Growing a Handmade Brand: One Family's Journey from Etsy to Shopify

Growing a Handmade Brand: One Family's Journey from Etsy to Shopify

For ten years I ran a business solely on Etsy. It was a side gig, never carrying any pressure to provide. It funded my hobby, scratched my creative itch, and connected me to a community of like-minded makers.

Each item I made was unique and labour-intensive—it wasn’t an enterprise that was designed to scale. And I didn’t want it to. As I had no plans to hire sewers or outsource any part of it, Etsy was the perfect platform for my business. 

For many other makers, like the Polder family of Old World Kitchen, their craft and their livelihood are one and the same. Scaling your handmade business into a bread-winner in many cases means taking the scary leap outside the marketplace.

For many makers, like the Polder family of Old World Kitchen, their craft and their livelihood are one and the same.

While this post is essentially one long argument for moving from Etsy to Shopify, I want to be clear that I think both platforms can play an important role in the life cycle of the maker entrepreneur.

A platform like Etsy is an excellent springboard for a new maker business because the customers are built in. Etsy’s active buyer community is, reportedly, 27.1 million strong. That’s significant for the newbie ecommerce merchants. “If you build it they will come” doesn’t apply to the internet, and launching your own store, say on Shopify, relies on actively driving your own traffic, considering SEO, and budgeting time and money for marketing.

When the Polders wanted to take their door-to-door farmed and handcrafted products online, they didn’t even have internet service in their home, let alone know the first thing about SEO. 

Loran Polder, daughter and business manager, credits Etsy with making their business possible. In the early days, it helped them learn ecommerce on a basic level.

Two years ago, though, the Polders folded their Etsy store and opened shop on Shopify and haven’t looked back. The switch helped them grow up but also out, increasing conversion, expanding to resale goods, building an email list, and owning their brand story.

What’s the Difference?

Etsy is a marketplace for handcrafted and vintage goods (and since late 2015, select maker-developed manufactured goods). Shops live within a set template on Etsy, and items are searchable within the marketplace. Communication with buyers is built into the messaging feature within the platform. Community is a powerful aspect of the experience, allowing Etsy sellers to connect and organize locally.

Shopify is a commerce platform that allows merchants to sell online, in store, via social media, at a farmer’s market, and everywhere in between. Your Shopify store is your own. It lives on your domain, reflects the individuality of your brand, and allows the flexibility to choose a plan and price tier that best supports your business needs. We sit quietly in the background, powering your sales and letting you shine. 

Many current Shopify merchants made their break on Etsy. How do you know when you’re ready to make the move? I spoke with Loran Polder about her own family’s decision to grow their brand beyond Etsy.

This is their story.

Meet Old World Kitchen

Eight years ago, while living in a Florida lakeside community, the Polder family decided, with no experience, to become farmers. Dad was in the middle of a career change, and rather than take a new role that would send him travelling away from his family, he decided to do the opposite: build a business with his family. Their property at the time was only a quarter acre, but afforded them the space to breed rabbits and chickens.

The family—Mom, Dad, and a gaggle of kids—made canned goods like jams, jellies, and relishes, and sold these, along with tomato seedlings at local farmers’ markets.

“We just went for it cold turkey. We certainly weren't getting rich doing it, but it was fun to do as a family. It was moving in the direction of our dreams. We started developing some brand ideas. We called it Old World Market. Initially we were planning on getting into a large variety of old fashioned skills.”

The family considered basket weaving, blacksmithing, and leather work, but it was when Dad started woodcarving that the family hit its stride. They began selling his handcrafted spoons at the markets, garnering great feedback.

“They started selling really well, and people were asking us, ‘Do you have a website? You really need a website.’ We knew absolutely nothing about selling online. I built this awful, awful website on Vistaprint, which was really a flop. We knew nothing about marketing. It just seemed to us, sheltered as we were, that you put up a website and people got to it somehow. Of course, we learned that that was not the case at all.”

It just seemed to us, sheltered as we were, that you put up a website and people got to it somehow.

Loran Polder

The success of the wooden spoons at markets, however, prompted the family to pursue the business in a serious way. The entire clan packed their bags and moved to a large farm property in Tennessee. They added dairy cows and beekeeping to their farming repertoire.

True to their old world approach to their business, their initial sales channel was also a throwback. The Polders packaged their honey and handmade goods into gift baskets, and sold them door-to-door, a twist on the midcentury vacuum cleaner salesman.

“People were just enamored with it because it was really different. You just don't see people bringing that kind of product to your doors. We had people who would buy a couple hundred dollars' worth of stuff from us at one time. We've been pioneers, just coming up with ideas that aren't typical.”

It was a risk. But the old school sales tactic worked for a business that prided itself on centuries-old craftsmanship. The Polders found surprising success with the method, but it was time-consuming, and not sustainable. It kept some of the family away from the farm, away from their dream to work together.

That’s when a neighbour suggested Etsy.

