Have you ever wondered what the magic formula is for making it big on Etsy? Here's the thing: that magic formula involves a lot of working pieces all combining together to make for excellent products, incredible customer service, and a business that succeeds. Cindy Funk has been selling adorable vintage tea towels in Etsy shop, NeatoKeen, for several years, and with over 6,000 sales, she knows a thing or two about that magic formula.
Learn from Cindy and discover all the pieces you can bring together to create your own magic formula for success. You got this!
On the Podcast:
01:11 – What Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in Common
05:09 – Where Can You Find Mint Condition Vintage Items?
08:38 – Why Cindy Doesn't Cast a Wide Net
10:48 – Cindy's Fascinating Customers
13:45 – Why Cindy's Branding is “Anti-Etsy”
18:00 – Etsy SEO + Promoted Listings
26:08 – Inventory Management
28:11 – If I Could Turn Back Tiiiiiiime!
35:23 – Cindy's Wins
39:05 – 3 Tips for Making it on Etsy Long-Term
40:39 – We're Here, We're… a Little Different! And We're Not Going Anywhere!
43:00 – Cindy's Hilarious Mom Moment
Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear from Cindy!
What Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in Common
Cindy's business began as a long-time hobby first. She has been collecting vintage linens for years since her father passed away. She became interested in them because of the nostalgia and memories they carried. After collecting so many, she realized that her home was being taken over by linens ,and something needed to change! Cindy started looking for ways to sell her linens. At first, she signed up for a booth in an antiques mall, but the mall closed down before she was able to sell anything.
So what do Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in common? They both love Etsy! And they both discovered it around the same time! Not long after her antiques mall attempt, Cindy was watching an episode of Martha Stewart and saw one of the founders of Etsy being interviewed. After learning that Etsy sold vintage items in addition to handmade, she signed up in 2009 and began listing her first items in 2010. It didn’t take long for Cindy to realize that Etsy was a great platform for her vintage tea towels! They started selling pretty quickly on the site. In 2011 Cindy set a goal to sell 100 items, that year. Instead, she sold 1000 items! From that point on, she started looking at her Etsy shop as a real business.
Where Can You Find Mint Condition Vintage Items?
It turns out… all over the place! Cindy hunts far and wide for just the right vintage linens to add to her shop. Since she focuses on items that are in mint condition, it can be quite tricky for her to keep her shop inventory at the 250-item level that she prefers.
Here's a list of all the places Cindy has found Vintage Linens:
- Garage sales
- Yard Sales
- Church Sales
- Antique Fairs
- Flea Markets
- Church Sales
- Antique Malls
- Thrift Shops
- Estate Sales
- Online Stores
- Her Mailman! (He's very interested in antiques but not linens, so when he runs across them in his hunts, he saves them for Cindy.)
Cindy dedicates one day a week to scouting vintage items. She picks one town that's within driving distance to her home in Central Illionois and goes shopping! There's a flea market once a month about an hour away, so she tries to attend that on a regular basis. And she also hunts online.
Cindy has great relationships with several antique dealers. They have her card and give her a call when something of interest comes in. As an experienced seller who likes to keep her inventory high, it's in their advantage to call someone who may make a large purchase all at once.
Why Cindy Doesn't Cast a Wide Net
Once upon a time, Cindy thought she could grow her business by offering a wider variety of items. She branched out to vintage collectibles and spent about 6 months buying up inventory. She had 500 items in her shop! Cindy thought that new customers would find those collectibles, head to her shop, and buy other items while they were there. That didn't really happen! They just bought their one collectible item and left. Cindy also felt overwhelmed and her office space was taken over by collectibles. She has slowly sold off those items and focused on vintage linens and becoming well-known in that niche.
Cindy is seen as an expert when it comes to vintage tea towels. Other sellers and collectors turn to her for advice. She recommends that all Etsy sellers try to specialize in something specific. By focusing on one main item, Cindy is able to better help her customers with her knowledge and experience. In addition, Cindy has a large base of repeat customers. She's developed great friendships over the years because she and her customers share the same interest and passions – they love vintage tea towels!
Cindy's Fascinating Customers
With such a specific niche, Cindy has had quite a lot of interesting customers through the years! She's sold to celebrities, museums, and prop masters for movies!
Cindy says the prop masters always crack her up, because they need their items yesterday! Recently, a prop master purchased a vintage paper tablecloth from her for $6 but paid $60 to have it shipped overnight to Canada!
Her products have even been purchased for a movie that starred Ben Affleck, but Cindy hasn't watched the movie yet to see if her items appeared in the set. And she's almost positive that one of her vintage tablecloths was featured in “The Help” but she can't be sure since the purchaser didn't mention anything at the time.
