Tori James is a stay-at-home mother of two who lives in a small Philadelphia suburb. Last September, she turned her interest in sewing into an online Etsy shop, Toriska Bags & Crafts, that specializes in clutch purses, hand bags, and business card holders.
The following interview provides insight into the power of the Internet — by providing community, inexpensive advertising, and user-friendly tools — to turn an Internet-savvy, non-pushy, stay-at-home mom into a small business owner with an international customer base and brand. It also demonstrates how advertising is becoming increasingly democratized, with everyone effectually having their own billboard on their rooftop, bringing with it the challenges of a thicker, more competitive market.
How did you get started making bags? Did you begin with creating a business in mind?
When my now 3-year-old daughter was a baby I began sewing as a creative outlet. After baby #2 came along I sewed myself a series of diaper bags until I found the “perfect bag,” and along the way discovered my love of sewing purses. I didn’t plan on selling initially, but one day I got the idea in my head to start an Etsy shop, drafted up a few possible designs, and within the week I had begun the process of forming Toriska Bags & Crafts.
Why did you choose Etsy as your online platform? Does it work well for what you’re trying to accomplish?
I started off as a buyer on Etsy, and my first purchase was (ironically) a purse. I have bought supplies there for my personal craft projects for years, so it was a natural progression to choose it when I decided to sell my own work. For now I am content there, especially with the built-in SEO and high traffic. But I already own toriska.com
in case I ever want to break away and have my own site.
How do you get the word out about Toriska Bags? Do you rely mostly on word-of-mouth and referrals or do you use any specific advertising methods?
I have accounts with all sorts of social media and all have brought traffic to my shop. As for paid advertising, Facebook ads are excellent because you can target your specific audience very well. Google Ads and Stumbleupon are also paid advertising that I would do again in the future. I took out an ad with a high-traffic blog and it was a dud for traffic, but it had the benefit of providing lots of backlinks, so I still consider it a success. The only advertising that I regret were several giveaways. I'm constantly working on my shop’s SEO and my search engine views are always increasing because of that. Some of my business has come from family and friends and referrals, but I’m a non-pushy person and am sometimes hesitant to bring up my business so that I don’t pressure anyone.
You have high customer ratings (100% based on 81 ratings) and positive feedback about your customer service. What specifically do you do to please your customers?
I am always near a computer and try to return all emails within the day. I love to work with customers in creating custom purses. One order was actually from another Etsy seller who lived just a few miles from me, and I was happy to save her money on shipping by dropping the order off at her house. I try to give them the best service possible so they will not only return to my shop again, but also want to buy handmade again in the future.
How does living near a large metropolitan area effect your business? Do you think you would still be successful living anywhere in the U.S. with the help of the Internet?
I haven’t noticed any real effects from living in a large metropolitan area, but I haven’t yet delved into craft and trade fairs, and I know Philly has a lot of those. The beauty of selling online is that I can ship anywhere, and I have. I have sold purses both to people within a few miles of me and to people in Australia.
What’s your goal for Toriska Bags?
For the short-term, Toriska Bags is mostly a hobby. Ideally, once my kids are a little older and in school, I will be able to devote much more time into the business and I hope to have it become a more significant source of income for our family. That’s the long-term goal; right now I’m still in the building block stages. I simply enjoy sewing beautiful things and love making some money off of what began simply as a bored stay-at-home mom’s hobby.
How do you measure success and how will you know when you’ve “arrived”?
For me, success would be regular sales (3-5 a week) and the ability to put money toward our family’s needs. I would love to give my children an extra-special Christmas each year because of Toriska Bags, or more practically, put money towards their college funds. The thrill of creating something and making money off of it is an addiction; I’ve already opened a second shop on Etsy for another of my interests, children’s toys. Owning my own business is empowering and I plan on continuing for a long time.