What to Sell on Etsy with Online Market Research

What to sell on Etsy?Before I go into the nuts and bolts of signing up and putting together an Etsy shop, I want to talk about how I came to choose the type of merchandise that I am now selling on Etsy, and how I studied the decal market to determine if this was the right business for me.  I should really just call this post “Online Market Research for Non-Market, Plain Old Folks Like Me Who Don’t Know Where To Look Other Than Online”.  But that’s too long.  So, let me just tell you how I went about it.

When I decided to make and sell decals online, this was something I was new to.  I had become intrigued by a peace vinyl sticker that I purchase for my car.  I started to wonder about how these designs are made.  Must be a computer-designed cut, I thought.  I started to research how to make decals.  I found there was a whole industry in this area of business that you can mold or expand to.  There are car decals, window decals, sign decals, interior wall decals, decals you can print on then cut (like Fat Heads), and then there are car wraps, and the list goes on and on.

I found forums discussing the vinyl sign business.  There, I searched for answers to my questions.  A lot of information for beginners can be found on these forums.  Okay, so I figured out that many of these designers used products such as Photo Shop and Illustrator.  That was good to know because I already had plenty of prior experience with these products.  I also found out that the designs are cut with cutter/plotter equipment and that these cutters use specialized cutter/plotter software to communicate and send the design to the cutter, just like sending a print job to a printer.

What that meant to me was that all I needed to learn was how to use the cutter equipment and the accompanying software.  I have experience in working with graphics, graphics editing software and basic design.  This could not be too far off my mark.  I was sure I could find video instructions on the web that will give me a leg up on the complexities of creating decals. And sure enough, there were good people out there wanting to show me how to make a decal step-by-step.  After a few videos, I knew I had everything I needed to know right in front of me.   So, I learned everything I could about the equipment and materials.  But, what are the start-up costs and could I make a profit?

Well, I looked for prices for equipment that were recommended in the forums.  Of course, I was only looking for a plotter/cutter and nothing more than that.  I was not looking to do Fat Heads or car wraps or anything like that.  You can purchase vinyl cutters ranging from $180.00 dollars to over $3500.00 dollars, depending on what you are looking to do.  I finally decided, and based on forum recommendations, to go with a 24” cutter, preferably the Roland GX-24, if I were to take the plunge and just go for it.

I also looked for pricing on rolls of decal paper.  Again, I read the forums for suggestions and looked up the prices.  At the time I was still not sure what area of the business to focus on.  I was thinking either creating designs and/or business signs for automobiles. But I also considered the wall decal side of the business, or both.  I really wasn’t sure at the time.  Regardless, I continued with my research.

I wanted to know if small companies were making money in the business.  It is really hard to tell just by looking at a company’s website.  Even if their website looked fabulous, it is not a sign that business is booming.  So, after looking at a couple dozen sites, I thought to look on eBay to look for sellers who were in the decal business and see what their numbers looked like.  Granted, this is market research at its worst, but short of calling companies directly to ask how well they were doing financially, I really did not have a clue how to determine if the market could sustain one more like me.  I’ve done that in the past.  I go to eBay and see how well something sells and consider if that would be something I would enjoy doing to earn money.  I also considered selling face-to-face, but I really just wanted to sell online and on my own time.  I was not planning to rent out a store front near my neighborhood, nor was I going to sell right from my own house.  So, I had to stick to the online idea and come up with a business model around that alone.

I had already spent a few weeks researching and following different vendors on eBay. It was about this time that my neighbor turned me on to Etsy.  I had never heard about Etsy, but I figured I would look it up just for the heck of it. I found it very interesting.  I liked the set up of the stores on Etsy.  You can also see how many sales a particular shop has.  You can see their daily sales, their prices, and  how much they are listing on a daily basis.  Knowing close to how much the stores are selling, how much it is costing them to list every week, and approximately how much they are making per square foot and/or yard of vinyl decal material gave me a rough estimate of the market.  It all started to sound pretty good to me.  But, who will be my target customers?

I really went in all directions thinking about who to sell to.  I thought about selling decals for cars such as wedding decals that go on the windshield, or business decals that go on the door, or just plain cool decals that young people might like.  I also thought about interior wall decals.  Maybe doing inspirational wall quotes, which I really liked the idea of that.  I also thought of family quotes or quotes from the scriptures such as “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord“.  Things like that.  But, what I felt most comfortable and found to be most interesting was creating simple designs for children’s walls.  I felt like I have had tons of experiences designing cute little displays for children (If you read About Me, you will know that I have been working in the public schools with elementary students for the past 17 years, as of this writing).  I think I found my niche.  I could try to be everywhere with decals, but I really wanted to find a market that I can enjoy without spreading myself thin working in other markets.  And that’s what I did.

After finally determining my targeted market, I basically chose several model stores on Etsy to study their stats for a while.  After which I felt convinced enough to take a chance on it.  I figured if things did not work out, I could always resell my cutter and supplies on eBay or Craigslist for a bargain and just take in the experience of it all as something more that I learned about.

Now, my shop is up and running.  I decided to take a calculated risk and it has worked out so far.  You can take a look anytime and see how I am doing.  You can link to my Etsy shop right from this site and take a look.  Heck, you want to secretly spy on me, you can.  I don’t mind.

Actually, to be fair, now whenever someone makes a request for a custom decal that is not part of my designs, I reply to them with a recommendation and a link to those Etsy shops that I once spent time spying on.   After all, I feel I know them so well.

You can sell anything  handmade on Etsy.  If you are not sure what you want to sell, take a look around Etsy and see what others are selling.  If you find something that you would like to get into, by all means, give it a shot.  And if you are like me and you are, by no means, a market guru and you are not sure how to determine your chances for earnings, try my method and see what you can learn from it.


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  • Kai Kang

    Very cool blog and enjoy your research approaches.