Cindy has one celebrity customer who has reordered from her 3 times, but she's too respectful of that person to fill us in on who it is!
Finally, Cindy's items can be found in museums. Sarah brought up a great point: Cindy clearly has an excellent product if museums are coming to her for items to feature in their displays!
(Now I'm off to see what old-school movies Ben Affleck has starred in – in the past 5 years!)
Why Cindy's Branding is “Anti-Etsy”
The general vibe on Etsy tends to be clean, bright, simple designs, with plenty of white space in photos to give a sense of calm. Cindy's branding is staunchly “Anti-Etsy” as she calls it! Her quirky, fun vintage tea towels just don't lend themselves to this vibe. Her shop is full of colors, patterns, and scenes, and this works for her. All of the pieces in her shop help support the main theme of the products which are (just like her tagline says) vintage with graphic appeal.
Unlike many Etsy sellers, Cindy has opted to do something different with her cover photo. Instead of using an image of the entire product, she starts with a close-up of the linen so you can see the details and quality of the item. This allows her customers to see exactly what they will be getting and to fall in love with the patterns and scenes found on her items.
As with all aspects of her Etsy shop, Cindy experiments with her photography. She found that if she zoomed out to show the whole linen, it was harder to see the graphics that are truly the cornerstone of each item. A zoomed out photo just looks like any other piece of cloth.
Cindy doesn't have a designated photography day each week. Instead, she tries to list 3-5 items, 4-5 days out of every week. She takes photos of just those items, edits them, uploads them to Etsy and fills out her listing. When she's done, Cindy has created several new listings from start to finish. Cindy says she loves to time-block so she sets aside time each day for capturing and creating her new listings. (We love time-blocking too!)
Etsy SEO + Promoted Listings
Cindy uses several tactics to help her items get found more often on Etsy:
- Constantly list new items. Cindy lists several new items most days of the week.
- Renew listings. On days when Cindy doesn't have a new item to list, she renews several listings.
- Improve both recency and relevancy. By always having very recently listed items in her shop, Cindy not only shows up more in the “recency” search feature on Etsy, but recency is also factor that helps determine a listing's position within relevancy search on Etsy. (Relevancy is currently the default search setting – so Etsy will show the items that have the best chance of being exactly what the searcher is looking for.) What this means in simplified terms: If two listings have the same keywords in them, the more recently listed item will rank higher on Etsy search. (Note: this is a very simplified view of things for the sake of teaching!)
- Check keyword stats. Cindy checks her stats often to see which keywords bring her the most traffic.
- Tweak constantly. Cindy uses her stats knowledge to constantly tweak keywords in her tags and titles.
- Experiment often. Cindy experiments with other details in her listings – such as placing items in different categories or testing out different photos.
- Use promoted listings. Cindy started testing promoted listings a few months ago, and she's found them really helpful. They show her which keywords people respond to most often, and she gets more views and favorites in her shop.
- Cindy's promoted listing strategy: She sets her max daily budget high, her bids mostly on “auto”, only chooses a handful of listings to promote at a time, and ups her bid for her most expensive items where her cost per customer acquisition can be higher.
Quick Tips on Promoted Listings from Beth Anne
There are several factors that determine how well your promoted listing will do:
1.) Competition from other listings. If there's way too much competition, your items may not get shown very often, and that means they won't get clicks or sales. You can up your bid to counteract this competition, but at a certain point that bid per click just becomes way too expensive to be profitable in the long run. If you find this happening to your promoted listing, move on and promote something else!
In Cindy's case, she has a niche product that likely faces little competition. This is great for her! She can promote away without having to bid an extremely high amount per click.
2.) Your listing's profitability to Etsy. If you're selling a more expensive item, chances are good that Etsy will choose to show your item over other promoted items in your niche. They stand to make a larger commission when your item sells. (Etsy cares just as much about making as you do!) But the price of your item isn't the only thing that determines how profitable it will be for Etsy. It has to sell to be profitable! So if your conversion rate is high (the number of sales divided by the number of clicks) Etsy will likely show your item more often. They know your item sells well, so they'll keep on showing it. (You should also know that conversion rate matters a great deal for getting found in unpaid Etsy search as well. If your item doesn't sell well, Etsy will push it to the back.)
For reference: A typical conversion rate for an online store is 2%, or 2 sales per every 100 visitors/clicks to the shop. A great conversion rate is about 5%. A conversion rate that could use improvement is 1% or lower.
I generally aim for a 1% conversion rate if I'm doing paid advertising. And in our case, that means I can afford to pay 10 cents per click, or $10 total to acquire a customer for our Brilliant Business Planner. That keeps us profitable. So if I find that I'm bidding way more than 10 cents per click in promoted listings, unless my conversion rate skyrockets, I'd better lower that bid or find a new listing to promote!
