Sunday, December 21, 2008

2008 Sales Report (and a Winter Hint!)

Well, it's not "the year in review," but online woodworking sales have all but dried up for the year so it seemed like a good time to sit back with my Sunday morning mug o' coffee, put on my headphones with some classic EM playing, and take a look at where Smile Moon Woodworks is at this point and perhaps make some goals for the coming year too.

But before I do, here's a quick little helpful hint for all you little snowbirds shoveling out from another couple inches every other day this winter: SILICONE SPRAY! I picked up a can of silicone lubricant spray a few years back to help with a sticky handle on the tailgate of my pickup truck. I figured out along the way that it makes a great DIY non-stick surface if you spray it on a snow shovel. Anybody who's done any snow shoveling will tell you the worst part of it is all the snow that sticks to your shovel, making it twice as heavy every time you give another scoop the old heave-ho! Spray the whole surface of the blade before you go out to shovel, and you're all set!

As for the woodworking, by all accounts, it was a pretty successful first year. Without getting into specifics, I'd have to say this year has exceeded my expectations by a long shot. When I first set up shop in March of '08, I'd anticipated that it would help me supplement my craft show sales. The advice I'd been given was simply to make sure I had some sort of an online presence to make sure customers had somewhere to find me for repeat business.

After three craft shows where I barely made my table fees back, I was starting to wonder as to the wisdom of doing this at all, but while the in-person sales were decidedly unimpressive, my online sales were starting to take off. The very first thing I listed on Etsy sold within two days of listing! Then I discovered the Custom feature on Etsy, and that took care of the slower sales periods in the spring and summer when many sellers were closing up shop. At this point, about 14% of my sales volume has been custom work, but it's accounted for nearly 70% of my online woodworking earnings for 2008.

Wooden Travel Soap Box
Now that I'd have to say that Smile Moon Woodworks has been successful (as a garage shop) in 2008, I've got to wonder what would make it better in 2009. I'm not the type to set goals for myself, but if I don't give myself something to shoot for, I don't see it moving beyond where it is now. Therefore, I'm setting fingers to keyboard and making some commitments to myself:

1) Make more stock items for my shop. If nothing else, the Christmas season has taught me to be much better prepared in terms of keeping stock "on the shelves." I ended up making 4 batches of toy swords this year - 3 of which were within a month of Christmas.

Wooden Toy Swords
2) Make a wider variety of things for the shop by creating new listings. I need to examine what sells online in general and at Etsy in particular.

3) Explore and utilize effective advertising. So far, the showcases on Etsy have been a wash, and Majaba ( has been uncertain in reaching potential customers, as opposed to reaching other sellers. This is going to involve finding and examining real web traffic stats and learning about other tools such as adwords, google base, twitter, project wonderful, etc.

4) Participate in really good craft shows. Last spring was pretty poorly attended by all accounts and I don't know too many folks who said they had good shows at that time either. Staying away from the fall shows didn't help my in-person sales, but I was too busy keeping up with the online sales to notice. I'll need to step it up and maintain a presence at both types of venues.

5) Streamline the woodworking process. I need to be looking at things to make my job easier and quicker in the workshop. One way is to make multiples, especially of custom items that have even slight universal appeal. I've had more requests for the custom pill boxes I made back in the summer, for example, and it always brings production costs down to make more than one of anything.

Wooden Pill Box
6) Streamline the packaging process. This process improved 100% over the course of the Christmas selling season, but has a long way to go to justify the absolute minimum I've been charging for "shipping & handling." I got lucky in finding somebody with access to small boxes (that he let me have for nothing!) that worked out really well for my 3-D Wooden Puzzle Cubes, but I need to see about either finding ready-made boxes for those Wooden Toy Swords or at least making up a bunch at a time ahead of time to speed the checkout process somewhat.

3-D Wooden Puzzle Cube
3-D Wooden Puzzle Cube Production
7) Make sure my kids' stuff is going to pass muster when the CPSIA is enacted. Not sure what to do with this one just yet, but I'm going to have to at least familiarize myself with the letter of the law and see what it's going to take. Of course, with all the petitions and talk of possible revisions to the law, who knows where all this will lead?

