Thursday, March 21, 2013

Get To Know The CraftStar!

The CraftStar Q & A With Founder / CEO

Bethan Davies:  The CraftStar Founder / CEO

I was sent a Q&A from Sam at Rustic Design.  She's part of The Etsy Handmade Team and they're checking out alternative venues.   Here is the series of questions and answers ... you might learn something you didn't know about The CraftStar!

  • What was the inspiration to start your own eCommerce website?
I'm a lifelong crafter ... and have tried pretty much everything you can think of at some point!  I go through creative phases, right now it's encaustic art and jewelry, but my cupboards are full of (mostly half-finished) pieces of quilting, sewing, stamping, embroidery, watercolors ... you name it, you'll probably find it in there somewhere.  When I went through my mosaic phase, it was quite funny, as I basically mosaiced anything in the house that stood still long enough.  It was a VERY colorful place!

I was selling on Etsy a couple of years ago and was ill at the time and unable to work, so I spent A LOT of time in the chat rooms, making friends, and to be honest, making most of my sales.  My background is entertainment production and business, so when I saw Etsy slowly dismantling the community features on site, a bell went off in my head.  I truly believe that community is very important to crafters.  Crafters / handmakers have a tribal nature, as we would say in the biz.  Soon after that bell, I was asked to do some consulting for the Home Shopping Network.  I learned a lot about tele-commerce, e-commerce there and another bell went off in my head!  To get on a platform like HSN or QVC, you need at least 10,000 of any one item.  There's no way a real crafter is going to pull that off.  So, it got me thinking of starting a community based crafting site, based on a broadcasting model.  Which is what we have done.   We have the ability to go LIVE on site to sell, to do tutorials, to do anything we want!  While we're focussing on recruiting sellers and attracting buyers at the moment, there are plans in place, and a calendar being solidified to really kick the LIVE element into action.  As a crafter and a producer, this is my dream.  I REALLY believe we can achieve something very unique here at The CraftStar.

  • What makes your site different from Etsy? How is your site an improvement?
I think the biggest difference, besides the obvious size, is that we're a site built by crafters and run by crafters.  We understand the handmade community ... which leads us again to the "community" word.  As a whole, The CraftStar community is very important to us as we believe in the old adage "it takes a village to raise a child."  We're new, the shops are new, but together we have the opportunity of creating a hugely successful site which someone recently referred to it as the "heir apparent" last week.  Another is our LIVE broadcast abilities.  I believe this is a winner.  And our use of social media which I'll go into more detail below.  And .. and .. and!

  • What is your average traffic? Stats? Monthly traffic/ Daily Traffic? Traffic over time?
We're the new kids on the block and traffic is building weekly.  We are way ahead of our projected sign-ups and sales at this point which is always a good place to be!  

  • How do you use Social Media for exposure?
This is another differentiator from Etsy.  We have a (growing) team of people working for The CraftStar who are solely dedicated to social media.  We are involved in them all!  And ... the company that we've partnered with to run The CraftStar engines, are genius' in this field and have several tricks up their sleeve which means we're already seeing our items on the front pages of searches.  Facebook has also been a fantastic marketing / awareness tool.  We have a lot of fun on the page with give-aways, introducing new sellers, unique items - which creates great interaction.

  • What are your plans for the future of the site?
A better question:  what AREN'T our plans?  We have a few unique features being built right now that we've already hinted about, some we haven't, and some I don't want to mention until we're ready to go with them.  Right now, the techs are building "The Trading Post" and it's awesome!  If you have an item you are interested in trading for something else, you can put it on the Trading Post.  You can also request a trade with someone else for a particular item.  It's a very unique and quite complex system technology wise, so I'm very excited watching it being built.  Items will be able to be traded directly, and The CraftStar won't consider these as "sales" so won't take a commission fee.   Added to this will be a form of Etsy's old Alchemy.  They dropped it, promised to bring it back, but haven't.  We ARE bringing it back, just with a different name.  

We are also launching "Rising Stars" which is aimed at kids, tweens, and teens.  I believe we (as a group of handmakers) are responsible for introducing and / or instilling the passion of our work to the next generation.  We will be doing LIVE tutorials with both professionals and the kids themselves hosting these throughout the summer.  If people can't catch them live, they will be able to view them from a video library.  I think we're all going to have so much fun with this, because really, all ages can participate.   While we'll be breaking it down into kids, teens, and tweens - it is equivalent to Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.  So for instance, I would be interested in watching Level 1 of crochet because I never could get the hang of that!  Added to this is my passion for history.  We're going to sneak some history lessons into some of the tutorials.  As an example, we might do a Digital Art tutorial based on Leonardo da Vinci.  Shhh ... we don't want the kids to know we're going to teach them something while they're having fun!

