Selling Without a Store

A venue ideal for sellers of handmade crafts, vintage items, and supplies is Etsy. With more than 11 million members and 800,000 active shops, Etsy sellers sold more than $357 million in merchandise in the first nine months of 2011. Etsy sellers pay 20 cents for every item listed and 3.5% of each sale made in exchange for a unique Web address to house their virtual marketplace.

The low startup costs are what prompted graphic designer Dana Osborne-Biggs of Smyrna, Georgia, to use Etsy to set up an online boutique and sell one of her handmade handbags on the site back in 2006. It sold within 24 hours, prompting her to expand her boutique, Urban Heirlooms.

The 46-year-old Osborne-Biggs scours flea markets, thrift stores, and yard sales for fabrics, and uses new leather to create handbags, cuffs, and her signature item: a wallet that uses an antique skeleton key as a clasp. Since 2006, Osborne-Biggs has sold more than 1,200 items, earning up to $27,000  annually and is projected to make $5,000 to $6,000 more for 2011.

One of the entrepreneur’s challenges in pushing her products was conveying their high quality, because customers couldn’t feel the fabric themselves. So she went online, including to Etsy forums, to read up on photography. “I’ve seen people take photos that obviously came from their cell phones; they don’t look professional,” she says.

As her photos improved and more people caught on to the novelty of the products, images from Urban Heirlooms were run more frequently on the Etsy home page. In July of 2010, Osborne-Biggs left her graphic design job, with the support of her husband, to focus on her Etsy store full time.

3. Food Trucks: Dining Transcends Destination

Barbara Burrell (Photo by Lonnie C. Major)

Barbara “Sky” Burrell is no stranger to the restaurant business, having owned Sky’s Gourmet Tacos in Los Angeles for the last 19 years. But when she decided to expand in 2010, she didn’t want to open another restaurant in a struggling economy. So she spent more than $100,000 to purchase a diesel truck and retrofit it with brand new kitchen equipment. This way, her soul-inspired Mexican food brand could serve customers within a 70-mile radius. “We knew the truck would not only pick up business on the street, but it would bring new business to the restaurant,” she says.


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