It’s not easy for a one-man operation to compete with Etsy, the worldwide community of handmade and vintage goods sellers, which boasts 22 million members and sales up 70 percent from 2011 to last year.
That much Waxhaw resident Scott Bentley knows.
But he was convinced he could take the idea and improve on it. That was the idea behind Bentley’s www.articents.com.
A software engineer with Spectrum Medical in Fort Mill, S.C., Bentley, 38, created a website about three years ago so his wife, Suzette, could sell her hand-crafted jewelry online.
Then, he thought, why not expand the platform to let other artists do the same?
Articents now has more than 100 artists promoting and selling their creations from all over the world. The artists’ wares run the gamut, from jewelry and paintings to baby clothes, greeting cards and vegan shampoo.
Using social media to crowd-source: For businesses these days, a social media presence is nearly as common as a phone number. But Bentley used social media for more than promoting Articents; he used it to flesh out his idea.
Bentley trolled LinkedIn groups and Twitter hashtags for key words like “Etsy” and “handmade.” Then he joined the conversation.
He read about Etsy users’ frustrations, particularly over costs, and asked how the site could be improved. Group members were happy to oblige, Bentley said, and many of them later became his customers.
A different model: Many Etsy regulars criticized that site’s fees. Etsy charges 20 cents per listing, and listings expire after four months. Users also are charged a transaction fee of 3.5 percent of the item price for every sale they make.
“It’s not a whole lot of money, but when people are posting 20, 30, 50 items, it adds up,” Bentley said.
Bentley studied user feedback to decide on his business model – and recruit some of his first users. He decided not to charge listing fees or a commission. Instead – at least during this early stage – he offers his service for free and charges users a $5 monthly subscription (with an optional donation) if they want to customize their online store-front.
Solving the name game: Bentley spent a lot of time mulling over different names for his business, but no good domain name came to mind. So about two years ago, he spent $75 to run a contest for business names through www.squadhelp.com, which he’d seen referenced on an entrepreneur’s blog. (The site keeps $25 and the person who submits the winning name gets the other $50.) At the end of the 14-day contest, Bentley had 400 potential domain names. He narrowed it down to his top five before crowd-sourcing the question to his family and friends.
That’s how he decided on “Articents.”
Competing with big businesses: With 100 users and a $5 a month upgrade-subscription price, Bentley isn’t making enough to quit his day job, but he’d like to build the business enough to net $20,000 to $30,000 a year from it. Then, he says, he’ll look to the next milestone.
Of course it’s difficult for a small business owner to take on bigger, more established brands – a situation that’s exacerbated with web-based businesses. A new craft-sales platform like Articents won’t come up on the first page of Google search results.
Bentley’s advice: Rather than replicate the competition, feature for feature, find a way to improve on the existing model. He believes his lower pricing is beginning to attract customers and build loyalty.
A U.S. Marine stationed in Japan sells his handcrafted wooden pens on Etsy and Articents. The latter site lets him make the sale without paying a commission.
Molly Young of Ohio, who makes and sells jewelry, deleted her Etsy account and now uses Articents exclusively.
She heard about the site from a coworker who is a long-time friend of Bentley’s. She opened her Articents store on Black Friday last year, and has now sold about 250 items. Because there are fewer listings on Articents, loyal customers can find her page more easily.
And if she has a problem, she chats with Scott, not an answering service.
“I’m not lost in 20 million Etsy people,” says Young. “How lucky that I found him.”