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How to successfully run a handmade jewellery business online.

In conversation with Beth Wicker

In this episode of eCommerce Experts Talk, Marc Bishop interviewed Beth Wicker, a handmade jewellery business owner, who started her business by revisiting her childhood hobby with her daughter and she is now running a business out of it. She reveals how she got inspired, what were and are her challenges and how she is utilising digital marketing strategies to upkeep her business online. Watch now for some profound insights.

Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of WytPod, the online community for e-commerce entrepreneurs and business owners. Today we have a very special guest with us. She is the owner and founder of the Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio, and her name is Beth Wicker. Beth, thanks a lot for joining us today. How are you?

Doing great. Thank you for having me.

Good to hear that. All right. So let's just jump right in and just so that our viewers will get to know you a little better. Would you mind sharing a little bit about your background?

Sure. I’m originally from North Carolina. Then lived most of my adult life in South Carolina. And I’m now in Alabama. So I stayed in the South and did live for one year in Michigan, but otherwise, I’ve lived in the South. I’ve always been interested in the arts. My mother was really wonderful about getting us introduced to the arts. We lived in Chapel Hill, which is the home of the University of North Carolina. And so there were a lot of opportunities to get involved in the arts. And at that time, public television actually was educational television. And so they actually had classes free on the television. And so they would tell you what supplies you needed to get. And Mom would get the supplies in. And my sister and my mother and I would sit in front of the television and do whatever the class was. The one that stuck in my memory the most was Japanese calligraphy. So they I mean, they actually had.

This kind of mental picture when you said that, you know, so and we're serving the tea and the whole bit, you know. So yeah.

It was just it was really neat. And that’s not I don’t think anything that they do anymore. But back then they were different, you know, these classes at this time, this class at that time. And you could just get your supplies and sit there and learn. And we did it as a family activity. And it just kind of it went from there. And, I did end up getting a bachelor’s degree and then a terminal degree in studio art. Okay. Being a hobby, too. That’s what my degree is in. And that’s most of my career has been in art and then in things to promote art. So I’ve worked in advertising and in marketing and in development and all of those things also.

Yeah, you have to wear a lot of hats when you're the e-commerce business owner, that's for sure. So you have quite an interesting background, and probably a few different paths you could have chosen. I assume they all would have been, you know, within the arts. But what inspired you to get into the handmade jewelry business?

I’ve always as I said, I’ve done art since seriously since I was a little child. You look at my notes from when I was a kid and they were covered in doodles all over. So I’ve just always wanted to make things and I always have made things. And when I was a kid, I did jewelry, you know, kids-level jewelry, and then I had my own daughter. And when she was about ten or 11, she said, Mom, would you show me how to make jewelry? And that got me right back in it. And at that point in my life, of course, I was able to get into it deeper. And she and I went, There’s a national society, there’s a national mineralogical society. And we joined the local branch in North Carolina. And they do a get-together every year in the mountains of North Carolina. And so I got special permission to take her. They normally don’t let kids come. And we went up for a week and did a whole week all day jewelry making and really got me back into it. And that’s when I started doing it professionally. So that was about 15 years ago, I guess.

All right. Well, that's heartwarming. Mother-daughter story. Very nice. You know, my dad, though.

She still works with me a little bit. She does the chain of pieces. If you look at my website or my online shops, the chain of pieces, I make individual links. But she’s the one who creates the patterns. It’s pretty complicated to put the patterns together, and my brain doesn’t go there she just does it. Hahaha.

That's left brain, right brain, no brain. Yeah, half-brain, Well, I don't know. Okay, cool. That's great. It must be really gratifying to be able to create something along with your daughter. I mean, it must be great. Yeah. My dad was a lapidarist. I mean, not unusual, but. But he had a lapidary wheel, and he taught me some basics about it and stopped polishing stones. And I think he was into it for that.

