Carrissa Barbee, The Silver Diva
As The Silver Diva, Carrissa Barbee has stamped out a niche in the handmade silver jewelry arena—first on eBay, then expanding her business to additional online channels.
Before discovering the wide world of online sales, Barbee would travel to Taxco, Mexico, where she'd buy unique silver jewelry in large quantities to sell at trade shows, conventions and in hospital lobbies. But when she began hand-stamping designs in high-grade silver and selling her creations on eBay, the business really took off.
Hand-stamping is a manual process using steel stamps to impress letters, one by one, into metal. It's similar to engraving but it's much deeper, so it lasts forever.
Most of her pieces are now custom designs that are appropriate for every age range, but primarily attract mothers and mothers-to-be.
"My products are really good for moms who want to engrave their children's names on a ring or a necklace, but I also have stuff for men, grandparents and kids—they make great gifts," she explains. "I have a lot of repeat business now that I didn't have when I was selling Taxco silver."
It was the birth of her own child five years ago that prompted her shift in direction.
"It was too hard to travel," notes Barbee, who also chose to leave a career as a family-law attorney. "This was a way to be able to stay home with my children and still have another outlet for my brain. And it's creative and, boy, way more fun than breaking up families!"
Buyers want side views, back views, hanging up on a necklace bust—every possible angle you can show
Tools of the trade
These days she sells her custom jewelry on eBay, eCrater and Etsy. While Etsy is her largest site by revenue, eBay runs a close second. Barbee's found eBay hard to beat as a venue for one-of-a-kind items.
In fact, she recently earned Top-rated Seller status, and reports that December was "enormous" on eBay. Her typical sales volume is between $2,000 and $6,000 a month from all sales channels.
"eBay still has a ton of traffic—and the competition isn't too bad for the type of jewelry I'm doing," she says. "I get a lot of international buyers on eBay. I think it has such a wide base and a lot of good traffic that it makes it worthwhile to stay there.
"I couldn't do it without Auctiva, though" she quickly adds.
Barbee started using Auctiva's eBay selling tools soon after starting out online, and says the features have not only saved her money, but a lot of time as well.
"I definitely appreciate the ability to add a lot of pictures, and upload them all at one time" she says. "Jewelry is one of those things that, if people can't touch it, they want to see every detail. So buyers want side views, back views, hanging up on a necklace bust—every possible angle you can show."
Barbee also appreciates Auctiva's Auto-Feedback feature, which is something her other selling venues don't provide. "That's one feature I love, because with this kind of volume, there's no way I could go back and do all those feedbacks," she says.
Scheduling is another convenient feature she uses frequently. While the majority of her listings are fixed-price, she does use auctions to help stimulate interest in her eBay Store items. eBay charges an extra dime on every scheduled listing, but there's no scheduling charge for subscribers to Auctiva's listing plans.
"When I do auctions, I like to start them on Sundays at 6 p.m., but I have kids and that's family time," Barbee explains. "With Auctiva, it's easy to schedule auctions, and I don't have to take time away from my family."
When I first started out selling online, I got every book I could find about it at the library
Stamping out a growth strategy
With the holiday frenzy over, Barbee is exploring additional avenues to continue growing her business—perhaps rejoining the jewelry show circuit, marketing her designs in retail stores, or even opening her own Web site.
At the same time, she's planning to expand her product offering from mostly necklaces to include earrings and additional bracelet and ring styles.
She's been busily spreading the word about her products online in jewelry- and mom-oriented groups, and around town as well. "On the tiny island where I live, people are starting to recognize me as The Silver Diva," she laughs.
That's a far cry from a few years ago, when Barbee was just learning the ropes on eBay.
"When I first started out selling online, I got every book I could find about it at the library. I didn't buy any of them," she explains. "I read as much as I could because there are so many people out there that have such great tips and tricks for learning how to sell and learning the rules. It's definitely worth your time to do research ahead of time and ask questions in forums."
For others like herself who want to make a business of selling online, Barbee recommends learning to take good product shots, and consider purchasing a light tent to get the most professional-looking photos.
But the most important aspect, she says, is a commitment to customer service.
"Answer all your e-mails, always be friendly and be nice in your listings," she says. "I think if people find you to be easy to deal with, and you have an easy return policy, they're going to come back."