  • A common complaint with Etsy is their lack of Customer Service---how does your site improve upon this? If you grow to the size and scale of Etsy, how do you plan to adapt your customer service to still meet a high standard of quality?
Our biggest compliment by far is our customer service.  But before I get into that, I want to be clear, that I don't want The CraftStar to become Etsy.  It drives our money people crazy, but there's no way around the huge investment issue ... if you want to grow a huge company, you have to get huge investment.  At that point, the company is run by investors, which means your passion means nothing.  That is not going to happen here at The CraftStar.  I would rather continue to spend (literally) every penny I have saved through my life in making The CraftStar the best selling and buying venue based on community.  We will need investment at some point, but we will be very careful with who we go with.  Back to customer service:  we're all contactable here at The CraftStar through email, Forums, messaging.  I spend many hours a day personally replying to emails.  As the site grows, this is getting harder to do myself, but there will always be a human element to The CraftStar.  I've already taken on more people to help with this.  

  • How many employees do you have?
We have two teams of people working for us.  We have 5 contractors and a company called Placements Media.  They're one of the fastest growing multi-media businesses in the country and they house our tech team, strategy, and promotional work. 

  • What is your top selling item category (categories)? Why do you think it’s (they are) so popular?
Our top selling categories are bath and body and jewelry.  BUT .. that's because our bath and body and jewelry shops are very good at promotion.   The issue I'm trying to deal with at the moment is we have LOTS of shops signing up, who also have Etsy shops, which is fine, but they do what I call the "load and run" or The Teddy Bear Syndrome.  The Teddy Bear Syndrome is this:  a little boy gets a new teddy bear for Christmas.  It's shiny and new, has a few different things on it than his old teddy bear and he loves it because it's something different.  Then, one day he looks at his old teddy bear in the corner and goes to pick him up.  Old teddy has been with him a long time, he knows the old teddy and the way it works.  Even if he doesn't always like the old teddy and the new teddy is more interesting, it's "better the devil you know."  This is something I'm battling with at The CraftStar.  There is absolutely no point in opening a shop on The CraftStar (or any other site) if you're only going to promote your Etsy store.  If people don't know to find you on The CraftStar, you're not going to get sales on The CraftStar.  It drives me insane if I get an email saying "I haven't had any sales ..." - I then go look at their Twitter feed and / or their FB page and all I see is Etsy promotion.  Bangs.  Head.  Against.  Brick. Wall.  We have got to convince people, that to make The CraftStar "the heir apparent" people need to focus on their shops here.  Believe me, if everyone who has a shop here, promoted their shops here, the traffic would follow.  Sooner or later, you wouldn't need the Etsy store at all.  And let's be honest, does Etsy really do THAT much for YOU????

  • What item categories would you like to see more of? Which categories do you think are under or over represented on your site?
For a new site, I'm pretty happy with the range of products we have so far.  I would like to see more suppliers and leather workers!  We don't have any leather belts, etc on site.

  • How does the search or browse for items on your site work? Is it based on relevancy and recently? How does SEO work for your site and how search engines will find our items?
You can search by various methods on site ... including to come, by video.  As a producer, I'm a big believer in moving pictures sells items.   Billions of dollars a year wouldn't be spent on advertising if this wasn't the case!  As we're in an environment where buyers can't pick up and touch your items, the more they can know about them and YOU, the more tempting the purchase.   As far as SEO, the techs have built in various levels which gets fed to the search engines .. and they're working on a new development in that field which they have basically pioneered ... more details on that to come when they announce it.  Very exciting to be part of it!

  • Is there an option for guest checkout without having to register?
Yes, guest checkout is available.

  • How do you insure that items listed on your site are not mass-produced?
Again, although we're new, I have closed down several shops already.  If I (or any of our team) see something suspicious, I send an email.  If the answers aren't persuasive or proof that the items are handmade, I close the shop.  Simple as that.  I have also closed shops due to bad customer service.  While this may sound crazy as a new site which is trying to attract new sellers, if someone isn't keeping customers happy, I don't want that reputation to taint any of our other sellers.  I have no hesitation in doing whatever that needs to be done to keep The CraftStar in great standing.

  • What is your policy on copyright/trademark infringers?
This is a toughie as it is on all sites.  If it's a blatant rip off of a well known brand, the sellers gets a warning to take down the item.  If they don't take it down, we'll do it for them.

  • What additional features do you have that I haven’t mentioned above?
I think while it's not a tangible feature, the most important feature not mentioned above is: PASSION.  We honestly love what we do.  We had such a bumpy beginning, that if I didn't truly believe in us as a company, I would have packed up and closed long ago.  Many many tears have been shed, loads of sleepless nights, lots of wasted money, etc to get to where we are now.  When I believe in something, I won't give up.  Many people that saw the mess at the beginning (when we had a disastrous tech team) are coming back and are VERY surprised that A: I'm still alive (!) and B: we're still as passionate as ever.  It HAS been a long road, and at times a level of stress I NEVER want to go through again, but we're not going anywhere ... except up!  

Thank you very much to Sam from Rustic Craft!  Check out her shop on The CraftStar for fabulous upcycled wood gifts!

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