Jake: Let’s get started! Just tell me a little bit about you and your shop.
Sandra: I’m Lady English—that’s what I go by on Etsy. My real name is Sandra, and I’m an English woman living in New York City. My shop is called Fountain Pimento Oil, and I sell oils that relieve pains as well as grow healthy hair.
J: How did you come to sell oils?
S: Well I didn’t actually begin by selling oils on Etsy. I traveled to the U.S. in 1996 as a journalist and realized that people were interested in my clothing style from London. I moved to New York in ‘97 and opened up a company in 2001 selling clothes from Europe—but it wasn’t very successful due to differences in sizes and tastes between the U.S. and Europe.
Later on, around 2008, I went to visit Jamaica (my parents are Jamaican), and while I was there I went to this mineral spa where both tourists and locals visit a lot. You walk up a path to these rocky mountains with hot springs that have healing properties as a result of beneficial vitamins, minerals, and sulfur in the water—most people in Jamaica don’t use prescription medications, they use natural products. I had a massage and experienced effects of the spring. It was so successful that I thought, “I have to bring this back and sell it.” I had previously been receiving shoulder injections to treat a pinched nerve in my back from a car accident, and this was better than any other treatment I’d had.
“It was so successful that I thought: I have to bring this back and sell it!”
I asked the locals what kind of oils they use for the massages, even going through the FDA to figure out how I could bring them into the U.S. I placed my first order for 15 gallons of oil from a man in Jamaica, but when it showed up I was very disappointed. The product was nothing like what I’d used when I was there—basically they ripped me off.
So I went back to Jamaica the following summer and talked to people who explained how to actually ferment the different plant leaves to create traditional herbal medications. This time around, I brought leaves back with me and prepared the ointments myself to treat issues like arthritis, knee problems, and back pains. I had initially wanted to spend my money in Jamaica and support the local community, but I ultimately decided I had to produce the product myself. I now take the Jamaican recipes and ferment my products entirely from my home. I still, however, buy leaves from the locals who pick them for me; I also visit several times a year to source products.
Getting on Etsy
J: So between the clothing stores and the oils, you’ve been on several entrepreneurial adventures. Once you began making the ointments, did you turn right to Etsy?
S: Etsy wasn’t the first place I started selling. When I started, I was selling directly in my community, using newspaper advertisements to gain clients and bringing products to local churches and nursing homes where I felt I could help the most people. I was giving massages and free samples, as well as promoting through my radio show.
My initial goal was to get the product into local stores like health food stores, but it was difficult because I had trouble getting into beauty supply stores. So I decided to just keep it local and specialized, because it IS specialized. I don’t just mix two herbs together; I actually work with the leaves from scratch.
“I decided to just keep it specialized, because it IS specialized.”
This all led to people wanting to order the product. I started a web page and eventually joined Etsy in 2010. I decided to get on Etsy because my products are home made from scratch and Etsy is for artisans. I like working on Etsy because I can manage it, and I don’t have to worry about the product becoming diluted as it might if I went a more corporate direction. I didn’t pay much attention to my shop though: I just posted a picture and small description without really taking the time to update listings or craft descriptions. Because of that, I didn’t make a sale until 5 years later in 2015. At that point, I started putting more attention and effort into making my shop successful on Etsy.
Finding Etsy Success
J: What was the experience like when you first started on Etsy? In hindsight, are there any mistakes you feel that you made?
S: I think I was a bit lazy and complacent at the start. I thought just by putting up a picture and a brief description the product would sell, and that’s just not the case. You have to keep updating your listings and pay attention to your competitors. I’ve been on Etsy since 2010, and there are sellers that have been there for less than a year and they have 10,000 sales and you’re just like HOW does that happen? It’s a constant struggle to put yourself in a position to be found through things like updating listings and keywords and paying attention to what other people are doing.
“What I’ve learned is that this is a full time job, and you can’t just list your product once and expect it to sell. It just doesn’t work like that.”
After efforts like joining Facebook groups, researching other products and resources for Etsy, finding and finding useful apps, my business just grew. I also expanded into “hair food” and other hair products in addition to carrying my original products for aches and pains. Now I’m thinking of expanding to Amazon (their new section for handmade products), and I’m always looking to new marketplaces where I can promote myself.
J: Us too! Whatify is actually coming soon to Shopify and looking to create other optimization tools. Speaking of Whatify, can I ask you a bit about your process for shooting and selecting photos for Etsy?
S: Through marketing efforts, I’ve found that people like photos of a pretty girl with long hair. I’m not really a photographer, and I don’t want to just take pictures with my iPhone or try to edit them myself, so when I need new images I’ll ask one of my friends (who’s a professional photographer) to create them for me. But images alone are not necessarily what will always draw a client to look at the listing. It’s also about what’s in the listing title. You really have to pack as much information as you can into the description of the product.
I also really suggest taking before and after pictures of people who’ve used your product. I always send a personalized packing slip to my customers asking them to share their experience with me. I’m constantly trying to encourage people to leave reviews.
J: So what was your experience like using Whatify?
“I just assumed the audience would like what I like.”
S: I was sort of surprised at my results because the images I used as the main images were attractive to me, so I just assumed the audience would like what I like. That’s not always the case though! As a business owner, you need to be open to suggestion and an outside opinion. At Whatify, you’re professionals in your field, and I’m not an expert on photography or data analysis, so I trust the results and use them to help grow my business.
Pass it Forward
J: To wrap things up, can you share piece of advice you’d give to other Etsy sellers?
S: Do not be so concerned with the profits you’re making as with the value you’re bringing to your customers’ lives. Put forth a quality product that you care about and pour your energy into it, and the profits will come.