You know, the closest I’ve ever come and I still have my dad bought us a rock tumbler. We used to go to Rock County when we were kids because that was a very inexpensive, too free thing to do. And we were very poor. And he got us a rock tumbling kit, which I still have. So the thing is I won’t tell you how old it is. It’s very old. But that’s the closest to lapidary I’ve ever come.

Yeah. Tumbled stones are so cool, you know, semi-precious stones. I really dig them quite a bit. All right. So that's fascinating. Now on to e-commerce. You know, a lot of people think that you know, it's really easy to start an e-commerce business. You just get some stock, take some pictures, put it on the website, and sell it and you're off and running. That's what a lot of people think. Now we know it's not that simple. Can you share some of the challenges that you've faced and how you overcame them?

For jewelry one of the big challenges is that the substances you use in making the jewelry, most of them are very reflective. So when you’re taking photographs, that makes life interesting. It’s not like taking a picture of a shirt that just sits there and lets you take the picture. And you know, it’s pretty easy to edit the picture and get it up when you’re taking pictures of metals and gemstones that are reflecting you and your lights, you know you don’t want that in there, so you need more equipment and then you still have to tweak. And if you’ve done unusual finishes on some of the jewelry, sometimes I have to retake pictures multiple times before I can get what I consider to be an acceptable picture to put online. So that’s.

I can get an idea.

That’s particularly if you’re selling things that are challenging to photograph. They do have lots of the like tints you can buy now less expensive. Like when I started all this, you had to make it all yourself. You didn’t have all these kits you could buy on eBay as you can now. And it was difficult to get professional lights back then. And now there are all kinds of light boxes, even with the lights already built into the lightbox that you can get that make it easier. And they now have these battery-operated turntables. You can put things on because so many e-commerce sites now want you to include a video aspect. And so now they’ve got turntables that will turn the jewelry so you can see it as it goes around. And all of that didn’t exist when I started out.

Right? And that's just one aspect.

Yeah. Yeah. But if you don’t have that picture, people aren’t going to buy it. Yeah, they want to see what they’re buying. They can’t touch it. So they really need to be able to see it. And I think it’s really important in my pictures to show it from different angles and so that people can see not just what it looks straight on but from the side. And I like to show the back. And if I’ve done something special with the glass or with links or whatever, I want to make sure they see those details so they can really see this is handmade, you know, and what went into it. And sometimes I’ll include a process shot that I take while I’m making it, showing some of the tools I used to make that piece, and then not on my income or sites, but on some of my other sites. I do a lot of my Facebook and Instagram posts. I process pictures, so a lot of my buyers follow me on Facebook and Instagram and they enjoy the process pictures. And quite often, I’ve been showing process pictures and videos. I’m making a piece and I get finished and I post it and then somebody buys it before I even get it listed on an online retail site.

Which is cool. I'll bet that would be very appealing for someone who's buying handmade jewelry to see the process. Yeah, I make them feel really close to the product and, you know, create a lot more value, I guess.

Well, and then, you know, it really was handmade because there are some of the online markets that. They profess to be handmade. But if you actually really look, there’s a lot of stuff that’s not. Or it’s mass-produced handmade.

Right.

For people who care about that, when you’re showing your process pictures, then they know you really made that thing.

I think people care, but they don't realize that. It might be inauthentic. Right. Yeah. And that's sad. They think they're getting an authentic, handmade piece, and they feel good about that and they don't even know. So that's a shame. I'm glad they're doing that. That's great. Right. So, yeah. So you have to make your product look really good on your website. How do you get people to actually visit your website?

That part is tricky. And I know people who do this in many different ways. For me, again, Facebook and Instagram are big drivers. People see the posts and they see the process posts, and then they either contact me directly or they go to one of my retail sites online and see it. I find Etsy to be really good for SEO. They do a super job with SEO. I don’t always sell huge amounts on Etsy, but they drive a lot of traffic and then I’ll get people contacting me going, well, I saw this and it’s not quite what I want, but I want this and can you do it? And yeah, sure. I get that sometimes off of eBay, but not as much.

Okay. All right, great. What would you say separates your jewelry from the competition?

