Etsy Tycoons: Unique Art Pendants

on Nov 3rd, 2011 | in Etsy Spotlight, Etsy Tycoons

Molly Spilane of UniqueArtPendants has made over 9,000 sales since joining Etsy in 2008. She’s been featured in Minneapolis’ City Pages, on Minnesota Public Radio, and showcased in the Walker Art Center – not to mention Etsy’s own QYDJ series. She has an assistant and two professional models that show off her pieces. By any measure, Molly is the picture of success on Etsy.

For many handmade sellers, the products are time-limiting. If you can only produce three items in a day, that creates a ceiling for how many sales you can serve. Do you have products that you’ve discontinued because they were too labor or time-intensive?

I totally have. I used to make these certain earrings and they ended up taking FOREVER to complete one pair! Sales were decent, but it got to the point where I really didn’t enjoy making them. In fact, I sort of dreaded making them and I’d always put it off. That’s when I realized it wasn’t worth it. If I didn’t enjoy making it, I had to discontinue it.

Was there a break-through moment for you?

I’ve had a gradual upswing in business since I opened. I offered free shipping worldwide (and still do on most of my items) and I really, truly think that has helped me with sales.

My views and sales went bonkers and really skyrocketed when I was featured in Etsy’s Quit Your Day Job feature. I sent a convo to Etsy admin MaryMary and nominated myself. I received what I thought was a blanket response back – a nice thank you and that they’d put me on the list.

Two years passed before I received a convo from Mary, out of the blue, stating that they finally had a spot for me. It wasn’t a blanket response after all!

How did you define your market and how do you ensure that you continue to cater to them?

My market is fashion-forward women who enjoy something cool at a good price. I try very hard to keep costs down and have affordable selections for almost any buyer’s budget. I buy my supplies in bulk and that really helps me keep retail costs affordable. I’m constantly creating new styles and designs, so there’s always something new to check out. I have a lot of repeat business and lots of people buying gifts.

What marketing techniques have been most effective for you?

Constant free worldwide shipping on most of my items. I read other sellers saying in the forums that it doesn’t work, that everyone knows the price has to be inflated to cover free shipping, etc. It’s simple marketing psychology that DOES work. I get convos and messages all the time from customers that say “Thanks for the free shipping!” and feedback that says “Can’t beat free shipping!”.

Potential customers don’t have any clue what the retail cost of your handmade item should be, but they DO have an idea (usually it’s wrong) on what it SHOULD (according to them) cost to ship something.

From what I’ve found, when people are buying online they usually look in these steps:

  1. Check out the picture
  2. Check out the price
  3. Check the shipping price
  4. Read the description

For example – the same bracelet presented two different ways:

$10 dollar bracelet with $5 shipping

Browsing customer says in their head, “Ohh! Cool bracelet. How much? $10. Affordable.” That is the important psychology part of the presentation – they’ve already decided this retail price is affordable. “How much shipping? $5? That’s half the cost of the bracelet itself! Shipping rip off. I’m not getting this.”

Psychology-wise, the $5 shipping threw the buyer off their “affordable” thoughts. It went from “affordable” to “half the retail price” thoughts. Uh-oh.

$15 bracelet with free shipping

Browsing customer says in their head, “Ohh! Cool bracelet. How much? $15. Affordable. How much shipping? Free?! Awesome. It’s just $15 for this. I’m getting it.”

The customer is still riding high on their “affordable” thoughts. The “free shipping” is just a cherry on top that sealed the deal. As a seller, you pay a little more in fees by presenting this way, but it’s merely pennies and totally worth it marketing-wise to seal the deal.

Do you find Facebook and Twitter worthwhile?

Yes, I have a Facebook page that I get a lot of traffic from. I don’t concentrate on the number of fans I have. A lot of people stumble upon my Facebook page and are brought to Etsy without taking the time to Like my page. So don’t worry about your fan numbers – it’s the portal to Etsy that’s important.

