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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Did a Panda eat my store??

It's good to do what you love for a living, but only if it is a living. We've been living the dream.

The last couple of years, we at Hughes Pottery have been feeling pretty good about the way the economy has been treating us. 

While we have, like most of the US also been suffering in various ways, like a beautiful house we couldn't sell that was eating up over $1000 a month until we just couldn't do it anymore, we have also been experiencing a shift in our business practices that gave us a lot of hope for the future. Our business increased, while so many were losing jobs. People were buying more pottery. We don't know why. Here is an overview of where we came from.

4 Years ago, 100% of our sales came from doing various festivals and fairs around the country. This was pretty good and after expenses we got to keep about 50% of the retail sold. But sales were starting to decrease and in the middle of 3 years ago we knew there had to be some major changes.
My brilliant wife said "We need to diversify our income streams and keep more of what we sell!"

So we set out to do that. We stopped doing the lowest producing events, and started figuring out how to do online sales. We started stocking the bigger events with more work, and while we had a representative manage the distant events, we went to other smaller local events to keep the cash flowing. We also started looking for wholesale opportunities with local businesses, All of these changes started to make a difference, but the biggest one started to come to fruition in January of 2010.

We were at an even in MA, selling our wares, when suddenly my smart phone began chirping at me. Several sales had come through on Paypal. How awesome! Mavelous! Here we were at an event in MA making money, we had a rep in FL making money and suddenly we were also making money online! So my brilliant wife Rowan started poking around in the forums on Etsy and started paying a lot more attention to it. By the next month it had become a challenge to get more work up and see how well this online sales thing could work. It became amazing, we watched sales increased steadily until summer, when we really couldn't stock it as well, or pay as much attention to it because of all the summer shows and traveling.

After summer we started restocking the shop and sales started to increase again until we started thinking maybe..just maybe this could support us entirely and then we could pay off debts and take a vacation and have savings and stuff...but it turned out to only be a Christmas sales season fantasy...sales dropped again, but were steadily higher than the previous year. We made an extraordinary effort and doubled the stock available... no dramatic changes in sales, but at least we were not frantic to keep up anymore.

Then came summer.

My expectation: Sales would drop a little bit because it is summer..people are busy, people are doing things, people are buying at craft fairs and other outdoor festivals. However, I expected we would see a similar level of sales to the previous year, simply based on having a lot more available stock, more than double!

The reality: Sales plummeted in June and July, I am not sure what to expect from August. I sure as hell hope to see increases again in September.

Thankfully we have big events in August that traditionally do very well..hopefully enough to make up for June and July and lead us into September.

So what happened? There are several things we're looking at.

1) It's'll all be OK come fall.
2) Etsy has been going through a lot of changes, introducing some social networking features and changing a lot of things internally that could affect how many Etsy visitors are being exposed to our site.  Etsy also just recently got a new CEO..and while it's always exciting to have new leadership, it's also frightening. They could make things better..or horribly worse.
we've been reading in the Etsy forums about other people having drastic decreases in their normally steady summertime online sales. While we believe it, we don't know if it is a true trend. There is only limited information available to us, but the Etsy weather report indicates a 4% decrease in sales for June sitewide.

3) Two major changes from Google. One an algorithm change in the early spring, then what they called the Panda update. All the reading we've done indicates out shop is very compliant and shouldn't be ignored by the google bots.

In the end, we just don't know..but hope it will be back to normal soon. Our lives and livlihood depend on it.

If anyone has insight..please feel free to comment.

1 comment:

  1. I have no idea about Pandas or such, but thanks for sharing your experiences with diversifying, I too hope the economy picks up in so many ways and for so many reasons.