Today's guest post is from #ahasmember Erica at Aftcra, an online marketplace for handmade American goods. Aftcra is partnering with us to make our State of Making Summit possible and since we are reviewing the changes and trends that affected makers this year and will be affecting them, we thought we'd ask Aftrca how things look from where they sit.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Aftcra and why you started it.
A: Hi! My name is Erica and I'm the President and Co-Founder of Aftcra. Aftcra is an online marketplace where you can buy and sell handmade goods made by artisans in the USA. Our focus is to place a spotlight on local artisans around your community and across the country. We are big supporters of shopping locally, and we believe that this is our way to contribute in a major way - to bring artisans to buyers who are interested in being a part of the shop local movement. We’ve had an overwhelming amount of users reach out to us to share their appreciation for a marketplace dedicated to only handmade goods and to makers in the USA.
The handmade world has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a household where handmade products were treated with respect. My mother is a maker and has a talent that I can only dream of – the ability to make something beautiful from nothing. Growing up she was always crafting, from ceramics to painting, woodworking to baking.
My mom took a break from making, but then she started up again and was creating these life-sized wooden witches, which she tried to sell in boutiques in Northern Wisconsin. When she realized what a large fee the boutiques required, she became so frustrated that she almost threw in the towel on making in general. That's what I made it my mission to try to find a way to help her and other artisans like her.
Over the next year Aftcra was born as an easy and affordable online marketplace for makers to sell their handmade wares. I wanted Aftcra to be an online version of an arts and crafts show, where we would make it easy for makers to create their own shop page and list products for free.
Q: What big changes has Aftcra experienced in the last year?
A: The handmade industry is a fluid market where one thing remains constant - change. We've seen major players go public and embrace more than just handmade, new goliaths enter the industry, and some smaller venues close shop. Aftcra is still a fairly young company - with only three years under our belt - but we believe that the last year has been our biggest growth period yet despite all of these major industry movements.
From sellers to buyers, shop sales to traffic everything has increased as more and more people seek out marketplaces where they feel comfortable selling/shopping and users can discover truly unique products. In a world of manufactured goods, handmade is finally getting the spotlight it deserves, and we are so pleased to be a part of that.
Q: Being involved in the handmade marketplace, what new demands or trends are you seeing from both sellers and buyers?
A: From the buyer side, we are seeing more people seeking out custom products and good customer service. When a buyer is trying to get in touch with a shop owner and the owner is either slow to respond or completely non-responsive it affects the entire handmade industry. Users know what to expect when they go on Amazon or Target – they’ll get a manufactured product that will arrive in 2-5 days in exactly the condition it was stated on the site (or store).
For handmade goods, every shop has different production and shipping times, and every product has a different level of quality. When a user buys something from a handmade shop and they don’t receive the care they deserve, they start to feel uneasy that the entire industry is like that. Luckily we don’t see these exchanges very often on Aftcra, but when we do we are quick to work with both the buyer and seller to resolve the issue and find a mutually beneficial solution.
Sellers are interested in shipping solutions, which is something the Aftcra team is furiously working on to make available to our users. Shipping is one of the more challenging and unreliable aspects of owning a handmade shop. The more streamlined the process is made, the easier it is for sellers to focus more on making and tending to customers than getting stuck in the weeds with shipping.
Q: From your vantage point, how has the handmade ecommerce landscape changed over the last year?
A: The handmade industry is starting to gain more traction, and big behemoths like Amazon joining all of us only validates the importance of this industry. Even though I believe that the handmade industry is becoming more commonplace around the US, there is still so much more room for growth. We are just at the beginning of the handmade revolution, and it’s a very exciting time to be here.
Q: As we gear up for the holidays, what does Aftcra have on the horizon to support sellers?
A: The Aftcra team has been working hard over the summer to solidify relationships with bloggers, identify partnership opportunities, and develop advertising plans for the holiday season. Our sellers are our biggest focus for the holiday season, and I believe that our plan is coming together nicely to truly benefit them.
Q: This year we saw Amazon Handmade emerge as another Etsy competitor. How do you see this addition and where does this put Aftcra?
A: As I shared before, Amazon Handmade was an addition to the handmade industry that I don’t believe many people imagined coming to fruition. But when they announced their interest in the industry, and then later launched their program, it was a true validation that the handmade industry is the next big star. We haven’t experienced any negative affects from their addition to the industry - if anything it has brought more users to Aftcra as they search for alternatives outside of giant marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.
Q: Why do you think it's important to have other online handmade marketplaces, even if they are all still relatively small in comparison to Etsy?
A: Etsy is a great marketplace – they spearheaded what is known today as the Handmade Industry and we are very thankful for that. Over the years they have grown to epic proportions and, naturally, have to take steps that may not jive with the original mission of the organization. That is when smaller companies (like Aftcra) can step in and relieve that pressure, bringing handmade back to its roots. Etsy has evolved over the years to become an overwhelmingly large marketplace, and not all buyers or sellers are interested in shopping or selling in that environment.
Q: What advice would you give sellers about how to prepare for Holiday 2016?
A: Start now! The sooner you start defining your goals and identifying opportunities for partnerships or advertising the sooner you can execute. Also, think outside of the box. Research what other successful organizations have done and see if there is a way that you could emulate their program and adjust it to fit your business.
It’s also really important to start testing what works well for your business. Does an ad on Facebook draw in the right audience for you, or does Pinterest give you a better conversion rate? Spend $5 on ads on different platforms to see what works best for you.
Basically, plan, plan, plan!
Q: Where can people find Aftcra online?
A: You can set up your handmade shop, or start shopping, on Aftcra at www.Aftcra.com or you can connect with us here:
You can also email us directly here (info@Aftcra.com) and one of our handmade enthusiasts will get back to you within 48 hours.
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