In addition to all these, I remain committed to my goals of working as "green" as possible, by acquiring and using materials that are cutoffs and leftovers from other jobs or rescued from the trash bin or firewood pile, buying from sources committed to sustainable harvesting when new material is needed, and using finishes that are non-toxic when finishes are called for at all.

Financially, I don't really know how achieving any of these goals will materially contribute to the bottom line, but I know that I'll feel better about the work I'm doing if I know I'm keeping busy and that my customers feel they're continuing to get good value from me. With 12 full months for Smile Moon Woodworks to play with in 2009, I hope I can double my 2008 sales volume and earnings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Interview with MuffinTop Designs

A brief aside...

Here it is, the end of 2008. Christmas (and other related holiday) shopping is in full swing, and my Etsy shop has been very busy the past month or so now. I'm not sure if things are going to continue to be this brisk for the next couple weeks, but I went ahead and made up another batch of Wooden Toy Swords (almost 60 of them this time) just to be on the safe side, because I've already had three batches sell out within weeks already this fall. I've also had to make up a new batch of 3-D Wooden Puzzle Cubes because my first batch finally ran out on those too.

I can't complain about the extra work, I suppose. I don't know if I could've anticipated the Christmas rush, this being my first year of selling my woodcrafts online. And honestly, I don't think we'd have been able to buy Christmas presents for the kids (nor could I have bought much for Mrs SmileMoon) if it weren't for the success of my shop.

And now, on to the main attraction...

I recently had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Cy, the proprietrix (proprietress? young lady who's in charge?) of Etsy's Muffin Top Designs. After warning me that an overdose of super sugary sugar cookies and the sounds of Dwight Yoakham had the mini-muffin whipping around like crazy (more on that soon), we got down to business...

1. Welcome to The Thoughts of a Poor Woodsman. You look familiar. Where have I seen you before?
well, you may have seen me poking around Etsy - where i have two shops: Muffin Top Designs and Muffin Topsy Turvy and in the Etsy forums! i also have a blog that i'm not too great at updating here, but i'll hopefully get better at it!! you, my dear poor woodsman, have also seen me at a Starbucks in east Toronto!!! Your humble narrator will attest to that!

2. What kind of crafting do you do, and how long have you been at it?
in my past life, i was a fine arts major, but meandered into the world of social services and property management!! however, about 2 years ago, one of my good friends introduced me to the world of beading, and i'm proud to say that i'm a jewelry maker now! i also dabble a little in sock monkey making. i still paint and draw but right now i love making wearable creations out of shiny things.

3. What was the first crafty thing you ever sold? Do you still make that same thing for sale?
i think that the first crafty thing i EVER sold was an acrylic painting that was part of a body of work that i did in university. but i don't do large scale paintings anymore, sigh! i wonder whatever happened to that painting????
this is the first crafty thing that i sold on Etsy - a Glass Bead Lariat Necklace, but i don't work so much with seedbeads anymore. the allure of sterling and fine silver and wire wrapped pretties are my current obsessions!

4. How do you get into the creative zone?
my creative muse is an elusive one. sometimes i sit in my little basement "studio" and create more than i can even handle... other times, weeks can go by without something new. i try to keep my space organized and clean, and i also love browsing on Etsy and the internet for inspiration. also having a full stomach helps.

5. What level of distraction can you put up with while you're working - music, TV, telephone, onlookers?
i absolutely need music or a movie on in the background in order to work! and that goes for both my full time job and my creative one!!!!!! however, i can't tolerate the phone or people looking over my shoulder. it's irritating!!!!! the husband and i have a wonderful basement space where his music equipment is close to my jewelry table - we're close, but not TOO close!

