"Homepreneurs" grow their businesses through the web

Shanna Bankston Hanner arranges materials used for her Etsy shop in the crafts closet of her Baton Rouge home. (Photo Credit: Caroline Gerdes)
Shanna Bankston Hanner arranges materials used for her Etsy shop in the crafts closet of her Baton Rouge home. (Photo Credit: Caroline Gerdes)

By Caroline Gerdes | LSU Student

Shanna Bankston Hanner has clients in Indonesia and Australia. Her office? A crafts corner in her Baton Rouge home.

Hanner and other "homepreneurs" are selling handcrafted goods worldwide through websites like Etsy.com (multiple winner of Time magazine's annual 50 best websites).

Hanner started Baby Eliza Boutique when her daughter (the store's namesake) was about seven months old. After spending months at home with an infant, the new mom started handcrafting tutus as a creative outlet and selling them on Etsy.

"[My shop was] created on a whim, I've done fairly well with it," Hanner said.

Her online shop has expanded to children and women's accessories, including bridal selections such as garters, veils and flower girl dresses. Hanner says many of the additions to her shop came from consumer requests.

"You can find unique and artful, sometimes one-of-a-kind items on Etsy that are not found in stores," said Katheryn Hunter owner of Blackbird Letterpress, a fine-art print shop based in Baton Rouge but carried in national boutiques and on Etsy.

She said many people choose Etsy because of the ability to request custom pieces.

Madeline Ellis, who owns mimosa by m.e. an online shop specializing in what she calls "Louisiana centric" jewelry, said this open communication between shopper and craftsman helps her with local sales. Popular items include a metal "Little Louisiana" pendant and a necklace with a small ceramic red stick.

She explained that Baton Rouge residents find her shop on Etsy and ask where they can find the product locally (her products are sold in several local boutiques and monthly at The Baton Rouge Arts Market in conjunction with the Red Stick Farmer's Market). Most of her online business is for custom accessories.

Ellis said an Etsy customer in Africa requested a variation on her "Little Louisiana" necklace, a "Little Africa" metal pendant.

"It's craziness to think someone here would want to wear something I made … [and] to think it's walking around in London!"

She likes the flexibility that comes with an online store.  This is what keeps her from opening a traditional brick-and-mortar shop.

"Mainly, I'm not so much business minded as I just like to make things," she said. "[There's] a lot less overhead, totally flexible hours. If I wake in the middle of the night and want to post [items, I can.]"

Hanner said when it comes to Etsy, there are some transaction fees, but they are minimal compared to commercial space.  She said her dot-com store does not require rent, has no boutique mark-up and she sets her own hours.

"It's allowing me to stay at home and bring in a little extra income."

But how does Hunter operate a shop without a physical location?  Social media.

"The perks are great. You can promote your goods and services, projects, etc., while also staying in touch with retailers and other colleagues, as well as sharing and finding resources every day."