As professional woodworkers, making our product is the easy part; marketing and selling it is the hard part. Often, we start selling through word of mouth, or maybe we do a few local craft fairs, or we work with a designer or architect, and if you’re lucky, get into a local gallery or showroom. But as business grows, or the local market gets saturated, finding and selling to a larger audience can be difficult at best.
One way of reaching new customers is to sell online. In today’s global economy, people are now comfortable buying online; ecommerce is a viable outlet for woodworkers to sell their work.
There are a few things to know about selling online, and it all depends on how much time and effort you want to spend on it. You can approach it two ways: do it yourself, where people purchase directly from your site, or through established online outlets like Amazon or Etsy.
Some outlets specialize in crafts like Etsy and others offer higher-end merchandise like Artful Home or Amazon Handmade. Buyers who frequent these sites are usually more interested in the artisanal experience rather than the lowest price point.
There is a myriad of advantages to these high-end outlets: they have marketing teams, advertising budgets, massive email lists, SEO techs, web designers, etc., and they do take a higher percentage of your sales for their efforts, but less than the typical 50 percent a brick-and-mortar gallery would take. They also have some sort of jury or pre-qualification process that keeps out low quality work.
The collective whole provides everyone with great exposure and street cred. These sites also have the checkout cart worked out with simple one click buying and shipping.
Etsy and Amazon take less of a percentage and therefore do much less marketing for your particular products. These sites function more off of analytics with some pay-to-play (pay-to-rank) options. Getting started and ranked highly can be a challenge, but once the momentum gets going, sales can be fairly steady.
Another way to sell online is to create your own website with a shopping cart function or use a hosting ecommerce site like Square Space or Shopify. Some of these sites allow you to link directly to them from your site, which makes the purchasing process seamless. These sites also have a shipping function that makes calculating rates with delivery options easy to use.
You can also simply list your creations on your site and manually manage the shipping process from there. This can gobble up a lot of time, so my advice is, unless you’re selling high-priced, customized work and can charge for your time, I’d avoid this method.
Your time and the cost of packaging eats into your profits, so try to be as efficient and cost-effective with packaging as possible. For larger pieces, crating can add easily add 10 percent to the cost of the piece, and for high end and large pieces, consider using a white glove service. Consider knockdown construction.
I once designed a knockdown console around the maximum UPS shipping box girth of 165”. Clients could have it the next day and I sold 11 at one show. Smaller items need to be well protected, so be sure you include bubble wrap (please don’t use peanuts – everyone hates them).
Click it and ship it
It’s important to consider keeping inventory on hand; next-day shipping can increase your sales, as it seems everyone waits until the last minute to buy and they want it right away. Most ecommerce outlets let you drop ship directly with lead time options available if you don’t stock inventory.
For shipping costs, many sites have special volume discounts in place with various shippers, so chances are you won’t be paying full rate (although the buyer will). You simply enter shipping information like box size and weight, and when a sale comes in, you go through a few clicks and the shipping label is ready to print. A dedicated thermal label printer speeds this process up.
Having this simple click-to-ship function is a must for two reasons: It makes it easy for the customer, and you won’t need to collect credit card information.
Maximizing your exposure
While most online sites help processing sales, they do not market, rank, or list your products in any specific way. That’s all up to you.
Social media and/or newsletters can really help; be sure to post your work, especially new pieces, and include links on where they can be purchased.
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue.