs, bowls made out of old vinyl records," she said. "It's neat to make something pretty out of something that would have been thrown away. I'm keeping them out of the landfill."

Being visible on the Internet has also allowed her to connect with people across the country, which she knows she couldn't have done without her Etsy shop. The vinyl record bowls in her shop attracted the attention of someone from the East Coast.

"I had a teacher from New York write to me asking how to make them with her class. I'm meeting people that I wouldn't normally meet," she said.

McWilliams has a very practical piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting their own online Etsy shop.

"Keep adding to it. You may start with just a few items, but the more you add, the more views you'll have in your shop," she said.

• Melissa Podliska learned how to cross stitch when she was a girl but didn't do much with it for many years. About five years ago, a friend showed her a cross stitch project she had done that was very modern, something from a popular video game.

"I realized that there could be patterns for everything. I did some research and found a free software program and started making my own cross stitch patterns," she said.

After designing a few, she began to put them in her Etsy shop, nichestitch, and had great success with them. She sold several and was able to buy new and better software to create more patterns.

"Etsy was really the only way I knew of to get things out there, and it was a popular site at the time," she explained. She opened her shop in 2011. "I had no concrete goals or expectations. I'd like to expand, but I'm just going to go with the flow."

While some people dream of walking away from their day job to create art from home, that was the furthest thing from Podliska's mind.

"It's a sideline, a fun thing. I never envisioned that I would quit my job or anything," she said. "I do lots of design work, color coordinating, things like that. I never thought I would enjoy it this much or be good at it."

And once getting started, she says it's a great site for building and growing. She's now been able to share her patterns with people from across the country and around the world.

"There's lots of great tutorials, and there are communities and teams and forums. It's so easy to ask for help," she said. "I knew it was global, but I never expected this."

• For Sharron Messer, watching her sister succeed on Etsy convinced her that opening her own shop there was a great idea. Messer had just paid a company to build her own website, but she was disappointed in the results and expense. Her Etsy shop, The Sentimentalist, features handmade cards, stationery and other paper goods.

"I'd watched my sister's sales skyrocket, and that's when I decided that's where I needed to be," she explained. "It started slowly, but it started growing and growing. The expenses were minimal compared to trying to promote yourself."

One of the great components to Etsy is the tools that are available for all aspects of growing a small business, she added.

"They have marketing and salespeople who know exactly what to do. They have all the answers," Messer said. "They're there specifically to help you. The more money you make, the more they make, so it's to everyone's benefit."

That global selling experience is one of the best parts of having an Etsy shop, Messer says, and there's nothing like making a sale in a new and different location.

"It opens the world to you. I've sold to Brazil, to just about every state, Ireland, Australia. It's exciting to put something you've made into a box and send it overseas," she said.

For someone who might be on the fence about selling their creations online, Messer believes Etsy is a great place to start.

"If you have a dream and want to fulfill it, Etsy is a wonderful, user-friendly website that anybody can put their product on and sell," she said.

— Follow reporter Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC

Here are just a few Etsy shops that Ottumwans have opened. • www.etsy.com/shop/SeptemburGurl -- Featuring upcycled and crocheted items, plus glass tile jewelry. • www.etsy.com/shop/nichestitch -- Unique modern, contemporary and vintage style digital (PDF) cross stitch patterns delivered to your email. • www.etsy.com/shop/Sentimentalist -- The shop of handmade, original, custom-designed greeting note cards, stationery, paper goods, gift items and more. • www.etsy.com/shop/stufffromtrees -- This shop is the perfect place to find Christian cards, gifts, wood crafts and a little encouragement of your own. Find more by doing a "Shop Local" search on the Etsy homepage.