Tell us about your previous working situation/s and how you discovered Etsy.
David: I have worked as a pie maker, cheese peddler, ditch digger, foundry worker, sculptor, hot dog vendor, graphic designer, book editor, college professor and most recently a landscape architect! I’ve always loved working with wood, though. I was laid off in early 2010, just a week after our son Thomas was born, and it turned out to have been one of those “everything happens for a reason” moments. Our dream had always been to run our own business, but we never knew what form was right for us. I started to make toys for Thomas, and it all fell into place — I was doing what I loved, Adrienne’s education background helped us in designing the toys, I have been able to stay home with our children and we have the family business we always wanted.
Adrienne: The only job I’ve ever had has been teaching — even as a high school student, I worked as an instructor at a summer camp. Now I teach kindergarten and first grade at an arts-integrated public school here in Seattle. David does the bulk of the work for Manzanita Kids: building toys, shipping, marketing and bookkeeping. I work on toy design, answering convos and helping out with odds and ends.
Being sellers on Etsy has been such an amazing experience. We found out about Etsy first through parents in my classroom, then friends and family. We’ve made connections with people all over the world through our toys! It’s truly gratifying to pour your heart into a toy, then find a person who values the toy so much that he or she wants to give it to a loved child!
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
Though we started selling on Etsy last November, we went full time this past March. This allowed us to get our feet wet and determine if there was interest in what we were offering; we also learned about the realities of making, marketing and selling our toys. We learned an incredible amount in the first few months, and it gave us a chance to pose some of those big questions:
- What are we offering in our toys?
- Why would someone buy our toys?
- Do we find these toys interesting to make and play with?
- Is our business compatible with our family lifestyle?
These questions helped us make some decisions before we took a jump into the deep end.
What is your favorite part of the woodworking process?
Getting the design from paper to a tangible state is a blast. However, just being in my shop and working with my hands is incredibly rewarding. At the end of the day, when I put the toys on the shelf, I know I’ve accomplished something worthwhile. My myriad career moves have always been something I’ve joked about. I was always circling what I really wanted to do. I was picking jobs that had an aspect of creation in them, but now that I’m directing my creative process, I feel fulfilled in a way I never did before.
What are your best marketing tips?
Well, we are still learning what works for us! I think just getting as many eyes as possible on your items is the key.
- We participated in some giveaways and started a Facebook fan page.
- Every time we’re mentioned on a blog, we get a boost in views, favorites and sales to our store.
- I’ve started to Google search our business name several times a week and see what new search results pop up, then contact the site/blog and thank them for the mention. We’ve started to develop some nice relationships with some bloggers and I think that has helped us get the word out.
- We recently participated in our first craft show: Urban Craft Uprising, here in Seattle. It was great way to show off our products, meet buyers and store owners and watch the numerous ways kids play with our toys. We noticed a jump in our Etsy business after participating in the craft show.
- I’m continually amazed how on point and useful Etsy resources can be for sellers. We are pretty busy, but I try to read as much as I can.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
Adrienne: Our Modular Wall Sets have been very popular. We had actually talked about this design for years before we ever dreamed of starting a toy business. One of my favorite toys as a child was a set of small zoo animals and fences. David was a Playmobil and LEGO kid. We talked about how we could create an open-ended toy that would combine the aspects of imagination and construction that embody the concept of play for both of us. If we could, I think we’d both love to live in one of our modular wall sets!
Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
Plenty of mistakes, but no regrets so far. We learn something new every day about the logistics of running a small business, whether it’s calculating shipping or figuring out how to light the toys for photographs. It can be hard to gauge the success of a promotion; you may not see any results for quite some time. We are taking the long view on our business, though I’d love to see immediate feedback on our promotions. That being said, we’ve had the most luck with actively relisting items and adding new toys in our Etsy shop.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
Like most parents, we are impatiently waiting for a 26 hour day! As a stay-at-home dad, I work evenings, during naps and on weekends. Our daughter, Isabel, was born on August 5, so we’re doing the newborn nights right now. We’re savoring the summer, though; Adrienne’s on maternity leave, and it’s come at a great time when I’m working on building inventory for the holiday season. We make a concerted effort to schedule family time every day so that the four of us are together.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
It can be hard to step back and look objectively at your business. It’s personal — we are invested in Manzanita Kids in every conceivable way, so it’s easy to convince ourselves that a design is ready to go or that a photo is good enough. Between the two of us, we find ways to get fresh looks at our work. We rely on critiques from trusted friends and family. Of course, finding a balance between work and family is also challenging, especially with an 18-month-old and a newborn!
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
Between the two of us, we don’t miss many moments in our kids’ lives. I love being in charge of my time.
What is the most exciting thing that has come out of selling your designs through Etsy?
David: We still get a rush whenever someone buys a toy. It’s a phenomenal feeling to know someone values our work so much that they want to buy it for a loved one.
Adrienne: I love the feedback section of our shop. I get such a kick when people post photos of their kids playing with the toys!
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
David: Having a passion for the items you create is imperative, but you also need to be equally committed to the other, less romantic, areas of the job: marketing, shipping, bookkeeping, etc. Keep your actions faithful to the focus of your business — it will help keep your shop coherent for yourself and your customers.
Adrienne: Starting a business, especially as you start a family, is tough. Communication has been key for us. We make a strong team. I think you have to have a strong partnership in order to run a business like this.
What goals do you have in store for Manzanita Kids?
Brand identity is important to us. We want to continue building our brand recognition so that when someone looks at our toy, it’s clear that it’s a Manzanita Kids design. We also want to continue to build our wholesale accounts. Eventually, we’d like to have a workshop with an employee to help David with building toys and shipping. We aim to grow the business enough so that we can both work on it full time. We would love to have a bigger workshop — a converted one-car garage gets pretty crowded with a lot of large power tools!
Thanks for sharing your story, David and Adrienne. Check out their work in the Seller’s Items below.
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