For reference, our planner listing conversion rates vary greatly depending on the keywords we use to attract customers. We get anywhere from 0% to 5% conversion rates on our promoted listings. (Yeah… that 5% conversion rate… you better believe I'll be promoting that til I'm blue in the face!)
With over 200 items for sale in her shop, Cindy has to keep her inventory very well organized. She's had bad experiences in the past when this wasn't the case. Then, an order is placed and she's scrambling and panicked – “where did that towel go?!”
Now, Cindy uses plastic containers with drawers to keep everything sorted and folded. She separates her items by type – tea towels, table cloths, and plastic tablecloths. Then Cindy stores her collectibles in wooden cubbies. She says that even when her workspace isn't neat, her inventory always is!
If I Could Turn Back Tiiiiime!
One of the best things about talking with a seasoned Etsy seller is learning what she'd do differently if she could do it all again. Cindy would love to pull a “Cher” and do these things differently if she could turn back time.
- Build an email list. Collect the email addresses of your customers right from the get-go. Build those relationships by sending out emails on a regular basis. Your email list is the perfect place to let your die-hard fans know about new additions to the shop, sales, and great tips or content in your niche. (Learn more about email marketing here.)
- Put your email sign-up link everywhere. Cindy now has a link to her email list sign-up on her About Page, Profile Page, her Thank you Note after a sale on Etsy, and anywhere else she can think to put it! Even though those are dead links, she is slowly but surely collecting email addresses because people who are interested in what you have to offer don't mind copying and pasting that link. (See our episode with Sarah Gilcher for more proof on that one!)
- Create your own website. Cindy just now reserved her domain name and plans to have a “home base” soon. Even if you don't plan to sell on your own site, it's a great place to put your email sign-up form and let others know a little more about you. Having a home base online is always a good idea!
- Put yourself out there and get your products featured. Cindy plans to do more active promoting of her shop this year. She'll write guest posts and submit her items for product features on large sites. Again, you don't have to have your own site to make guest posting or promoting work for you. Link to an email opt-in form or your Etsy shop. Don't let anything hold you back from marketing your business.
Cindy has done so many things right when it comes to growing her Etsy shop. Below are a few of her wins!
- Sell High-quality products. Cindy offers the best possible product that she can find.
- Provide Excellent communication. Cindy writes a thank you note to everyone who makes a purchase from her. She lets them know how much she appreciates their purchase, that she'll be shipping their item soon, and she hopes they'll come back to visit her shop again!
- Stay in touch with customers. Cindy has some customers who are looking for particular items, and she makes a point to reach out to them when she finds what they're looking for.
- Ship quickly. Cindy is neurotic about shipping, and almost always ships each order the very next day.
- Use Coupon codes. Cindy includes a coupon code with each purchase, and she's had many repeat customers who use this code.
- Participate in Teams. Cindy is a member of about 20 teams on Etsy. Members can trade tips, advice, and offer encouragement to each other.
- Learn as much about SEO as you can. Cindy is always testing and tweaking! We are too.
3 Tips for Making it on Etsy Long-Term
- Your shop is a work in progress. You're never “done”. There is always more to test, tweak, and of course, new changes from Etsy to figure out.
- Be persistent. Every business has its ups and downs. Cindy remembers weeks where she had zero sales, and she wondered if she'd dropped off the face of the planet! But she kept with it and the sales always come back. There are busy seasons and slow seasons. This is the beast that is retail.
- Learn as much as you can. Cindy never stops learning about business or selling on Etsy. She enjoys listening to podcasts like ours for what she calls “little golden nuggets”. Whether an episode directly relates to selling on Etsy or not, there's always a business nugget to find. (We agree! And we're always learning from others too!)
We're Here! We're… a little Different! And We're Not Going Anywhere!
Etsy is known for being a handmade marketplace and Cindy has found that sometimes the vintage sellers get ignored. For example, when Etsy went public, there was no mention of the vintage and supplies side of things the marketplace. The press tends to describe Etsy simply as “a handmade marketplace” so many vintage lovers don't even know they can go there to find great treasures.
To combat this focus, Cindy wants vintage Etsy sellers to support each other, and she makes an effort to help promote others in her field. As these vintage shops and sellers work together, the community can grow and create more of a voice for vintage sellers on Etsy.
Cindy also lets Etsy know how much she appreciates it when she sees them feature a Vintage item in their finds. Essentially, she keeps letting them know that “she's here!” and not to forget about this wonderful side of Etsy.
Cindy's Hilarious Mom Moment
You'll have to tune in to hear about “The Great Cheese Incident.” Too funny!