Tuesday, May 22, 2012

behind the scenes

Andy and I have been selling vintage together for 14 years now, a little over three of those years on Etsy.  Time for a behind the scenes post!

I was prompted to write this post by a couple things.  First, awhile back (a long while back--last August) Maria of Adelaide Homesewn wrote a post about a dress she saved--how she found it in a dank warehouse and brought it back to life with cleaning, mending, and new buttons.  It was such a great post, and I've been wanting to do something similar since I read it.  Second, I started getting lots of messages--more than ever before--from folk on Etsy asking me to give them deals on items.  My prices haven't gone up, and I realize these requests are at least partly due to the economy.  Selling vintage is our sole source of income, and things like the high cost of gas definitely affect me and the business, too. 

On the left is a lovely dress from Anthropologie called the Ephraim, that retails for $194.00.  On the right is a 1950s dress from my shop that is priced at $68.00.  I sometimes wonder if the person who is asking me to mark something down for her is willing to pay double or more for a new, factory-made (likely not as well made, quite possibly in sweatshop conditions) dress from a retailer like Anthropologie.  I wonder whether the person asking for the discount realizes just what goes into the work I--and so many other fantastic vintage sellers on Etsy--do.  (I realize lots of sellers do give discounts on request, and I have no issue with that!  Everyone does business differently, and you need to be aware of that to successfully be in business.  Most people on Etsy ask politely, and that's entirely fine and doesn't offend me.)  

At any rate, I decided I was long overdue to show you a behind-the-scenes look at Small Earth Vintage...how the items in my shop get there, from start to finish.  

The first thing a vintage seller has to do is source product.  That's a full-time job in itself.  And I'm not giving away any secrets, so you'll just have to trust me--it's a constant expenditure of time, work, and money.

Pretty much every piece is hand-washed in a basin of lukewarm water with Woolite, then hung and air-dried.  A majority of items also require stain removal--single or multiple spot treatments, and/or soaks in Biz or Oxyclean.

Next--mending.  It is rare that I have a dress or blouse in perfection condition with no seam separations that need to be fixed.  I can't pass up a great item just because it has flaws, so I frequently have dresses with  missing buttons or an unfinished hem.  Those are easy repairs that even a non-seamstress like me can handle.  

The next step is photographing.  This has been one of the most continually challenging (and thus, for me, rewarding) aspects of selling vintage.  I started out taking pictures on our deck.  There was lots of lovely natural light, but also...lots of wind and snow.  (Yes, I did attempt photographing in the snow in the depths of winter.)  Eventually, Andy and I set up a photo studio in the only available space, our basement.  Unfortunately, it's not filled with natural light, but we painted a wall white, set up some lights and screens, and with the help of photo editing, I'm pretty happy with most of my photos.  However, I always feel like there's more work to be done on them and I'm always trying to make them better.

Writing listings--possibly the dullest, but definitely the most important, part of the process.  This means doing any necessary research, and then describing every aspect of the garment, measuring it, and writing an engaging title and tags that will make it easy to find on Etsy and internet searches.  I used to write cover copy for the books I edited, and never enjoyed that particularly, either!

Marketing.  When I first started on Etsy, I'd just list vintage and it would sell.  Bing bang boom.  Now there is a ton of competition and it gets more and more difficult and time-consuming to stand out.  Part of this is keeping the blog, Facebook page, and Twitter well updated without being annoyingly spammy.  For me, it also means being on an excellent Etsy treasury team (TeamT International rules!).  Not only do we promote each other through our treasuries, but the team has been an excellent resource for me on all aspects of business.  And now and then when the company coffers have some extra funds--which, unfortunately, is not very often--I'll pay for advertising on a blog.

And then, finally, at the end of this rainbow of hard work, the pot of gold--a sale!  Sold items are carefully packaged and weighed, shipping is printed out on my computer, and packages mailed from our cute little local post office.  Yes, that's a ping pong table you see in the photo.  I package shipments there, and when poor Andy wants to play some ping pong, it usually involves the removal and relocation of tons of Small Earth Vintage stuff.  Just one of the many sacrifices we make!  Seriously, Andy and I love this work.  I know we both feel very lucky to be able to do what we love for a living.  I hope you enjoyed this post, and hope I'm not just preaching the choir (I feel like a lot of fellow vintage sellers will likely be nodding their heads to much of this!).