A lot of jewelry. What drives people to buy jewelry doesn’t speak to them. You know, do they like the colors? Do they like the shapes? Is there a particular gemstone they want? Do they like the designs? That’s when you talk about jewelry. That’s a little hard to say. Other people tell me they can really tell which designs are mine. I’m not sure that I could say that because I’m not. I know people. I have friends in the jewelry world and their stuff always looks very much the same. It’s variations on a theme. Mine is kind of all over the place, so it doesn’t do that variation on a theme over and over, because that would be if I did the same thing every day, I would just go nuts. So I’m constantly trying new things and doing new things, so different people buy it for different reasons. For the most part, what people say to me. They like the quality of the construction. I’m really careful in selecting my gemstones so I don’t buy things that are I don’t do the blood diamonds. And, you know, I’m careful about who I buy from. I have gemstone dealers in South America and in Asia that I work with for as ethically sourced stones as I can find. And then I’ve got some American people and then I’ve got an Opal guy in Australia I work with who actually mines his own opals and then cuts them. So for me, that’s an important and important piece. How important that is to my buyers, I don’t really know, you know, you won’t ever know. But it matters to me because.

I think it matters to a lot of people and a growing sort of faction of people. Yeah, people are far more conscious of it now than they were years ago.

Well, Etsy has started to add some questions about that. When you’re creating your listing that you can talk about, whether is your stuff recycled. Is it, you know, sustainably sourced and things like that? And when I started with Etsy decades ago, you know, when they first started up, none of that was in there. So clearly, this is something their buyers are asking for and they’re now offering it. It’s not required, but it’s offered as an option for sellers to include in their descriptions.

Right. So you mentioned opals in Australia, just kind of off the track. Is that where all the opals come from? Australia.

No. Well, a lot of people don’t realize this. Mexico has fire opals, which are gorgeous. I do not have personal contact in Mexico. So when I buy fire opals, I’m buying them the way anybody else would. It’s just I did hook up with a guy on Facebook who lives in Australia and has a claim, I guess they call it that for the mine. And he goes at it. It’s the only mine in Australia at a certain time of the year because of the weather. So there’s only so much time that it’s suitable to mining because I think it gets really, really hot.

I think there's a TV show about those guys.

I think there is.

I haven't seen it yet, but I'm going to check it out.

Yeah, he has posted pictures, you know, on Facebook of his mining and everything and what it’s like when he’s there. And then he brings a step back and he cuts and it’s really cool. And then there is a gemstone cutter out of Canada that I absolutely adore, John Dyer. And he just is he’s internationally recognized. He does a phenomenal job. It’s not standard cuts for gemstones, and he’s got my dream. One day I want a John Dyre gemstone.

So it's like be spoke kind of fastening and everything. Yes. Yeah. All right. Kind of like knives. So that's like an, oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Yeah, no, not your standard pencils, but I think that’s a piece of why people buy from me because I don’t do standard stones. But a lot of what I do is not standard stones. It’s either the gemstone is an unusual one or the cut is unusual, or I’ve created and I do a lot of unusual settings where I’m making my own setting. And it’s not even necessarily what people think of as a setting, you know, it’s part of the design. So it’s not a stone with a setting and then metal and it’s the setting itself that becomes part of the design. I did one recently with a hummingbird sipping from flowers, and the flowers in the vines actually hold the hummingbird onto the pendant. Instead of a separate setting. I think it’s a lot of fun and I think that’s a piece of what people like about some of mine.

What's the setting composed of by Sterling?

Sterling.

I'm a big sterling guy. I love Sterling.

Yeah, I do too. I work some in gold, but it’s so expensive that the market is not as much. So I do a lot in sterling. And then the hummingbird is the bronze medal. Clay. Are you familiar with metal clay?

No, I'm not.

A lot of people are not. It was developed in Japan and what they did is they got powdered metal and mixed it with an organic binder and shape it the way you would do. Clay And in college I trained in ceramics, so I know all about how you work with clay. And then when you fire it in the kill, the organic binders burn out and you’re left with solid metal. It’s pretty cool.