“We'd never heard of Etsy. We didn't even have Internet in our home at the time. I'm telling you, we were completely non-Internet savvy at all. We were actually going to the local library to check emails or to shop for anything. I look back and I think, ‘How did we even make it!?’ We started setting up an Etsy shop, and our pictures were horrific. I don't know how we actually sold anything. Lo and behold, we had an order after three days. That was hugely encouraging to us.”

We didn't even have Internet in our home at the time. I'm telling you, we were completely non-Internet savvy at all.

Loran credits Etsy for getting their business off the ground, for introducing them to ecommerce. The marketplace model brought them their first customers without any marketing know-how.

“We did a lot of growth on Etsy. It’s where we started really learning, in the forums, about the importance of your photography, good copy, and SEO.”

The family was approached with a pop-up partnership opportunity. The ensuing conversations led them to realize that they hadn’t invested enough thought into their actual brand. As they imagined their brand brought to life in a physical way, it helped them define their message and vision for the company as a whole.

"We were able to finally settle on something straight out of old world Europe, elegant but rustic. Italian butcher blocks that are 200 years old, copper, low candlelight, and Venetian plaster. Just really old fashioned gourmet rustic elegance. The pop-up didn't work out, but we were so glad we worked through all that because it forced us to actually start taking all those concepts and saying, ‘This is what we're all about.'”

They renamed the business Old World Kitchen, intent in honing in on the culinary market and specializing in spoons. The brand continued to grow on Etsy.

Then, they came to the crossroads common to the journey of many maker businesses. They hit the peak of their handmade production capacity, and asked themselves: how do we scale?

They hit the peak of their handmade production capacity, and asked themselves: how do we scale?

At this point, they had two options. First, the family considered supplementing Old World Kitchen with a sister brand. They discussed investing in a CNC machine to create another line of wooden spoons at a lower price point. The move, however, would contravene everything they’d worked to preserve and say about their brand. The alternative? Increase their prices. A lot.

“It was totally crazy and it was totally scary. I think that a lot of crafters have this idea that you have to be the poor struggling artist, like there's something wrong with figuring out how to make your business profitable. Our prices are now above what you would normally expect to pay for a wooden spoon. But our customers don't blink an eye. They enjoy the handwritten note in the box. They enjoy knowing that our family put love and care into this and made it for them.”

I think that a lot of crafters have this idea that you have to be the poor struggling artist, like there's something wrong with figuring out how to make your business profitable.

While their customers are happy to pay the increased prices for the products, the backlash has come from other crafters selling comparable products at a fraction of the cost. While these competitors might be struggling, Old World Kitchen thrives. Why? They’re not selling a spoon. They’re selling a way of life, their story, and an experience.

"In conjunction with raising our prices, we said that we're going to make our packaging the best it can be. We're going to make our customer service the best it can be. We're going to connect with our customers more than we ever have before, and we're going to raise the bar for ourselves and be the best that we can be.”

As their brand became stronger and more defined, and their prices became more aligned with a luxury brand, they found less and less that Etsy could meet the needs of their growing business. With the increased focus on their story, the limitations of a marketplace and the Etsy shop template became evident. Loran felt that the typical Etsy shopper–younger and more budget conscious–became increasingly out of line with their target audience.

The Polders began to grow their social channels in an effort to build customers outside of Etsy. They also tried other marketplaces and platforms before landing on Shopify.

They upgraded their camera and learned photo editing software, launching the new images in tandem with their Shopify store.

“People just commented over, and over, and over again that it looked like Williams-Sonoma. It looked so big all of a sudden. We were just absolutely blown away because our conversion rate went up so much. We knew we were doing something right.”

We were just absolutely blown away because our conversion rate went up so much.

The conversion jump, Loran thinks, is that though the same amount of traffic was coming to their Shopify store, the visits were more deliberate. A marketplace setup leads to a lot of browsing, and stumbling through pages of similar products and brands.

"There's a huge amount of distraction on Etsy. It's more like strolling through a crafts fair and just going from booth to booth rather than intentionally driving up to a brick and mortar store. You're able to build a lot more brand loyalty with Shopify. We're able to create actual fans of our brand instead of people that are just like, ‘Oh, I love Etsy and it's not really about you at all.'”

Old World Kitchen held firm with the new prices and continued to grow a following. The new pricing model allowed them to scale while staying true to goods made by hand. Each year, as they continue to hit the ceiling of their production capacity, the family regroups to decide how they can continue to find the growth and while maintaining brand integrity.

Last year, they decided to expand on Old World Kitchen’s offerings by partnering with other complementary brands as a reseller–another growth strategy that would not have been possible with Etsy. The family took a unique approach to working with other vendors.

“Everything that we sell is exclusive to our shop. We won't sell anything that any other shop is selling, including the crafters themselves, so they have to develop something different for us. We're asking for a product that maybe is higher end than what they would sell through their own brand, so the prices are a lot more. We kept the monopoly on the wooden stuff, but we have vintage European copper and ceramics, fine handmade knives, and candles.”

The extra work meant shuffling some of Loran's duties around, but the family still operates as one big well-oiled machine (and without any actual machines).

