Alicia Shaffer: How a Mother of 3 Built The Second Best Selling Handmade Products Shop on Etsy

Alicia Shaffer is the founder of Three Bird Nest Designs. After just 3 years in business her bohemian apparel and accessories brand has become the second bestselling handmade products shop on Etsy, earning more than 86,000 sales.

Here is her story:

Q: What’s the meaning behind your business name?

A: I have a tattoo on my arm I got in New York that is symbolic of my three children. It’s three little birds in a nest. When I was thinking of a name for my Etsy shop I looked at my arm and it kind of just popped up as a name…and it’s stuck!

Q: How did your childhood and upbringing influence your passion for fashion and entrepreneurship?

A: I was brought up by a mom who was very much of a hippie free spirit when it came to creating items and using your gifts to make money. My dad is very old school and not so much the creative type but his father and brother were and also a huge influence in this. My uncle’s love for leather spurred my close connection with it and love for creating items from leather, and my grandfather made everything so there wasn’t anything that you couldn’t make when you were with them. I spent many hours with my mom at craft fairs and it just became a way of life. If you needed money you used what you had to create something and sell it. I started my first company when I was in high school and have always been innovative that way.

Q: What inspired the bohemian style of your products?

A: My uncle and mother. They both were hippies and both had different influences on my love and connection to this style.

Q: What did you do for a living prior to launching 3 Bird Design?

A: I had a women’s clothing store and managed the store…and soon after sold the store due to the complete time dedication that 3BN needed.

Q: When did you decide to start 3 Bird Design and how did you transition from what you did prior?

A: I had made a few headbands from my boutique and they were selling great in the store so I wanted to get them online. Since my store didn’t have a website I decided to start an Etsy shop just dedicated to my crafted items. The sales started to pick up gradually at first so I hired more staff to manage my stores so I could focus on building 3BN. The transition was difficult because I couldn’t just close my store yet I needed the time to work on making items for 3BN and selling them! It was a difficult time but my husband is the best and super supportive so with his help we had a game plan for a transition.

Q: Your products are beautifully designed and artfully handcrafted. Do you have a background in fashion design?

A: Well, thank you! I do not have a formal education in fashion design, simply a love for textiles, mixing textures and styles that I love together. I’ve worked with leather for years so the love for working with leather was started when I was young and watching my uncle craft furniture from leather, but with soft goods it’s all been trial and error!

Q: Did you initially launch your business on Etsy or your own website?

A: On Etsy. Etsy is our home, where we belong and where we can really showcase our products to the right customer. Our site is great and we love to sell on there and differentiate by adding some items that we don’t handcraft to have a variety of items but at the end of the day our love and passion is offering quality handcrafted items on Etsy. It’s an amazing community, an amazing team that makes it work and we are lucky to be part of it.

Q: How have sales compared between your website and your Etsy site?

A: Initially we ONLY were on Etsy and we only sold on Etsy for the first year. We added our website as a way for non-Etsy customers to find us and as a way to grow the brand and have more of a presence. Sales between the two are very different. We do most of our wholesale business through our web site because it is easier to manage wholesale on our own site (than on Etsy), but we still focus a lot on Etsy sales. If a customer is on Etsy and finds our shop without knowing about us, that is the exact customer that we want, they get us. They get the brand and what makes us different. Sometimes on web platforms they don’t get the story behind our product so for me that is what I see as the difference.

We have a lot of work to do to build our presence on our Web site, to drive new traffic to the site. This is the catch 22 for a true Etsy shop…Do you stay on the platform that has given you success or branch out and grow on your own? We are still figuring out the answer for us to this question and how much work we put into each platform.
Currently because we do heavily favor Etsy in organic traffic and when we do marketing our sales are about 70/30 with 70% being on Etsy.

Q: How do you promote your business?

A: 100% organically, we ask our customers to recommend us, we offer amazing quality photos and amazing quality pictures that deliver our brand image. This has been the #1 thing I believe that has helped in promoting our products. We have a VERY loyal fan base and they are active on our social media outlets, pin our items, and wear our items out and about! We have an email database of customers that we also market to.

