Online retailers bring Maine products to the world

By Jenn Dobransky, Special to the BDN
Posted April 12, 2012, at 2:56 p.m.

For Deb Gill and Nanako O’Donnell, co-owners of Pig and Fish in Arrowsic, the day always starts with the question, “What are you working on today?” From there, the two creative entrepreneurs set off designing and fabricating colorful and useful products for the home. They then ship their creations across the world.

In early 2011, motivated by the appeal to sell directly to customers, Gill and O’Donnell decided to market their products exclusively online. Pig and Fish promptly joined Etsy, because it is an established online marketplace for handmade goods.

“We love that our store is always open. People can stop by whenever they want, spend as much or as little time as they like, browse or buy. Aside from the obvious accessibility to the entire world, the convenience of shopping online cannot be denied,” O’Donnell said.

Many would agree that the benefits of selling online are vast. For Pig and Fish, one major benefit of the online selling model is greater connection.

“The Etsy community not only puts us in direct contact with a pool of potential buyers, but it also connects us to so many talented small-business owners,” O’Donnell explained. “Prior to joining Etsy, we never thought that through the Internet we would make real connections with people we’ve never met. We were wrong — the computer may be a flat screen, but the Internet is a portal that can put you directly in touch with real people. We’ve had the pleasure of connecting with Red Tile Studio in Dallas, Texas. We didn’t know about them and they didn’t know about us — until we met on Etsy. Now we run an Etsy team together and we started a collaborative line called ‘1901 Miles’ where we use their modern prints as backgrounds on our designs — all done through the Internet and all from our little yellow house in Maine.”

Certainly there are many challenges to operating an online business. Competition online is fierce. This fact forces e-tailers, or electronic retailers, to have a clear marketing plan, including an aggressive social media strategy which requires daily management.

“If you do a search on Etsy for ‘home decor,’ you’ll get a return of over 442,500 items to browse — that’s a lot of competition. The biggest challenge for us has been getting noticed, but it has also pushed us to seek out ways to promote our business. For marketing Pig and Fish outside of Etsy, we dove right into understanding how social media intersects with our business and then we work to utilize these outlets to our benefit. It takes a tremendous amount of time to research, study and implement such information in our small business, but each new thing is a way to better define our brand, reach a larger audience and grow,” O’Donnell said.

Technology has made this type of business possible. And the online analytics — the data that show how people find a website, how they explore it and what the website owner can do to enhance the navigating experience — makes operating an online business easier and gives e-tailers the opportunity to increase their business success.

“You don’t have to be a techie geek to understand analytics because this data is now presented in an easy to understand format. We study our Etsy and Google analytics to keep a real time beat on what people are searching for and looking at. We then find a balance between what the market wants and what we feel drawn to creating. You may not understand why a certain product is selling so much, but if there is a demand, we see it as our job to fill it,” O’Donnell said.

When I asked O’Donnell about the advice she would give to a new entrepreneur who wants to sell her products exclusively online, she didn’t hesitate: “You must realize you’re embarking on a journey. You may not know all the answers, but if you don’t start somewhere you won’t end up anywhere.”

According to their website, Etsy’s mission is to “empower people to change the way the global economy works.” It is “a world in which very-very small businesses have much-much more sway in shaping the economy.” To be sure, Pig and Fish, as well as many others, are doing just that.

Jenn Dobransky is the microenterprise coordinator for the midcoast for the Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community (womenworkandcommunity.org). She can be reached at jenn.dobransky@maine.edu.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/04/12/business/online-retailers-bring-maine-products-to-the-world/ printed on September 19, 2014