Wow. That's yeah. So that would take away a lot of the challenges of working with metal now. It's malleable, I guess.

Mm, exactly. You can do things with that, but you used to have to do as you would have to do the same kind of thing, but you’d have to do it in wax and then cast it. And I do wax casting, but then, metal clay is just for me, it’s another tool in the toolbox. You know, I have a lot of tools.

The New World, that is. Yes, I'm going to look that up after we're done. That was.

Well. And that’s in the process of photography. And so any kind of e-commerce, if you can show people the background of how you if you’re handmade if you can show the background of how you make it, you know, whether it’s talking about how do I carved the wool from sheep or how do I diet or how do I spin it or, you know, whatever you’re doing. I think people are fascinated by that handmade connection and including that in your marketing, whether it’s with the actual sale piece or whether it’s in your blogs and in your lives and your reels and so forth, I think that’s really important.

It would be important to me if I got a piece from you and I know exactly how you created it, and I have some video of that or something, and I know what went into creating that piece would be far more valuable to me, that's for sure.

Yeah. And when I’m doing custom pieces for people, I do a lot of photographing back and forths and I’ll, I’ll, I’ll do it during the process and I’ll show them the dimensions and say, okay, here’s where I am. Is this what you had in your mind? Because you can talk and you both think you’re in the same place, but you aren’t always. And so I’m constantly sending pictures and dimensions and they go, Well, I wanted it a little round or I wanted it a little bit wider. And that, you know, and that’s the beauty of Handmade is then you can adjust it, right, and make sure before you send it to them that it’s exactly what they wanted.

Yeah, no disappointments.

Exactly. And then they’ve got all those process pictures. You know, I don’t know whether they are shown it to people or not, but at least they’ve seen their piece being made along the way, which I think adds a lot.

Nice. Some people were people were active on social media. So I guess you are quite active on social media. So those types of people would be showing that when they get a new piece. I imagine that must be good for business as well. So, so what is your core market or demographic or whatever you want to call it? Who is buying your stuff?

I kind of have two different markets. My late husband was one of those kinds of unusual men who really cared about how he dressed, and he wanted nice clothes and he wanted cufflinks and he wanted nice tie tack. And, you know, he didn’t do he was old enough. He didn’t do the earrings and things that men do, they do. But he wanted the nice stuff. So I’ve got one line that sort of more men’s jewelry and they’re not that many people making men’s jewelry. And then my other line really is more women. And it runs everything from kids all the way up to seniors. And the pandemic has been hard because so many people weren’t going out and they felt like, well, I don’t need jewelry because I’m not going out anywhere to wear it. Hmm.

Yeah, that's right. I mean, I don't have a ton of jewelry, but, you know, it did just sit there for a long time. You know, I'm barely putting pants on every day. Really? So you're not going to put jewelry on so.

Well that, you know, some people? I had one friend in her seventies and she said she finally just started dressing up every day. And I have all this beautiful stuff. I’m going to wear it even if all I’m doing is being around the house.

You know, I did not turn this into a Covid talk whatever, but I did the same thing in the middle of the lockdown. You know, I started dressing normally as if I were going to go out and my mental health just increased immediately just from doing that. That was a big deal.

Yeah.

What? Okay, we covered marketing. So finally that's the end here. Is there any sort of pearls of wisdom that you'd like to pass along to entrepreneurs who are thinking of starting or have just started out in the e-commerce game?

Think about the name of your business really carefully and then research. Is that name available on the different social media you’re going to want to promote it on, you know, can you use your name on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, on wherever you’re planning to use it because? If that name is taken by somebody else on one of those, that’s going to confuse your buyers. And when I started, that was totally not an issue. Those places did even exist. So that’s really important. Now think about how is it going to look in an email and if is it going to be easy. Because my email address is my business name, which is not three cats and a dog. That’s one of my businesses. And then my umbrella business name is my email address and it has three L’s in the middle because it’s Sandhill Limited. Okay. And that is three L’s confuse the mess out of people. And it never occurred to me when I set it up that that would be confusing. So think about that.