Q: 3 Bird Design is supported by a 10-person team. How did you assemble your team and finance the cost of overhead and employees?

A: We actually have more that that but it varies depending on the season. We have only taken on additional expenses as we have been able to support the expense. We’re still small and growing so I have to be extremely careful with expenditures and making sure they are done wisely. I’ve been strategic in hiring and partnering with companies that can help grow our brand without us having to necessarily hire more in house staff (such as shipping fulfillment help at holidays, part time customer service at holidays, etc.). My in-house staff is just amazing and truly dedicated to the brand, everyone is willing to pitch in and do what it takes to make our customers happy.

Our goal is always to have customers that love us, love their products and love the brand. If a customer is not excited to tell a friend about Three Bird Nest then we have not done a good job in delivering to them the experience I want every customer to have.

Our shipping and logistics team manages all of our shipments, inventory, and keeping stock on materials. There are 4–5 people on this team and this ramps up to at least 12–16 during the holidays.

Our development, sourcing and sewing team is huge now and we are so blessed. We have a great team that lives locally and sews, cuts and creates our designs. We now have industrial and commercial sized looms to help with our knitting and keep up with the demand. It is quite amazing to see this growth, to see what we’ve been able to give others to help support their families just from one little shop!!

Q: Have you pursued online or offline retailers to carry your products? Why or why not? If so, how does the process and financial reward differ from selling direct to consumer?

A: We have had this horrible problem in being too busy to do so. We do have a lot of small boutique stores that offer our line and we have been approached by larger retailers. Currently I want to be able to fully support our retail customers and make sure we are an oily machine before we take on huge accounts. We’re pretty much there now so some discussions have begun. Some accounts we simply cannot compete price wise so the match doesn’t work but for others we are in discussions with it’s exciting!

If our buyers LOVE the product then I fell like the experience will be the same for our customer since the buyer gets our brand… but I can’t speak yet to the reward of being in a large retailer. I hope that the brand’s vision and message will still remain true no matter where we are sold.

Q: If Etsy or a platform like it didn’t exist, how would this have impacted your ability to pursue your passion?

A: Oh goodness, Etsy really gave me the opportunity to start Three Bird Nest. They allowed me to get in front of customers that were looking for products like mine so I honestly feel like I do owe this success to them. I truly believe in that and it is why I am so passionate about Etsy and encouraging others to start selling, or shop on Etsy!

Q: With over 66,000 sales in 3 years, you’ve become one of Etsy’s top sellers. What do you attribute this success to?

A: Actually 86,200! Ahhh the 1 million dollar question. This is what I get asked the most, why are you so successful? Why do you have so many sales? And my answer is pretty simple and what my grandfather always told me… work hard and never give up. It seems SO cliché and so simple but it isn’t. I work hard, I am not lucky. I put 250% of everything I have to make my shop succeed. My husband is my strength and my biggest cheerleader so even when I am down he lifts me up and I know I will succeed. It isn’t easy and it is challenging, and I am always evolving, failing, and finding ways to make these failures work for me and not against me.

Mark Cuban has a quote that is “Work like there is someone working twenty-four hours a day to take it away from you.” This is SO true. I work to provide for my family, to make them proud, I work to stay ahead of copy-cats, I work hard to stay original and I work hard to provide a better life for everyone that contributed to my shop and is a part of Three Bird Nest.

Q: How has the freedom of building your own business impacted your lifestyle and your outlook on life?

A: It has definitely been evolving as I haven’t found the freedom yet with how busy we are I am always working. I am trying to do a better job of scheduling myself but I always feel like I am fighting a loosing battle as being a business owner is all-consuming. But for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Q: What interesting things should people know about you?

A: Let’s see. I am human and still take it personally if someone is not happy with their product. I have three kids and an amazing husband. I have 8 tattoos. I love my customers and no matter how busy we get each time my Etsy app cha-chings I smile. I have had businesses that failed in the past, which is why this success is so much sweeter to me, and I will not give up on seeing this brand grow.

I am not a fan of the color red so you will see that I have almost no red items in my shop (sorry red lovers it’s just really hard for me to work with colors I don’t love!).

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