Want to spend more time developing your artistic side? Love buying vintage, but worry your house is starting to look a bit too much like an antique market? Why not turn your passion into a business? We’ve teamed up with Etsy to offer you 20 free listings when you open your Etsy shop. In this case study, learn how Claire Ferrante turned her hobby into a business.
In summer 2012, Claire Ferrante scrapped her status quo for a completely new way of life. Though she loved her full-time graphic design career at Google, her calling was to be a full-time vintage seller. “I knew that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life sitting in front of a computer in an office building, so when the opportunity to run Little Dog full time presented itself, I just went for it,” she says.
After saving a significant amount of “backup” funds, here’s what happened in a nutshell: within a few months, she and her boyfriend got engaged, quit their jobs in Boston, bought a fixer-upper house in rural Vermont, and moved to the country without knowing a single person in the state. “I still don’t know where I got the courage to shake things up so much. I guess we just got excited about the idea of taking on an adventure, living more simply, and working for ourselves, so we ran with it,” she says. She chronicles the process of adjusting to her new way of life and running the vintage shop on her blog.
Now Claire spends her days hitting up flea markets, antique shops, thrift stores, yard and estate sales, along with creating top-notch photography and item listings. “My favorite items that I sold are an antique plaster horse bust pulled out of an attic in a Victorian home, a metal model train bridge with chippy green paint, and a mid-century Sputnik light.”
Claire shares her vintage adventures and tips for turning a hobby into a full-time job here.
Do you only sell on Etsy, or do you subsidize your income in other ways?
I’m currently taking loom-weaving lessons from a wonderful weaver in Vermont, and I hope to eventually weave my own rugs and blankets to sell. I’m still embarrassingly far from being able to weave anything worth selling, but it’s been so much fun learning to make something with my hands.
What’s your average day like?
Every day is different. We’re remodeling our house ourselves, so I split my time between that and working on my Etsy shop, which I run out of a barn that we converted to a workshop. I stop everything and take photos when the light is right. I take off for the day and hit up flea markets when the good ones roll around. I don’t have a set schedule, and for now I’m really enjoying that.
What’s your advice for new Etsy sellers?
Continually improve listing photos. I noticed that my items started to be featured more consistently on and off Etsy after improving my photos. When we moved to the new house, I built a new photo setup that has made life so much easier. You can check out the full DIY for how we made the setup here on my blog.
When you’re shopping, how do you figure out whether a potential purchase would fit in the Etsy Vintage marketplace?
Certain pieces just reel me in, and I tend to choose items I would love to own or that speak to me in some way. I love the look of well-loved pieces that have lots of character. I’m not interested in pristine, mint-condition antiques. I like the real-deal, old, chippy stuff.
How do you date and determine the value of your vintage finds?
I do web searches for similar items and start to piece things together. You also develop an eye for certain periods. Some items, like globes, are easy to date by looking at borders and country names. I research similar items online to determine the value, then typically set my price somewhere in the middle.
When you’re writing your listing descriptions, what kind of information do you find is helpful to include for the buyer?
I try to describe in detail the look and era of the item, and also provide a few suggestions for ways it can be used. I make sure to take accurate measurements and include details about the condition, which is especially important for vintage items. I want buyers to know exactly what they are getting and ensure there are no surprises when the item arrives at their door.
What are your top three pieces of advice to sellers who want to transition their hobbies into full-time careers?
1. Create a workspace that allows you to be organized and productive, and more importantly one you want to spend time in. Designate storage space for vintage stock and shipping materials, set up an area for photography, and clear table space for packaging and working. You don’t have to have a huge space, just one that works for you. If you don’t have enough space for a permanent photo setup, get creative. When I was running Little Dog out of a 500-square-foot studio, I stored a half sheet of drywall and a wood board behind a cabinet and pulled them out to create a “base” and “wall” background for shop photos.
2. Be realistic about your financial needs and set concrete goals to reach them. This point is obvious and practical but can be tempting to gloss over when you’re passionate about an idea and can’t wait to get started.
3. Let your business evolve. Stay open to new ideas and approaches. If something isn’t working anymore, it’s okay to let it go. Keep trying new things and keep trying to get better!