When I started my Etsy shop, Mama Bleu Designs, in 2010 I never considered taking custom orders. It was completely off my radar until a customer saw one of my book cover stitched illustrations and asked if I would make a custom order clutch with the garden design and her friend’s name. Talk about ah-ha moment!! This one online conversation changed the course of my business!
I chose to accept her custom order request and made the decision to offer this as an option for just about everything in my shop. Offering made-to-order items works well for me but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. I thought I’d look at this with you today to help you decide if it’s something you’d like to offer in your own business.
PUT UP YOUR FIRST CUSTOM LISTING
I made my first custom clutch, photographed it and used the photos as sample references for my first custom listing. I didn’t include a fabric chart at the time but still received several orders with few requests for different colors.
Shortly after that I started offering an additional design choice with the side panel of fabric. Same stitched illustration and name but with more color. This was also well received.
Since these shop items aim at the personalized gift market I certainly saw an increase in sales, which is good, but I also got myself into a stressful situation of handling the influx of orders that demanded my immediate attention. I didn’t want to compromise the quality of my work, I needed to figure out the turn-around time for each order and work out a balance between my personal schedule and my studio hours. In short, everything was crazy good and crazy hard at the same time!
INCREASED NUMBER OF LISTINGS
Two things I learned when I first opened Mama Bleu Designs:
- By increasing the number of listing in my shop to 100 or more I’d see a significant increase in traffic to my shop and an increase in sales.
- It’s best to have an “entry point” priced item with additional listings priced lower and higher.
With most of my items priced in the middle range - the "entry point" - I designed a personalized coin purse that I could price at a lower price point. What stumped me was how I could create a product at a higher price point. I didn’t want to make any larger bags at that time of my business.
So as I received orders for single clutches and collections of bridesmaid gifts I took more photos and put up more listings. My inventory of goods didn’t increase but my inventory of product photos did! This continuing trend in my business has allowed me to list more and more items and in turn, has increased my visibility on Etsy.
I must confess that when I hear the cha-ching on my phone to notify me of a sale, it can be a relief when the order is for something I already have in my inventory. The work is done and it just needs to be packaged and shipped. But, on the other hand, I am so grateful that I don’t have a business that relies heavily on a huge amount of inventory that I have to store in hopes that it will sell quickly.
What I do need to keep in inventory are the supplies for creating my orders. There is nothing more stressful than to run out of zippers in the middle of creating an order that needs to be in the mail the next day! It took me a while to figure things out but it’s an ever changing, ever evolving process with suppliers and studio organization and time management.
After I finish each custom order I usually photograph it. Whether it’s a single clutch or a collection of personalized bags, if it’s different from what I already have listed I can use the photos for another custom order listing.
Although this is a great option for me, I need a way to list new fabrics and new designs. My schedule is usually jammed with filling orders or taking care of other business details but to keep things fresh I need to find time to create samples that I can photograph. Since these samples are made with the same quality and detail as my custom orders I used to take them to Belle’s Nest or sell them at Pop-Up shows. Because of some recent changes in my business these samples now sit on my shelf as inventory so I’m choosing to give them as gifts or put them on sale in my shop.
As I see it, samples are a necessary part of a custom order business and the cost and time they take to create, without a guaranteed sale, is just like carrying inventory.
USING DROP DOWN MENUS
When I first started offering custom listings, Etsy didn’t offer various ways for us to customize our listings with quantity, color, size, etc. Things are so much easier now with drop down menus! There are so many ways you can use these when setting up a custom listing. I use a drop down menu for my customers to choose between different sizes when they order my custom made pillow covers. Remember to keep things simple for your customers. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if the info is straight-forward enough. If not, play around with it some more.
FABRIC AND COLOR CHARTS
You will find that many shops who take custom orders will add color or fabric charts as one or two of their photo spaces on each listing. If you are offering variations that need a photo reference this is a system that works well. The problem I run into is that the colors on the computer screen don’t always translate perfectly when compared to the real thing. I’ve spent many hours tweaking photos so that they match as closely as possible. It may be a good idea to put a disclaimer on your listings so that your customers know that there may be a slight color difference.
As a consumer yourself you know how hard it is to wait. Isn’t that why many of us have Amazon Prime? People want to place an order and get it in 2-3 days even if it’s custom made. Part of it is impatience. Some of it is excitement. Either way, navigating this is part of providing custom made goods. You need to find a balance between offering great customer service and being fair to yourself.
Make it clear in your shop listings as to what your lead time is. I also find it helpful to tell them that this is negotiable depending on my current work load. I invite them to ask me about my time line if they need their order for an earlier date. As my business has grown I’ve pushed that lead time out further and further. It doesn’t always take me 3-4 weeks to finish their order but when it does, I’m so glad they knew it up front.
If you are just starting to accept custom orders please remember to be fair to yourself! I’ve talked to so many people who are rushing to get custom orders out in 2-3 days and it’s stressing them out. It’s YOUR business and you have permission to give yourself some breathing room!!
Offering made-to-order items in my Etsy shop has opened up countless opportunities and provided numerous advantages for me that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t made the decision to go in that direction. With that said, it is best to give it some thought before you decide to accept them in your own shop.
When I am considering a change in my business I ask myself some questions to make sure it’s in line with my business values.
- Is this something I can be consistent with?
- Does this service or product add value to my product line?
- Does this service or product add value to my customer’s experience in my shop?
- Will this add or take away from my ability to offer great customer service?
- Is it in line with my brand?
I hope you’ve found this information helpful. I’d love your feedback or questions on this topic. And if you have questions about other Etsy business building strategies please let me know.