How GlobalBackyard got started

Introduce your Etsy shop and tell us your story. How did you begin and decide on what to sell on Etsy, and how do you create your products?

Well, as they say, it’s complicated! My path to hand-dyed yarn and accessories has been circuitous. Honestly, I feel that it is an ongoing journey, both as I continue to grow and as things shift and change in the world. My biggest learning through everything is that to be successful in business, you must not be afraid to pivot. I’ve found that I need to do this regularly. It’s fair to say that for me, it all really started about a decade ago (in 2012/2013), when I decided to leave my career as a corporate librarian and do something on my own instead. I was very lucky to have a husband who encouraged this move (and also took on being the sole breadwinner).

I initially conceived of a business creating hand-screenprinted and hand-dyed fabric and sewing that into shibori pillows, totes, and bags using grown-in-the-USA organic cotton. I researched the market and the process, set up an LLC, and then, while listening to a business podcast one day, completely changed my direction. I had learned about "arbitrage" on, and it seemed like a quick way to make money (which sounded good), so I pivoted and added a DBA to my existing LLC. My long-term goal was to fund a hand-made venture in the future. (This is how the name "Global Backyard Industries" came about, as my LLC is actually Dibble Street Design.)

On Amazon, I experimented with reselling, then moved on to creating my own bundled products. I bought craft items wholesale and turned them into craft kits with project photos and instructions; I then expanded by white labeling a line of storage boxes aimed at crafters, which I manufactured by the pallet with a company in Ohio. I leveraged Amazon’s FBA program, where I sent my products to their warehouses, and they shipped directly to my customers, both from and from customer sales on my other sites, too. Storage fees, fulfillment fees, packing fees, and commission fees were just some of the costs of doing business (they also required things like official GS1 barcodes, $1 million in business insurance, and a number of other items that all cost money and time; the requirements were always changing).

While I generated over $550,000 in gross sales in just a few years, I wasn’t keeping much of that money. The Amazon game requires always increasing your inventory to keep your head above water and, of course, meeting their ever-growing list of requirements. It was truly exhausting, and frankly, it was NOT a lot of fun. A little back story here: In about 2016, I had begun selling hand-dyed yarn alongside my craft kits on my own website, and then in 2017, I added Etsy, too, as a way to grow my own branded business outside of the Amazon sandbox. The yarn, which I obtained by collaborating with indie dyers, was by far the most popular product on my site and on Etsy. (End back story.)

When the pandemic came along, Amazon decided to freeze all products it did not deem "essential." When they did so, they froze all of the "non-essential" inventory they had in their warehouses, too (this included all of my craft kits and storage boxes). I couldn’t sell it on Amazon. I couldn’t sell it on my site. I couldn’t sell it on Etsy because I didn’t have the products in my possession. To add insult to injury, Amazon wouldn’t ship my products back to me either because they were too busy with the entire world buying all of their "essential" items. Amazon had everything but my yarn, which I didn’t sell with them and was fulfilling directly. It seemed like high time for another pivot, so once the "non-essential" inventory freeze was over, I liquidated most of my remaining craft kit and storage inventory and closed my Amazon shop. At this juncture, I decided to go ALL-IN on hand-dyed yarn sold solely through my own site and Etsy. I would manage all of the fulfillment on my own, too.

Next challenge: My dyeing collaborators closed up shop due to their pandemic circumstances, and I realized I needed to source hand-dyed yarn another way. This was my own personal supply-chain crisis. Naturally, I decided I should produce my own hand-dyed yarn and gain total control over my own supplies. While seemingly everyone else was busy baking sourdough bread, I was learning everything I could about dyeing various fibers. I set up a dye studio in my basement, read voraciously about the process, watched videos, took online classes, and started creating my very own hand-dyed fiber. I also created unique accessories that I sourced and curated in ways that differentiated my items from competitors products.

