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Designed to Teach and Inspire

Craft supplier finds joy in helping others.

Annie Howes likes to think of her jewelry-making supplies store as part educational and part inspirational. She uses her experiences and expertise in design to help others create handmade jewelry and find the supplies they need.

Howes has been a creative designer for more than 15 years, starting with stained glass at the age of 14, eventually moving on to designing ads, screen printing and custom-book creations.

Now she has her own online presence, Annie Howes Keepsakes, and wants each and every one of her customers to have a shopping experience that is memorable and positive. But, more than anything, she says she wants them to succeed at what they’re doing.

Changing lanes

Howes launched her first website in February 2007, featuring handcrafted pendants, bookmarks and other trinkets she created using a soldering gun. By August, she was listing her creations on Etsy, and by November her store had been shared in four treasuries and featured on Indie Public, a social network for artsy types and their followers.

“It’s amazing how stepping out of your regular routine, or thinking about how others have solved their problems, can spark creativity”

The next year, in response to frequent inquiries, Howes began designing a craft kit that included everything needed to make Scrabble tile pendants.

“I already had the materials, so I endeavored to write my own tutorial based on my own methods and experiences,” she says. “I took clear photographs of the process, put everything together in a professional layout and then packaged the materials in an attractive container.”

Her first listing sold within 12 hours.

Howes realized there was a market for instructions and supplies. She knew, firsthand, how frustrating and expensive it can be for artists to have to guess if the product they’re purchasing is the right product for what they need.

“I shifted the foundation of my business from selling finished jewelry to focusing on helping others create beautiful, handmade jewelry using the same high-quality materials that I had been using for years,” Howes says.

Getting the brand out there

Selling online was a strategic choice for Howes.

“If it weren’t for the Internet, I don’t believe that I would have entered the retail marketplace in the traditional brick-and-mortar selling venue,” she says.

By going the online route, she has been able to reach a broader audience and even ship her products to international locations.

“It also means I can have a bad hair day and no one else has to know,” she quips. Plus, her customers can shop 24/7 in their pajamas, and she’s OK with that.

Howes continues to selling online through her own website and on Etsy, but she also sells on Amazon and ArtFire. Of the four venues, she prefers her personal website, which is powered by Yahoo.

“It’s more flexible than any other venue I’m using,” she says. “I have drop-down menus, I have my own layout, I have no external links that will take customers off-site, and I have shipping options.”

She’s also very fond of Etsy because it has a lot of traffic and is easy to use. However, by using her own domain through Yahoo, she’s not competing with other brands while trying to brand her own product.

“Think about this for a moment: When you are selling on Etsy (or eBay, or anywhere else), does the visitor to your shop remember your shop? Or are they going to say, ‘I saw that on Etsy’?”

“When you are selling on [a marketplace], does the visitor to your shop remember your shop? Or are they going to say, ‘I saw that on Etsy’?”

The world is her marketplace

Howes has got a lot of exposure through blogs and online social networks, as well as through some international venues that sell her products. The success of her work has allowed her to launch her own brand of supplies, including resin, glue and glass tiles that she makes in the evenings.

She utilizes all the hottest marketing outlets, such as Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. However, because her focus is on education and quality, it’s perhaps her dedication to a clean photographic style and clear descriptions that do most of the selling for her.

“It’s my desire that a visitor to my shop can view the item clearly and be inspired by ideas represented in the photographs,” Howes says.

She enjoys interacting with her customers, who regularly leave notes for her that put a smile on her face. She says the world is her marketplace, and her customers represent nations across the globe that she otherwise would not have access to if it weren’t for the Internet.

Coming from the heart of someone who wants to inspire and to help, it’s no surprise Howes leaves us with some parting advice:

  • Find support groups that will help you think about your business—or at least aspects of your business—in a different way.

  • Regularly read material, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your industry.

    “It’s amazing how stepping out of your regular routine, or thinking about how others have solved their problems, can spark creativity,” she says.

  • Test the waters and gain exposure at Etsy. It draws considerable traffic and has a solid interface with steady traffic.

  • Realize and accept that you need to enjoy life and spend quality time with those you love. If you’re getting too busy, get help.

    “I absolutely love what I do and every morning when I wake up I’m excited to greet the day and to say ‘Hello’ to the world, and it couldn’t be this way without the help of my assistants,” Howes says.

Visit Annie Howes Keepsakes.

About the author

Sarah Brown
Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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