Suzy DuBois of SkitterCats and EarlyBirdSale is a seasoned vintage seller with over 10 years experience. She’s expanded her local business by selling difficult to find vintage prints on Etsy. I sat down with Suzy, after meeting her in the forums, to talk about the challenges of selling vintage and her advice for new Etsy sellers.
How did you get started selling vintage items on Etsy?
I saw a friend’s Etsy site and fell in love with Etsy’s simple, organized listings. EBay felt like chaos by contrast – I never knew where to look! Just a few years later, I have two Etsy stores for my prints: SkitterCats and EarlyBirdSale.
What draws you to vintage prints over other vintage items?
I never tire of looking at them! I sold antiques in Vermont for 10 years and the colorful vintage illustrations always made my booth stand out from other dealers. Prints are also easy to store, weigh and ship.
How on earth do you find all those prints?
Ask any vintage dealer and they’ll show you piles of prints they’ve accumulated without any idea what to do with them. I was in the same boat until an antique store manager said, “Too bad they’re not matted, you’d save the customer the trouble of having to do it themselves!” I started matting the prints I had and watched for what was popular in the antique stores I sold in.
With thousands of sales in three shops, is this your full-time job?
Yes it is! In the beginning, I spent 10 hours a day, 7 days a week on my shops. There was a big learning curve to overcome. It’s eased up to where I almost have weekends off. I spend most days trying to find vintage prints, working on my listings, and responding to customers. I also spend time in the Etsy forums and learn a lot from other sellers.
How do you keep your sales levels up?
My sales aren’t always consistent. They tend to drop when I don’t list new items. or when I don’t renew old listings throughout the day. That’s not supposed to help, but it’s hard to deny when a recently renewed listing suddenly sells!
What concerns come with being a vintage seller?
Vintage items are hard to find, expensive, and always damaged in some way. Vintage dealers spend a ton of time driving to look at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, etc. The stress level is enormous – especially when waiting in line with your competition. Decisions are made in a hurry because we have to get on to the next sale. During the summer season, I can easily attend 30 sales in one weekend!
My biggest concern is finding vintage items in good condition; vintage paper is especially hard to find intact. I have to recycle about 30% of prints due to damage. If a book was especially loved or the pages were flipped through roughly, I can’t use pictures from it. It’s an odd thing to celebrate, but I love it when a book was never read!
What do you credit your success to?
I try to view my shop through the eyes of a potential buyer and change anything that isn’t clear, concise or interesting. I pay close attention to how my shop looks. I use the “Rearrange Your Shop” page and switch things out frequently. The shop home is the most viewed page; I think of it as my store window.
My prices are low – I sell many $1 prints. I offer 10% off with the purchase of 10 prints. I’ve thought about raising my prices. I know it’s better to sell one $25 print than to sell twenty-five $1 prints. I’m working on reaching out to a different audience with higher-priced items.
I still feel like a new seller on Etsy. Any success I have comes from keeping customers satisfied. I find customer service is more important than the item I sell. I leave feedback immediately to let customers know I’m aware of their sale. I always ship within 24 hours with Delivery Confirmation and notify customers when I ship an item. Customers appreciate this tremendously! When someone’s not pleased, I make it right as quickly as possible. It may not be my fault, but it’s always my responsibility.
What advice do you offer new vintage sellers?
Vintage shops only thrive when you’re consistently adding fresh items. It takes a tremendous amount of time, money, skill, and luck to routinely find interesting vintage merchandise.
How can one verify that vintage items are truly vintage and not knock-offs?
When buying on Etsy, read every word of the description. View the seller’s feedback. Judge their other items. Ask them in a convo where they bought it – every item has a story! Their provenance or history is every bit as interesting as the piece itself.
Lots of sales must lead to new problems – what have been the challenges of scaling up?
Time is my enemy. I have 500 items in EarlyBirdSale – I’d like to have 2,000. The biggest time sink is creating tags. I hate every minute of it. I never think mine are correct! I also spend a lot of time with pictures. I think it best to have 5 pictures for every item, so taking pictures, cropping and color-correcting can get overwhelming.
My husband is the unsung hero of our family. He’s patient, humorous, and hard working! He removes and trims all the vintage book plates. Every print you’ll find in my stores is old, not a recent reproduction.
How do you promote your Etsy shop?
I’m still trying to figure that out. I get a lot of Google hits; I definitely pay attention to the Google preview on the Edit Listings page. I make sure a potential customer can read enough in a Google result to want to view the print. Facebook didn’t work out for me; I don’t really have a “brand” in the same way as an artist or jewelry maker.
What do you do when you’re not tending to your Etsy shops?
I recently moved to Cape Cod, so my husband and I have been exploring the beaches, coves, and interesting little shops that line the coast.
Big thanks to Suzy for taking the time to answer some questions and giving me some insight into the vintage world. Suzy sells pre-matted vintage prints at SkitterCats and unmatted prints at EarlyBirdSale. With hundreds of prints available, she has something for everyone – go have a look, you’ll be surprised at what you find!