It takes time, strategy and money for a retailer to build a customer base online without a brick-and-mortar storefront.
It takes considerably less time and money, however, when you’ve got the power of social shopping behind you.
That’s what Charlotte native and jewelry-maker Angela Parker-Kennedy discovered after harnessing the power of OpenSky, a social-shopping website with 2.5 million members that brought her brand a new level of exposure.
It was a turning point for her jewelry business, Olive Yew Jewels (“I love you” Jewels, phonetically).
Parker-Kennedy started Olive Yew in spring 2011, after leaving her full-time job for a career in metal-smithing.
Parker-Kennedy, 40, spent most of her career in graphic design, children’s book publishing and then web consulting. But a couple of years ago, she started daydreaming about drastically different jobs – waitressing, ice-road trucking – and realized she wanted to be anywhere but in a cubicle.
On a whim, she signed up for classes at Lapidary Arts and Jewelry Design on East Independence Boulevard for $25 per class. A few months later, she was soldering, hammering, grinding and polishing fine metals into petite pieces of jewelry.
She built a website and an online store at Etsy, the popular shopping site for handmade goods, where her items retail for $25 to $45. As the wares got more exposure, Olive Yew gained more followers on Facebook and Twitter.
But Parker-Kennedy found it difficult to translate a social media presence into sales.
Facebook and Twitter users often log on just to check in or take a break, Parker-Kennedy says. “I don’t think people go to Facebook or Twitter with the mindset of purchasing.”
‘Your own Main Street’: Launched in April 2011, OpenSky is an e-commerce site that mixes elements of Pinterest, Amazon, Etsy, Facebook and Twitter.
Here’s how it works: Membership is free, and when you sign up, you take a quiz about your shopping interests. You then browse and purchase items and follow the items your friends and “super shopper” celebrities recommend and purchase. Every time you log in, your homepage is personalized with items you might like.
“If you’re a member ... you’re creating your own Main Street,” says Emily Lawi, a spokeswoman for OpenSky, based in New York. “For a small business like Olive Yew, your product gets discovered by the people who really want to discover them, by the people most likely to like them.”
Shopper-turned-merchant: Parker-Kennedy signed up for OpenSky as a shopper. Then, after Olive Yew got some national press in Self magazine, an OpenSky representative approached her about selling a handful of necklaces, each with a single alphabet-letter charm. With each purchase, Parker-Kennedy and OpenSky split the proceeds 50-50.
After Suze Yalof Schwartz, a former editor at Glamour magazine, shared Olive Yew wares with her 547,000 followers on the network, demand grew so fast that Parker-Kennedy and her two employees could barely keep up.
So she hired. She has seven full-time employees, and they ship about 300 pieces of jewelry a day – a marked increase from the 100 they sold daily before OpenSky discovered Olive Yew. The group also graduated from working in Parker-Kennedy’s home in Matthews to an office near West Tyvola Road.
A new storefront: In November 2012, OpenSky asked Parker-Kennedy to be part of a beta “marketplace” program the company is officially launching to the public on May 1. Through the program, rather than selling items piecemeal, businesses can manage their own storefronts on OpenSky at no cost.
The new program also lets sellers avoid paying commissions to OpenSky for purchases made by customers they bring into the network. And on purchases by existing OpenSky shoppers, the new program lets sellers pay OpenSky a 20 percent commission, rather than splitting the proceeds 50-50.
Olive Yew products are now sold on 10 different sites around the Web.
Says Parker-Kennedy: “Everything changed when OpenSky came along.”
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