While that’s the basic outline of how I got started, it really is a complicated path, and there’s a lot more that transpired. Having your own small business is, in a word, hard. It’s full of challenges, but meeting those hurdles and overcoming them is rewarding. I’ve come full circle, back to a handmade business very close to what I initially conceived. While it’s easy to think, "Man! I wish I had just stayed with that idea originally!" In truth, I learned so much during my Amazon days that I otherwise wouldn’t know. I am now experienced in a number of business models, and while I certainly paid a lot in "tuition" for those learnings, I believe they will continue to serve me. I’ve now sold over 2,300 items on Etsy (plus more on my own site), and it’s almost all yarn and knitting and crochet accessories. I’m happy to say that things are looking better all the time. I even got some sourdough starter from one of my aunts recently, and I’m hoping to bake some of my own bread soon.

Favorite items

What are your favorite items? What makes these so special? Why do you think these items might be selling well?

I especially love our Happy Hour Mini-Skein Sets and our collection of Stitch Markers right now. Putting these particular products together has been a lot of fun and allows me to apply lots of creativity. Our Hexagon Stitch Markers are an Etsy bestseller! I have to say, though, that I love all of our products; otherwise, I wouldn’t carry them.

Happy Hour Mini-Skein Sets
Stitch Markers
Hexagon Stitch Markers 

Getting sales on Etsy

How long did it take for you to earn your first sale and how do you currently attract customers to your Etsy shop?

I honestly don’t remember how long my first sale on Etsy took, probably because it was a third selling channel for me. I know things really took off on Etsy once I reduced my focus to hand-dyed yarn and unique accessories only.

My main strategy to attract customers on Etsy is SEO, as I focus my social media and advertising spend on my own website. I’ve dabbled with advertising on Etsy, but I haven’t had a lot of success there. I am looking to add video to my listings soon in the hopes that it will provide a visibility boost.

Managing GlobalBackyard

How do you manage your shop? Are you running solo or do you have any team members? What tools or services do you use to run your shop and how do you handle fulfillment?

I am the primary "doer" for my shop: sourcing, copywriting, blogging, collaboration management, marketing, website and Etsy management, conceiving, creating, and producing products, shipping, customer service, etcetera. My husband is a giant support and is also my photographer and art director.

Tools I use include the Shopify e-commerce platform for my website, Etsy as an additional marketplace, Share-a-Sale for their affiliate marketing (which helps with collaborations), Shipstation software to manage the shipping labels and tracking for my orders across both platforms, Adobe Creative Suite for creating graphics and videos, Xero for accounting in the cloud (I have a bookkeeper I contract with for monthly services), Divvy for virtual credit cards (to keep accounts safe on third-party ad platforms), Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Google ads, Bing ads, Meta ads... I’m sure I’m forgetting some tools! But those are the ones that come to mind.

The future of GlobalBackyard

What goals do you have for your shop in the future?

I am looking forward to expanding my accessory lines, adding new yarn bases and colors, and learning how to create my own knitting and crochet patterns (I’m currently working on my first set). I am also looking to make some fiber art with my hand-dyed yarn and can see selling that, too.

My uber goal? Keep learning, keep it fun, and keep it manageable. I would love to have an assistant or two, but I don’t want things to get too big. I want to keep doing much of the making, as that is my passion. Management is not. That said, I do want to make well into the six figures in net profit, which I believe I can achieve with my own two hands (and now and then, my husband’s).

Advice for new sellers

What’s your advice for a new seller starting an Etsy shop? 

Focus, focus, focus. While I think most people who sell on Etsy are hugely creative, that can get in the way of telling your branding story. Whittle your ideas down to something cohesive, and then limit them to that. If it doesn’t work, pivot to a new idea and see how that goes, or even open up a different shop and tell that story and see which one you’re most successful with.

Also, be unique! While we all get inspired by others ideas, we should take them and change them into something we put our own spin on. Don’t source a product that others have and then also put it in the exact same packaging and take photos that make it look identical. That’s not only lazy; it’s mean and disrespectful. Be YOU and do something only YOU can do. Make your branding stand out. Create a look for your packaging and your photography style, and make it consistent. Create a brand that communicates your vision to the world; don’t just sell copycat products.