Kristal’s business rikrak was born when she found out she was pregnant with her son. As her passion for making quilted baby play mats grew, her quilts began catching the eye of local boutiques and Etsians. Since joining Etsy, Kristal has made well over 1,500 sales, has sold through 90 boutiques around the world (after finding her shop through Etsy), and has been featured in five major print publications. Her success on Etsy has enabled her to stay at home with her son instead of going back to her previous teaching job. She hasn’t looked back since!
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I was very fortunate to grow up in a home that fostered hand-spun creativity. My brother and I were always concocting and making, and our wonderful parents encouraged us to create grand artistic messes! Over the years, I also had the great delight of spending extra-special time with my amazing grandmother – a master quilter – whose talents I had admired ever since I was little enough to play in her sewing and notions baskets (brimming over with colourful rickrack), and whose great fascination with repurposing I’d always shared. When I was pregnant with our little sweetie a few years back, my grandmother taught me to sew and quilt. I just loved it! When she sadly passed away shortly after his birth, I inherited her collection of beautiful vintage fabrics. Soon, our shelves were overflowing with lovely retro prints and my new works in progress (my poor hubby). So, there’s a bit of that personal history in all the work I make for rikrak now.
With that as a foundation, my little business came together in early 2007. Shortly after I started making quilted playmats and gifts for all of our baby friends, my family and friends started encouraging me to sell them! I was hesitant, but I also realized how fabulous it would be to handmake things to supplement our income, while also fulfilling our dream to have stay-@-home parenting for our little sweetie. So I got to work designing, creating and repurposing my fabrics into fun and functional patchwork goodies. Eventually, I garnered the courage to list some items on Etsy, and around that same time, a shop here in Ottawa kindly took my work into their brick and mortar store! And the rest, as they say, is history!
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
In another lifetime, before our little sweetie was born, I was an elementary school teacher. While I loved teaching curious little kiddies, I knew there wasn’t the flexibility of being able to stay at home with our son in that career. So, most of all, becoming a full time crafter was born out of brainstorming fun ideas to envision a workable career move. To be honest, becoming a full time handcrafter was a wonderful surprise! When rikrak was just starting out, I would play all day with our son, then work away like crazy at night once he was asleep. It was an ideal fit for our family situation, despite the long nights!
I first came to Etsy (which I discovered after joining the wonderful world of flickr in 2007) because I heard it would be a great way to build my little business. After getting up the courage to list something (two months after I first joined!) I realized that, through Etsy, I could build my business bigger than I ever thought possible. Within that first year, I had over 50 shops from around the world selling rikrak goodies, and had begun to establish a great base of friendly support. This wonderful handmade community encouraged me…and soon my little sweetie was in school ½ days…and this meant a little more work time. Soon it became my new dream to craft full time! I’ve been so fortunate…the little project just grew and grew. Soon I was creating, designing, making whenever I had a minute, and loving it! Isn’t it funny how things in life just open themselves up like that?
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
I have to be honest. The way I prepared for a bigger business was the way I prepared for my little business. My parents would call it trying to be resourceful and thrifty! They always taught me to solve any problem with creative brainstorming, using what you’ve got on hand, and working to your strengths, rather than being something you’re not.
Still, starting a new business can be daunting. When I started out, we didn’t have any extra cash to invest in a lot of business overhead, or bulk materials, or other start-up expenses. So instead, I tried to get creative, and decided to take care of as many parts of the business myself as I could (to save on outsourcing).
This was DIY-ing, indeed, as it meant that I designed and printed my own labels, cards and business paper goods. I also only bought as many supplies as I could afford (and then more as needed), I kept my inventory small and made orders for shops as they came in (so the more orders I had, the more supplies I could buy). While this isn’t always ideal, for me it was the only way to make it work. I couldn’t invest in a great leap at the start. So I took small steps, building as I could.
This was my business strategy and safety net, and it still is; I still do all these small tasks myself, and it continues to make my work sustainable, especially as the market or sales fluctuate. In slower periods, I have the chance to create new goodies and I’m not stuck with a grand amount of materials. In super-busy seasons, I supply myself accordingly.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
Here are a few things that I’ve found most effective that I’d be happy to share!
- Be kind, friendly and positive. This is how I try to live and work. I know that’s not always so easy to do, but I really think that relaying a genuine kindness to your customers through your work can go a long way. One of my greatest hopes is that I’m building a kind, eco-forward, sustainable business.
- Make great, quality, eco-friendly products that you love and are proud of.
- Having a loving, supportive family that spreads the handmade word. (I’m so lucky!)