6. Do you have a dedicated crafting area that's forbidden from the rest of the family?
see above. however, i'm one of those people who knows where everything is even though it might not seem like it... once i put something down on my jewelry table, i need to know it will be there when i go back. hence, the husband and i are respectful of each other's spaces. i have caught him running his finger through my beads though!!! i don't know what will happen when our baby arrives though... :)

7. Do you come from a crafty background? Do/did your parents and/or siblings work with their hands like you do?
my sisters and cousins are quite crafty and artsy in their own right... and while none of our parents seem to be outwardly crafty, we've been slowly finding out that there is quite the artistic streak in some of them. my grandfather was a fabulous self-taught furniture maker - he would construct stools out of large cable spools and my grandmother would whip up padded covers for them!

8. What are your crafting goals for the next twelve months?
for 2008, i vowed to learn 10 new crafting/art techniques, which was really fun - and fully documented on my blog! for 2009, i want to take a metalsmithing course before the baby comes - how's that for a goal?????

9. How do you promote your business?
i wish i was better at promoting my business! working full time makes it difficult to get out there as much as i can, but i pass out my business cards as much as i can, blog, am present in the Etsy forums, and talk about what i do to anyone that will listen! perhaps one of my 2009 goals will be to draw up a formal marketing plan... and maybe get some MOO cards made up!

10. What is your most favorite handmade item that you have made?
probably the first sock monkey that i made. when i took it home, the husband immediately claimed it as his own. it was totally endearing.
i also fall in love with my new designs, wear them for a while, and then end up loving something else. i never liked wearing jewelry before, but now i'm quite flighty with my affections!

11. What is your most favorite handmade item that someone else has made?
i have sooo many. bizzielizzie makes the best zipper bags and key fobs and i can't live without them. scabbyrobot made the purse that i now carry. indulgentcreations makes lovely soap and body butters. i also have my eye on your wooden swords... i fully expect the husband and the baby to have tons of sword fights!!!!!!

12. What was your best handcrafted "moment"?
lighting up my butane torch and firing my first piece of precious metal clay at home. there's something to be said about a 1200 degree flame and molten silver. what a rush.

13. What's been the best advice you've received regarding your crafting and/or business?
stick with it and don't give up. things go up and down and as long as you're doing something you love, everything else will follow.

14. How far do you plan to take your craft? Do you envision being able to support yourself at some point down the road?
i am hoping to one day be able to only work part time and be a full time jewelry creator and sock monkey maker. it would be a dream to be able to stay home most of the time to create and take care of my family.

15. Describe yourself in 5 words.
kind, easygoing, creative, dynamic, hungry

...And there you have it! Please support my good friend and fellow artist by checking out her shop!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Using Google Base to Increase your Business Exposure

I only just this past week added my Etsy listings to google base. I made sure I followed the many tutorials that several fellow etsians have provided in the various forum threads - much appreciated. Let's Ets is a particularly good place to start.

One thing that I hadn't seen discussed was some of the important Contact and Payment information that can be added. If you leave those information blocks alone, then folks won't know that you accept Paypal or RME, for instance. Assuming you've already got your Etsy store items (or any items you're selling, regardless of your online store representation) listed in google base, go to the Settings Tab (the link works only if you're already signed into Google Base), then make sure you're in the Base Settings section. Toward the bottom of the page, under the blue heading for "New Items", you'll see subheadings for "Contact," "Location," and "Payment."

Editing "Contact" will allow you to set up your contact email and/or phone number. Click OK afterward.

Editing "Location" will allow you to insert where you're located, which gets translated to one of those little Google maps - cool! Again, click OK afterward.

Editing "Payment" will show folks what you accept for payment. Here's the rub: it only shows check, cash, wire transfer, and the major credit cards. There's nothing under the standard choices for money orders, Paypal, or Revolution Money Exchange (RME). There's a box for Notes, though - use it! And once again, click OK afterward.

Here's the final step, and it's important: be sure to click the "Save Changes" button at the bottom of the page! I forgot the first time, navigated away, then came back to find out I had to remember what I did the first time so I could re-enter it.

This time of year, I'm after all the marketing and advertising help I can get! I hope this helps you, too...