Loran now handles all of the tasks involved with keeping the online store running, and everything from social media to email marketing. Her younger sister manages the shipping and packing, while most of the family makes up the production team, with Dad—Master Woodworker—at the helm. And mom? She’s the glue.

“Mom just keeps us all in line—she's our major quality control person. If anybody's slacking, she makes sure they know it. During the holidays, she tries to make it as party-ish as possible. She gets lots of snacks and hot cocoa, and just keeps the workshop stocked. We cut up and listen to music and have a blast as much as we possibly can while stressing to the max so that we can get all these orders out for Christmas.”

The Polder family has built the business to support generations to come, with room to incorporate future spouses and children into the mix. Forging out into the internet unknown and taking a stand with their brand helped them realize their dream of working together.

When to Make the Switch

Loran credits Etsy for getting the family’s business off the ground. The platform was a great place to experiment with ecommerce, learn about dealing with the nuances of online customer service, and bring their product to an existing audience.

Eventually they outgrew it.

When to graduate from Etsy to Shopify for your own store depends on your goals, and whether the limitations of Etsy’s product or audience begin to affect growth.

You might be ready to move if:

  • Brand is integral to what you make—as in your story or how you make something or who you are. Port your products to a site that allows you to own your brand story and customize the experience for your customer.
  • You want to scale by converting your handmade production to a manufacturer (outside of Etsy’s limited manufacturing opportunities). Most manufactured products are not allowed on Etsy.
  • Your target audience exists outside of the Etsy community. This may be the case if your brand decides to target a more luxury-focused customer
  • You’re interested to expanding your brand beyond products you make yourself. Etsy prohibits reselling, except in the case of vintage items.

In a lot of cases, merchants elect to keep their Etsy shops active even while growing a Shopify store. Corbé is one such example, maintaining their ties with Etsy to stay connected to the maker community, and keep that sales channel active. This may be a good strategy if you’ve built up a considerable following on Etsy and want to maintain those relationships.

To sync the sales and inventory between Etsy and Shopify, you can use an app like StitchLabs.

Shopify also integrates with other marketplaces like Wanelo, giving you the benefit of having your own standalone ecommerce store and access to a community of active shoppers.

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How to Migrate Your Products

Rather than starting for scratch and recreating your product pages on a new platform, you can import much of your work into Shopify.

  1. From your Etsy Shop Dashboard, under Shop Settings, click Options.
  2. Select the Download Data tab
  3. Click Download CSV
  4. After you sign up for Shopify, get the EasyImport Etsy Importer from the Shopify App Store
  5. Within Shopify, find EasyImport under Apps
  6. Upload your CSV file and follow instructions to import your products. You can assign them to collections during this step.
  7. Preview your products before importing. The process will import your product titles, descriptions, variants and prices.
  8. Go to Product in Shopify to edit other information manually and add product photos.

The Benefits of Moving your Handmade Business to Shopify

The freedom and flexibility of running a business on Shopify allows handmade businesses to scale, and automates a lot of the commerce processes, allowing makers to focus on what they do best: making.

More benefits:

  • Bring your brand to new audiences. Target new customers outside of Etsy’s community, and own them. Your email list is a valuable marketing tool, helping you build loyalty and grow repeat business. Shopify integrates with sales channels like Amazon and Houzz to help you reach niche audiences and sync sales.
  • Gain control over the design and function of your site. Chances are you’ve shopped on a Shopify-powered store and didn’t realize it. Our many theme options are designed let your brand shine. You can even work with a developer to completely customize a theme to fit your needs.
Chances are you’ve shopped on a Shopify-powered store and didn’t realize it.
  • Convey your brand in a custom and professional way. Give legitimacy to your brand with your own domain.
  • Resell, wholesale, curate, manufacture! Grow your brand beyond the limitations of Etsy by bringing on other curated brands, adding wholesale login and pricing, or moving your production to a manufacturing facility.
  • Grow your content strategy with a blog. As is the case with Amalie Beauty, a blog can be a huge driver of sales. Owner Megan Cox builds brand trust by positioning herself as a beauty expert, and uses her blog to explain the science behind her product. She reaches new customers via organic search by posting regular beauty reviews and driving readers to her store.
  • Run email campaigns to drive sales and traffic. Communication with customers on Etsy is restricted to messages directly related to an order. Shopify’s integration with email apps like Mailchimp allow you to communicate regularly with your customers and subscribers—blog posts, sales announcements, exclusive deals, and new products.
  • Tell your brand story, your way. Add multiple pages to tell your story. Maybe you have a dropdown menu under “About” that links visitors to “Meet the Team”, “Our Story”, “Our Philosophy”, etc. Your home page can also put your story first. Use apps like Snapppt to pull in your latest Instagram images. Use a lookbook app to share lifestyle photos that give customers insight into your style and inspiration.

The Polder family’s own story is one and the same with the brand, and being able to tell it on every page of their site is critical to the survival of their brand and the preservation their legacy.

The key is telling our story better than other people are telling their story. We want the product to be secondary.

About the Author

Dayna Winter is a Storyteller at Shopify. She follows more dogs than humans on Instagram and isn't a real redhead.

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