Many sellers insist that you need a website or blog to be successful, yet you don’t have one. What are your thoughts on this common advice? What other conventional wisdom do you think is off-base?

I like to write and would have a blog if I had a couple more hours in the day, but I just don’t have the time. Instead, I use my Facebook page with short updates as a way to keep in contact with my fans and customers.

As for off-base advice, I still go back to the other sellers who say free shipping doesn’t work and don’t bother offering it. In my opinion that’s the WORST advice ever! That and “Only renew items that are about to expire” – bad advice!

What are your experiences with the recent Etsy changes to relevancy search and the addition of search ads?

I haven’t used search ads yet. Relevancy hasn’t hurt my sales at all. In fact, my sales are up significantly from last year so I truly believe it has helped me.

I still renew daily some of my best selling items, though. I think some sellers tend to forget that a casual browser who comes to Etsy and starts browsing categories is still shown results by recency. Relevancy only comes into play if that browser knows exactly what they are looking for and type that specific item in the search bar.

I renew daily some of my BEST SELLING items and the ones that get the most hearts (NOT my items that are about to expire), because those are basically little tiny commercials that are trying to get customers to click on the listing and bring them into my shop.

I relate it to fishing – you want to use you best, shiniest, most successful lure to catch the fish. Not some half-nibbled worm that’s been sitting floating around for almost 4 months. What good will that do to attract the fish?

Shiny lures, my friends.

What advice do you have for Etsy sellers looking to turn crafting into a career?

Be prepared to work harder than you have ever worked before! It’s fun work, so it’s worth it! You have to be disciplined and respectful that you are your own boss. It’s very easy to give yourself a day off, and then another day off, and then another. Don’t do it – stay disciplined!

Keep the TV turned off (no it’s not just background noise – it’s distraction that works its evil hand-in-hand with couches and recliners to suck you in!) and keep the radio on. Give yourself set hours in the day that you will work creating items and maintaining your shop. Shops are never finished; they will always need improvement. Don’t answer your phone to gab during those hours – treat it like a real job.

Hats off to the moms and dads who are able to run a full-time business and take care of their kids at the same time. I couldn’t do it. I was doing a crappy halfway job trying to do both at the same time. Once I sent my daughter to daycare and I was fully able to concentrate on one thing at a time my business boomed.

I don’t feel mother’s guilt or anything like that. The way I look at it, she has her own little social life with other friends her age. She is actually learning more and very well-adjusted. Parents who work at home shouldn’t be embarrassed, ashamed, or weirded out to send their kids to daycare. Remember that!

Great photos are essential for online sales; what camera equipment do you use, and do you feel that the equipment or the technique makes the shot?

I use a Canon PowerShot, which is inexpensive in the grand scheme of things. I think the photo editing is almost as important as the camera. Photoshop is a good friend of mine – we spend many hours together.

When did you decide to start using models for your photos, and how did you find them?

I was actually contacted by both of my models, Canadian Farrah Ferguson and Swedish Burlesque dancer Chesty Von Ellem. They found me!

On two different occasions, they both had worn one of my items they had purchased on their own in photo shoots and shared the pics with me on Facebook.

After several emails back and forth, we worked out deals where they would get jewelry and exposure through my shop and I would get pictures in exchange.

The model works it out to find her own photographer and has full creative control over the look of the shoot. Farrah used photographer Shawn Husseain and Chesty used photographer Daniel Stigefelt. The photographer and models are given credit in the listings and also in my Etsy profile with links to their sites as compensation for their services. No money is exchanged.

My goal is to get a great mix of models and different looks in my shop. If you’re an aspiring model or photographer send me a convo. I like all sizes, body shapes, and colors!


Great advice from a maven of handmade. Sellers of Molly’s caliber are hard to come by in the Etsy community, I’m so glad she agreed to share her experience and wisdom. Visit Molly on her Facebook or Twitter page and be sure to browse her full selection of jewelry and art prints on UniqueArtPendants.

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