The digital revolution is shifting commerce as the trend toward online shopping continues to grow among consumers. Today, more and more customers are spending their shopping dollars through E-commerce avenues, and that includes those who are looking for personalized products. As a result, many businesses in the personalization industry have recognized the need to specialize their services in this direction—and many with great success.
Edi Bond, the owner of Memories for Life, located in Essex, IA, recognizes this need and has built her business online instead of following the traditional brick and mortar route. On her platforms, she markets her laser engraved items as timeless keepsakes for generations to come—whether that entails engraving great grandma’s cookie recipe onto a cutting board or an ornament to commemorate baby’s first holiday.
“Customer service is a huge part of the personalization business, and making connections with customers ensures them that their order is important,” affirms Edi. She
recalls each client and their order, right down to putting their name on the shipping label.
However, the most rewarding aspect about her job is the relationships she builds with each customer while working with them one-on-one.
Lifetime events such as births, weddings, anniversaries and memorials provide the perfect opportunity to give a personalized gift. Her products carry sentimental value given their tailored nature, and the customer relationships she builds secure repeat business for generations to come.
Why an Online Business?
Edi says she originally built Memories for Life as an online business instead of following the traditional brick and mortar route because the overhead is substantially lower. She doesn't have to keep standard business hours, allowing her the freedom to come and go as she pleases, and she can work remotely by responding to emails and inquiries. Plus, she doesn't have to hire additional staff to run the store in her absence.
Etsy, a platform for sellers of handmade goods and buyers seeking unique, handmade items, is the best outlet Edi has found for selling her handmade, original work. She claims the platform is both easy to use and set up, and the fees are lower than other sites or consignment options she’s discovered. A major advantage of utilizing Etsy is its potential to expand her market.
“I can reach a much larger audience by selling online. I am from a town of 800 people, so my audience is limited,” explains Edi. “By selling online I can reach customers all across the U.S. as well as internationally.” So far, Memories for Life has shipped to many countries and all 50 U.S. States.
While Edi prefers to host Memories for Life virtually, she still showcases her personalized products in public spaces to further supplement her income. Edi participates in three Iowa craft shows each year, two of which are Callahan Promotions, Inc., and the other is the Clarinda Craft Carnival. Memories for Life also reaches the shelves of three local wineries where Edi provides an assortment of items for consignment, such as wine glasses, beer mugs, wine bags, wine charms, coasters and metal tumblers. Edi also sells wholesale to local gift shops with products featuring engraved Iowa-themed items: wine glasses sporting Iowa and a heart, spatulas, magnets and local school-themed items.
Balancing Creativity with Business
Before considering startup e-commerce, Edi explains that it’s important to realize that although the business is online, it’s still a business which means that developing a sound business strategy is essential to success. While creative people may possess exceptional talent, it’s often easy to gloss over foundational aspects of entrepreneurship when establishing an online presence in shops like Etsy. Edi believes her educational background in business gives her an edge in this area.
For example, Edi stresses the importance of knowing what taxes have to be collected and how to file the returns. She adds that having good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is also important as it can do a lot of the marketing legwork for businesses. To harness the power of SEO, Edi has focused efforts on recognizing the different keywords customers use to search for a product like a cutting board versus a wedding guest book.
“When I list something on Etsy, I try to think what keywords a buyer would put into the search engine to look for that item,” explains Edi. “Then, I try to use correlating terms relating to that specific product.”
Edi obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Business while working in a factory for ten years making truck transmissions. But she knew she eventually wanted to use her education to expand her life vision, so she started making scrapbooks for people as a side job. In pursuit of a machine heavy-duty enough to cut thick chipboard into custom shapes for the scrapbook pages, a friend introduced her to Epilog lasers. After watching a 30-second video, Edi knew she needed a laser engraving machine.
Following the purchase of a Mini 18 laser from Epilog Laser, Edi knew she was onto something she could build a business around. So she quit scrapbooking and her steady, full-time job with benefits in favor of becoming self-employed in the lucrative laser engraving business. Since then, she has also added a Fusion 32 laser to her equipment arsenal which accommodates larger work in her growing business. Edi explains that having two lasers allows room for multi-tasking, she has as a backup in case one goes down. During the holidays when she is putting in 16-hour workdays, that extra backup is crucial.
Practice, Patience and Persistence
To remain relevant with the economy’s shifting demands, she continuously reinvents her marketing strategy to align with the changing social media landscape. This has helped her to grow her 5-star customer-rated Etsy shop.
While her Etsy shop provides the majority of her sales, she uses Facebook for advertising purposes. Facebook simplifies blogging by allowing her to write short posts and add a few photos. This gives her customers insight into her day-to-day life as an engraver and enables her to sustain relationships with customers. Additionally, the Memories for Life Facebook page lets followers know about new products and upcoming local craft shows Edi will be attending.
Since launching Memories for Life on Etsy in 2008, Edi learned to photograph her products in natural lighting. This allows her to showcase her beautiful work while not having to rely on Photoshop, except for minor adjustments here and there.
As a one-person shop, besides shipping assistance that her mom contributes during the holiday season, being organized is critical. Edi groups similar tasks together to streamline productivity. For example, if Edi has multiple customers requesting her signature bamboo cutting boards, she works on those orders together. When transitioning to glass tumblers, she switches over her machine to engrave those items.
The Craft of Unique Creations While building her business, Edi gained experience working with a variety of materials, including wood, glass, metal, faux leather, acrylic and rubber stamps. She currently offers a mixture of both pre-made blank products and handmade products. Edi makes all of her books, ornaments, earrings, magnets, bamboo coasters and alder wood products by hand, while she purchases blank items like recipe boxes and cutting boards that she personalizes.
“I run an engraving business and not a woodworking business,” says Edi. “If I had the space and time to do both, that would be great. But I need to focus on what I do best and let others do what they do best.”
And she is always experimenting with new materials. That is one of the great things about laser engraving, she says. There are boundless options of what one can engrave. In her job, Edi rarely finds herself bored.
Ultimately, Edi says, maintaining your inventory and adding new items to fit trends is quintessential to success. “Becoming stale on Etsy by not adding new products causes people to quit looking at your shop,” reveals Edi. “The same goes for craft shows—people will walk by if a booth doesn’t have new products. Novel items catch patrons’ eyes. ”
Selling personalized “Memories for Life” allows Edi to utilize her creativity, enjoy what she does and make a profit while doing it. That, in itself, is a major secret to success.
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