- Figure out your strengths and work to them. We live in a great little place in the heart of our beautiful city and we don’t have much extra room for a full-time at-home business. So, our dining room does double-duty as family table by day, craft studio by night. Spending money on advertising was an expense my little business couldn’t afford at the start, so instead, I focus on my adoration of photography, and spend a lot of time taking the best pictures I can. I use an inexpensive point and shoot camera, and only natural window-light in all of my photos (even though waiting for a sunny day can sometimes require patience, especially during those long winter months in Ottawa!). I think the time investment of making great pictures has really been a good one!
- Finally, I have to say that the best marketing I’ve done is creating listings on Etsy and being part of this great handmade community. I’ve been so fortunate, I’ve never paid for an ad for rikrak, but I’ve invested money in listing whenever I can on Etsy. For me, that’s been a great strategy with great returns.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
When I was first starting out, I promoted some high-end products, trying to present the most complex crafts I could conceive. These were fun yet time-consuming, and would take me weeks to complete. But, I never felt comfortable charging for the immense amount of time these projects took, and sometimes even lost money on them! I’ve since dropped many of these items from my regular lines, and streamlined my projects so that market pricing has played a role in what I sell. Most of those extra special items are reserved, now, for loved ones.
Walk us through your typical workday.
Gosh, it’s a fun one!
- 6:30 am: We wake up with little rikrak
- 6:30 – 8: 30 am: Lego-building projects, arts and crafting for fun, a yummy breakfast, coffee-ing begins.
- 8:30 ish – Mr. Rikrak goes off to work and the mommying morning starts! Most days, little rikrak and I take a walk, play at the park, work on some fun little projects we’re doing, have 80s dance parties in the living room, or mess up the kitchen, etc. I take a few little breaks here and there to check rikrak messages, sales, do a listing, etc, planning what to do once work time starts. My previously written blog post goes up!
- If it’s a beautiful morning, I encourage little rikrak to help me take my natural-light product photos beside our dining room window (he’s a great little photographer!) and if little rikrak has a fun extra-curricular activity that morning, then it’s onto Morning Plan B: work, work, work!
- 1:00 pm: After lunch, drop little rikrak off at school for a few hours and race home to start rikraking! Respond to orders, queries, etc. pack up new orders, do some cutting, sewing, and ironing.
- Run to the post office. Reward myself by dropping into the forums or hopping on twitter for mini-breaks. More coffee!
- 3:30 pm: Pick up little rikrak! Or Plan B: have Mr. Rikrak pick up little rikrak
- Around 5:30 pm: Dinnertime for the family rikrak. Family visiting. Then, a fun board game or two. Funny tales from the day, bathtime, and story time.
- 7:30 pm: Cute little rikrak goes to bed and the rikrak night shift begins! These days, this is when the real bulk of work time happens for me. More cutting and sewing. List more goodies, design new works, pack up orders, prepare the next day’s blog post, etc. Mr. Rikrak is a fun doctoral student and instructor, so sometimes (when he’s not working on his thesis) he’ll be so cute and will read a novel for the class he’s teaching out loud while I sew! I love it.
- Around 11:30 pm: Try to stop sewing. Go to bed, cuddle and dream of new designs!
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Oh gosh, I just love so many things about this job! I mostly love the joy of being able to choose my own adventure. I love being able to design and craft to make a living! I can’t think of a better job. Rikraking + mommying = wonderful. What I miss? Like so many folks, I find there’s no “off button” in having my own business. I often feel like I’m always on, creating new goodies, filling orders, responding to queries, and my head is constantly filled with new designs. I’ll keep working at that one!
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
This might sound like a cliché, but I think anything’s possible if you put your mind to it! Believe in yourself. It makes things much easier!
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I’m so excited about the new things afoot at rikrak!
- Finish structuring a book project that I’m working on with my designs and patterns.
- Continuing to build my little business in new ways.
- Growing my new little blog.
- Continuing to make fun new designs and eco-friendlly products… stay tuned!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d just like to say… I owe such a huge thank you to Etsy and the Etsy community! Two years ago, I would never have guessed that this career would have even been possible. For me, Etsy has been the single best way to build my handmaking business. Its global exposure is just phenomenal! Through Etsy, I’ve now sold thousands of items, had over 90 shops from around the world find me and sell my goodies, had five major print magazines discover my work and feature it, and had the immense fortune to meet many like-minded, handmaking superstars who have become dear “colleagues” in the virtual work-world! Through Etsy’s various Teams (I’m so proud to be part of the TransCanada Etsy Team, Team EcoEtsy, the Trashion Team, and EtsyMom) I’ve met so many kindred folk! Thank you so much, Etsy, for making this wonderful community possible and for launching many a handmaking career. Cheers to you!
Keep up with Kristal on the web:
Her twitter: http://twitter.com/therikrakshop
Or see her Tuesday, April 28th at 4pm EDT in Etsy’s Virtual Labs for a live Quit Your Day Job chat!
You can find some of our previous Quit Your Day Job posts here! Take a look at some of Kristal’s gorgeous bags below.