I'm typing in Is' instead of L's, right?

Yes. That happens.

To me. Yes. I'm Netherlandish as L and everyone gets it wrong. They think it's an AI and it's not.

It’s an AI and then they can’t get the three instead of two. They think it’s going to be two, but it’s not at Sandhill which has two L’s and then limited LTD. So that was something that didn’t even occur to me. And then think about a name that people are going to remember. A lot of artists use their own names. But I’m one of those people, and there are a lot of us who have trouble remembering names. And that’s why I ended up going with three cats and a dog because at the time I started my business, my jewelry business, I had three cats and a dog. And any time I was in it.

I knew it.

They were in there with me, hahaha and they were all in there supervising.

That's one of the things with my dog once in the kitchen watching me cook, you know, to supervise me.

That’s exactly what they are. They are supervising us. But people remember that. Oh, yeah. You’re the one with the cats and the dog. So another piece, there’s something to be said for using your name, but there’s also something to be said. For a different name that people are going to actually remember.

Absolutely correct. A memorable name. That's what you need. Yes, very practical. And that's the wisdom of experience. So I think it's been great, you know, getting you, you know, learning about your vision, where you've come from and what you're doing and also getting all these practical tips. I think it's really valuable for our viewers as well. And I sincerely thank you both for taking the time today. I really enjoyed it. Appreciate it very much.

I’d like to share one more tip if that’s okay. Sure. Adobe does a conference every year called Adobe Max, and during the pandemic, of course, they went virtual with it. And this year they’re back to in-person, but they’re also having virtual ones. And I would strongly recommend folks look at it actually starts today and it has a lot of great workshops that you can do that help with photography tips and how to take your photographs and how to edit your photographs and how to do your reels and all of that kind of thing. And it’s really helpful. You know, if you have to go in person, it’s quite expensive. But the online is not.

That's another pearl. Thanks for that.

Yes. And they do it. They do it once a year.

Good stuff. And that. So that can be for anyone.

Exactly. Yeah. Because that’s the beauty of online it matter where you are. And last year when the whole thing was virtual, they were doing 24-hour sessions. So they had some sessions specifically aimed at the Asian markets and so forth and the European markets that were timed for when it was their daytime and of course, then our nighttime. So you could get up in the middle of the night, and do a situation that would.

Be totally worth it. Yeah.

Yeah. It was really good.

Especially for someone who, as we said earlier, has to wear all the different hats and do things right. All right. Any more?

Yeah. Facebook, I mean, back to Facebook. They started a number of years ago and I was one of the early users. They started a group at that point. It was called Facebook Leaders Network and then Facebook Boost. And now it’s. Is it meta or meta matter? Met a boost. They have a whole separate. You have to apply for it and be accepted. And then they have a separate Facebook page for it. They have a separate help section. So if you’re having trouble with your they have a whole business suite now that will help you coordinate your Instagram and your Facebook and their other apps. And they have a separate, dedicated help desk so that if you’re having technical issues with your shop or your listings or whatever, there’s a dedicated help desk just for people who are members of that group. I’m not quite sure how you go about doing it, but you could Google it because I got invited to join years ago.

Nice.

That’s been extremely helpful. And then for Small Business Week in the fall of last year, they did a virtual thing where they organized. And so I was in Alabama then and everybody in Alabama who wanted to join, who was part of that network, they set up virtual meetings for us to meet with our legislators in Washington virtually and talk to them about our small business concerns. And that was extremely helpful.

Good stuff. More good stuff from an artistic person. All these practical tips. That's really.

Good. Oh, you can’t. They can’t run. Yeah, you can’t run a good business if you can’t do all that other stuff too.

Yeah. So true. All right. Well, thanks again.

Most welcome.

Really appreciate it and enjoy the rest of your week.

You too.

Thanks.

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