  1. Fabulous post Karen, it shows all the hard work that you do, to run your wonderful shop! You are very good at it!

  2. I love this post. Thanks for showing the little details in your life! More people need to know it takes a lot to be in this biz. People just think we go to thrift stores, buy clothes for cheap (hah!), put them online, and make money.

  3. This is such a great post, Karen. I love seeing behind the scenes action from fellow sellers!

    It's true, many customers have no idea the work that goes into running a shop! Have you seen that commercial for Staples (I think) with the small business owner who is multiplied "tech support dave" "marketing dave" , etc. That is how I feel most days, hah!

    1. Lisa, yes I know that ad--and I can relate, too! That reminds me of something I forgot to put into this post: so many other vintage sellers do even *more* than what I do to sell their items. An example: modeling their items, or hiring models to wear them. I didn't realize how many different hats I would end up wearing when I started out in this business, for sure.

  4. You're so organized. I think posting photos of my space would dissuade people from buying! Mine is more along the lines of "here is the narrow walking space in between my photo area and lots of stuff that I promise is organized even though it looks much like a hoarder pile."

  5. I love this behind-the-scenes! Everything you do always seems so professional so I think that you must be doing it right.

    Mine would include the step, "Make sure there is no cat hair in the packaging tape". I dream of having my own little room for selling and packaging one day.

  6. Great post! Thanks so much for the behind the scenes look. SO many don't understand how hard this line of work is. Etsy vintage is not my main source of income, but I take my hat off to those of you work endless hours to make ends meet via vintage!

  7. Karen, this is wonderful! and I'll definitely spread it around because it does take a LOT of work to get our vintage pieces from A) the estate sale/thrift store/flea market to B) a beautiful piece a customer will love.
    I love seeing your behind the scenes too. I could use your shelf space! And your photos are always lovely.
    thank you for sharing, dahlila xo
    Dahlila Found Vintage

  8. Fantastic post Karen!

    It's so true there's so much work going on behind-the-scenes that a lot of people probably aren't aware of. You also make an excellent point about the pricing of vintage and new garments.

    You do a wonderful job and are a constant inspiration and source of vintage drooling for me. :)

  9. Great post, Karen! It's nice to know that it's not just me who is experiencing a slow-down in sales. Hearing all of this from such a seasoned seller like Small Earth Vintage makes me feel that it's still possible to do well at selling vintage.

    My studio / office is in my basement too. Ah, the glamorous life we live.

  10. Awesome post! I've backed waaaay off on the amount of pieces I list on etsy because there is so much behind the scenes work to get them there that it exhausts me. It's a lot easier for me to sell my designs wholesale even though I make less money doing it. I hadn't considered a few steps of the vintage seller's process that you have to go through. With all the work you put into your shop, your prices are bargains. You should direct those who ask for discounts to this post.

  11. I don't sell much any more, but I'm certainly in the nodding group. My hat is off to you and all the dedicated vintage sellers who continue to source and present "the good stuff."

  12. well said! cheers to your continued success!

  13. I just found your blog! I have been selling vintage for over 10 years, and I commend you and each one of us that keep pushing forward as sellers. I sell online and own a local vintage consignment store. After the day I had not too long ago with a client, wanting a 40's dress, and I had 30-40 to choose from, spent 3.5 hours with her, plus additional time the night before getting ready for her appointment, then she walked out and stated that the price of $79.99 on an immaculate black 40's dress with a peplum at the waist was too high!!! The average customer has no idea how much work goes into just ONE piece! Thank you for sharing! I will be following your blog now!

  14. Hi Karen, what a great post! I have always loved your shop and still wear all my Small Earth Vintage items (most recently seersucker wiggle dress today at work!)! It makes me appreciate everything all that bit more knowing what goes on behind the scenes. Fantastic!!

    Hope all is well!
    Elaine K x

    1. Thank you so much, Elaine! Fabulous customers like you make all the work worthwhile, seriously. :) I'm well, enjoying the lovely spring weather here today. I hope you're having fun and still full of newly-wedded bliss!


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