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

Photo of a workbench with carving tools and hearts carved from wood

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.

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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.

Four 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. And, you have full control over your marketing with tools inside Shopify. 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.

Looking to move from Etsy to Shopify?

Set up shop on Shopify and get all the tools to grow your way. Our free walkthrough will show you step-by-step how to migrate your entire Etsy store to Shopify—from product listings to customers—in only 10 minutes.

Migrate to Shopify

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," says Loran. "We certainly weren't getting rich doing it, but it was moving in the direction of our dreams."

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.

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

The success of the wooden spoons at markets, however, prompted the family to pursue the business in a serious way. “We knew nothing about marketing," says Loran. "It just seemed to us, sheltered as we were, that you put up a website and people got to it somehow." 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. You just don't see people bringing that kind of product to your doors," says Loran.

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, but Loran says the family was not internet savvy. "We were actually going to the local library to check emails," she says. "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.”

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.

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.

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?

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.

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. “I think that a lot of crafters have this idea that you have to be the poor struggling artist," says Loran, "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.Old World Kitchen Instagram page

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.Old World Kitchen website featured products

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

After making the switch, the kitchen began heating up. "We were just absolutely blown away because our conversion rate went up so much," says Loran. "We knew we were doing something right.” 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," she says."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.”

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.

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 is our major quality control person," says Loran. "If anybody's slacking, she makes sure they know it." 

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.
  • You want to have control over your own marketing. Reach your ideal shopper with content marketing, through SEO, and on social media with tools right inside Shopify.

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.

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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. Note: the following instructions use Easy Import, but there are several other Etsy import/integration apps in the Shopify App Store.

  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 Easy Import Etsy Migration from the Shopify App Store
  5. Within Shopify, find Easy Import 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.
Etsy screen, download shop dataShopify admin screen: Easy Import Etsy Migration app

The benefits of moving from Etsy 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 allows 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.

For more success stories from Etsy sellers, check out:

Looking to move from Etsy to Shopify?

Set up shop on Shopify and get all the tools to grow your way. Our free walkthrough will show you step-by-step how to migrate your entire Etsy store to Shopify—from product listings to customers—in only 10 minutes.

Migrate to Shopify