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Image courtesy of Sarah Jane Studios
Sarah Jane, Orem, sells cards, stationery, prints.

It's been only a year since Sarah Jane opened a "shop" on etsy.com and began selling her artwork through the online marketplace.

But she has already become a standout on the site, with customers as far away as Japan and Germany. Several major U.S. publishers have also contacted her about doing illustrations for children's books.

She never dreamed her Etsy shop would help launch such a successful at-home career.

"It's amazing that a little mom in Orem, Utah, can reach people all over the world but still stay at home and play with her babies," said Sarah Jane, who asked her last name not be used. "I've gained more through Etsy than I could have ever gained."

Etsy was launched in 2005 as a forum for people to buy and sell handmade items. It's an e-commerce site such as eBay, but users say it operates more like a craft fair versus an online "garage sale."

More than 1.5 million people are members of the site, and at least 200,000 are registered "sellers." Here in Utah, as many as 3,770 people have used the site to launch homegrown, Web-based businesses, according to Etsy spokesman Adam Brown.

Some are like Layton mom Ashley Blanch Steele, who gained instant success when her Etsy shop was highlighted by "The Martha Stewart Show." Others, such as Lisa Perry of North Salt Lake, Janie Young of South Jordan and Michael Phipps of Orem, are just happy to be earning extra income through the site.

Meanwhile, Ashley Giessing of West Jordan is hoping to make enough money on Etsy that she can quit her regular job and stay home with her kids.

Either way, they're all part of a unique business model where the Internet has expanded their reach to a global audience. And with the nation's economic downturn, Etsy users and administrators predict more people will turn to the site to either buy or sell handmade items that are more unique, "affordable and durable than mass-produced things," according to Brown.

Here's a quick look at a few of the Etsy sellers in Utah and their advice for thriving on the Web.

Lisa Perry — cupboardscraps.etsy.com

Before joining Etsy, Lisa Perry didn't have much luck selling online. She tried operating her own Web site but said she struggled to bring traffic to the site and get people to trust her account system.

On Etsy, Perry's vintage-style necklaces and stationery are highly popular. She's had more than 575 sales this year and said this is the first time in 15 years she is actually making money doing what she loves. Her advice to people looking to start a Web-based business is to test a few items, see if they sell, then keep tweaking their strategy to see what interests the public.

"If you keep at it and find out what people like, it should work out," said Perry. "If I were to give advice, I'd say to research what other people are doing in the same craft you want to do and then try and come up with something unique."

Some tips she has for people include setting up a lot of inventory, creating tags so items are searchable on the Web, and also regularly posting items for sale.

Michael Phipps — phippsart.etsy.com

During the daytime, Michael Phipps works as an artist and an illustrator. His shop on Etsy is a side business he uses to "fill in the gaps" when work is slow at his regular job.

As a man, Phipps is a minority on the site. Etsy did a survey last January that showed 95 percent of people on the site are women.

Phipps said he loves the fact he is unique. It helps him stand apart from other sellers. He sells graphic T-shirts and other "wearable art" created in a small studio in the master bedroom of his home.

His advice to people is to find a way to stand out on Etsy. The site, by itself, brings in enough traffic that you can be successful if you just market and position yourself right," he said.

"Just putting a shop up there and placing items on there won't amount to a lot unless you get down and try to promote it and list items regularly," Phipps said.

Ashley Giessing — isabellsumbrella.etsy.com

Ashley Giessing has always dreamed of creating her own stationery line. And Etsy seemed a perfect way to test the market and see if people were interested in her designs, the West Jordan mom said.

Her work on Etsy is both sweet and whimsical. The designs are simple, but Giessing said she has had great success since opening her shop. She credits the Internet for bringing her work to a global audience.

Starting on her own would have been much harder, she said.

"I just think this is a tool that's made it a lot easier than it would have been normally," she said. "It definitely would have been possible, but I don't know if I would have taken the opportunity."

Her advice is for people to find something they're good at — something they love — and then sell it.

Janie Young — clutterbags.etsy.com

Back in 2003, Janie Young started selling her handmade diaper bags and purses on eBay. It was a successful business for her, but she always felt the site was lacking, Young said.

In 2006, she heard about Etsy but didn't move over until October of last year. She said she loves the community-like atmosphere of the site.

For Young, creating her bags has turned into a full-time job. She works from 6 a.m.-6 p.m., and while she's been approached by shop owners to start selling outside of Etsy, she said she is content with the exposure she has right now on the Web.

The Internet has pushed her to try something she might not have considered, Young said. Her advice, like other Etsy sellers', is to find something unique to sell.

"Most of the people on Etsy work really hard at their craft in trying to come up with new ideas," she said.

Sarah Jane — sarahjanestudios.etsy.com

Since opening last October, Sarah Jane's shop has been an instant success. She never considered her work would be sold around the world, or that she would be approached to illustrate children's books.

Most of Sarah Jane's artwork is geared toward children. It's very sweet but playful and detailed. She has multiple cards for sale and also wall prints.

For Sarah Jane, Etsy has been a great tool to earn publicity, but she said she has worked hard to promote her site with advertising and by word-of-mouth. As a mother, she said she loves the ability to stay at home with her children but also contribute to the world with her artwork.

Her advice to people looking to set up shop on Etsy is to advertise themselves and be proactive if they want sales.

"With Etsy, as great as it is, it's easy to get lost," said Sarah Jane. "Just like eBay, you have to find a way to stand out."

Ashley Blanch Steele — hiccupdecor.etsy.com

Since her appearance on "The Martha Stewart Show" earlier this year, Ashley Blanch Steele's little Etsy shop has been flooded with orders. She is currently working with numerous boutiques and outside shops and plans to work solely as a wholesaler in the future.

Etsy has been a launch pad to a great career, said Steele, of Layton.

"There is no way we would have gotten as half as busy as we are without Etsy," she said.

Steele came up with the idea to sell wooden baby blocks and other products after designing some items for her son's nursery. Steele uses fun, modern designs to adorn her creations.

She considers Etsy a win-win. People who sell through the site don't have to pay much: 20 cents per item listed and 3.5 percent transaction fee per sale.

"It's really expensive to have to build your own Web site," she said. "Etsy is a no-brainer."

Etsy by the numbers:

— more than 1.5 million members

— more than 200,000 sellers

— more than 2.8 million items currently listed for sale

— 3,770 Utah sellers

— $87 million in estimated sales in 2008

— 20-cent listing fee (good for four months), 3.5 percent transaction fee per sale


E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com