Tell us about the inspiration behind your shop name, “Oh Dier.”
Oh Dier really began with the logo, which we wanted to reflect our Midwestern roots; we have great design and great work ethic here. We love how Minnesota embraces both great design and the “simple life” of cabin living. The logo also comes from how much we worry, like the colloquialism “oh dear!” The alternate “deer” spelling is Dutch and part of William’s heritage.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I worked as an architectural designer for a small firm, but it seemed like every time I sketched a house or worked on a project, I found sketches in the margins of products I wanted to make. I was always telling Katie, “I should make this or that,” and finally, I just started doing it. At first it was just on the side — gifts for friends or participating in an art crawl in our neighborhood. Gradually it started taking over my thoughts. It was only a matter of time before I started wanting an outlet to sell my work. Etsy was my first stop.
I’ve told people that Katie is the best PR person and I bounce ideas off her all the time. She helps me craft communications, think up new strategies and talk about what’s popular in the style world (she’s a style editor). She still works and loves her day job. She helps in the evenings with correspondence, packaging, thank yous, and other administrative details.
Did you do anything to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
The biggest thing that helped us get going was (perhaps counterintuitively) continuing to work as an architectural designer. While keeping my day job I could focus my off-hours on building the foundation of our business: shop aesthetic, products, understanding e-commerce. Once the foundation was set, I could leave and have something stable to build from.
If I had just leapt off without a nest egg or a true understanding of how to run a shop when I first started in 2008, we would have struggled. Having a safety net allows you to continue to design and create out of passion, rather than necessity or fear. For the final jump, we calculated how many sales we would need per day to equal the amount of pay I took home —not just my paycheck, but benefits like health care, 401K, etc. Once we consistently hit that mark we dove in. There may have been a few scared screams on the way in!
What are your best marketing tips?
One of the great things about being on Etsy is that we have a community and a company that does so much promotion for its shops. Crafters and artists are being seen as legitimate business people, especially after The New York Times and NPR started reporting on it. But you can’t just rely on that:
- You need to have a brand and make your shop look good. We wanted a feel that would reach several different audiences, so we had to strike the balance with product choice, copywriting, and photography, without sacrificing our products, standards, or design viewpoint. An esteemed web professional recently mentioned at a nationwide web conference that she loved our shop because it embodied and exuded a philosophy that made her want to buy, based on her experience with it.
- We participated in Black Friday sales, which provided a huge increase in business.
- Other things we do: Facebook, Twitter, coupons, and charitable donations that send people our way.
- Great packaging and customer service also counts in this category. It all takes more time, but it’s worth it!
What’s been your most memorable custom request?
Our most memorable request was “mother******,” cut in script font “to keep that feminine touch,” then spraypainted gold. We loved that one!
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion? Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
- The silhouette line hasn’t been as successful as we thought it would be. They look beautiful in person, but they are extremely difficult to photograph. With an online shop where you can’t see in 3-D, touch, taste, or smell a product, you MUST have good photos. We love the silhouettes, but we have had to rethink how to market them.
- There are people on the internet that can and will take advantage of artists with requests for free items. Carefully evaluate who you partner with so that you also get something out of the partnership. That said, exposure is great, and showing up one place spreads to showing up other places. You never know where you’ll be noticed.
- Before we rolled out the rebranding of our Oh Dier shop, we should have coordinated rolling out new items we have been bouncing around for ages. So rather than a big blitz, it’s been more of a slow burn.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
The biggest challenge is the amount of time that goes into custom work and correspondence. It’s shocking how many emails you have to respond to in a very timely matter. The internet makes users and buyers want immediacy, like their experience with Amazon or Zappos. However, we’re a small shop making everything by hand. It’s worth the time we spend because we have received great feedback and return customers based on our service. Plus, we pride ourselves on our “Minnesota Nice.” We want everyone to feel good about the purchase they are making.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
As with any creative industry, you need to collaborate and get outside inspiration. Being on your own means you miss that daily collaboration. While we have multiple years of design experience between us, we’re also making financial decisions, dealing with shipping and inventory, and designing all the products. And we’re balancing the Amazon/Zappos mentality of a buyer (immediacy, fast shipping, quick turnaround) with the reality of the slow-craft handmade movement (working as fast as we can, but we’re not a factory!). It’s a delicate balance.
What are the advantages and challenges of working with your significant other?
We are on the same page about the shop, its evolution, marketing: pretty much everything. We do have different working styles, which can cause conflict. William obviously takes the lead, so sometimes there’s a little bit of a power balance we need to manage.
- The immediacy of being able to talk shop together; we can be vulnerable and have complete trust.
- We have a shared passion for good design.
- We are the very best of friends.
- We have the same kind of vocabulary but different perspectives. Katie is out in shops and looking at retail all the time; I come from the studio design world. It’s a good partnership.
The negative is that sometimes we forget we’re more than just business partners.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Quit Your Day Job is kind of a misnomer. The shop has become a 24-hour job. It’s always here and there are always things to do. Our commutes were wearing on us, our dog has special needs, and the lack of free time was taking its toll. This opportunity has given us a lot more time together, although sometimes we are just working.
I miss being around different people, getting input and mentoring from coworkers. Day jobs do offer structure: I frequently forget to eat lunch. Time just flies because there’s so much to do and you become so engrossed in what you’re doing.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone considering a similar path?
I always thought I would retire, then pursue something like this — open up a store and sell curiosities. But it got to where I was so busy, Katie started helping me. And then we were busy enough with just the two of us that the question was asked: What if William didn’t have to wait for retirement? Why does that have to be a far-off goal?
That said, we grew organically to get there. We hoarded money. Knowing you have a little safety net is really necessary. If you have a day job now, stay with it as long as you can to provide a good nest egg. Then you don’t have to push the panic button in that first year and you can stay true to your shop. When you’re working alone it’s stressful enough, and if the sales don’t immediately come flying in, you can feel like a failure pretty quickly. But a nest egg lets you know you’re going to be OK and allows you to stay true to design work and your brand. You can follow some trends, but as Portlandia’s Put a Bird on it cleverly parodies, you have to be authentic. You want respect with the paycheck. Try to keep a low overhead as long as possible. Get crafty!
What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
We have quite a few:
- We’d love to form relationships with interior designers. They have ideas, we have ideas, it makes sense to meet up and let us create things for their clients.
- Widening and protecting our brand. We’re seeing a lot of duplicates these days.
- Collaborate with other artists and have guest-inspired works.
- Partner with major retailer on some design work; we have done this before, but we would love to broaden our reach while still remaining a strong handmade presence.
- We have a large collection of interests that lead us to new things on a weekly, sometimes daily, quest. While this is a challenge in a business sense, it is also a great benefit because each of my crafts allow a slightly different view of the world and many times one will inspire another. I’m sure we’ll be working in other mediums as time goes on.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
- William: I believe Bob Dylan once said, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” This is truly how I see my life now. Yes, there is a lot of stress, but with that responsibility comes great joy.
- Katie: Don’t be ashamed that what you do is “craft.” It’s just as solid as any either piece of business, if not more. Don’t devalue what you’re doing, mentally or financially.
There’s something very fulfilling about alternatives to big box shopping. We love being a venue that allows the money to go straight to the people who make it, rather than companies that don’t pay fair wages to their employees. Plus there’s something so powerful about owning something honestly made by hand. We love what we do, and if we can do it, so can you!
Thanks to both William and Katie for sharing their story. You can see some of their work in the Seller’s Items below.
Previous Quit Your Day Job posts