How a retiree turned her jewelry-making hobby into a lucrative business venture

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at Desert Shine Designs and how you got started?

I create handmade wirework jewelry using natural stones and crystals, wire wrapped and woven with sterling silver, copper and 14k Gold filled wire.

What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?

All of my products are handcrafted by me or by my husband and daughter. When I first started, I only made earrings. At that time, I used findings and beads purchased from bead stores. As my skills evolved, I started making my own ear wires and jewelry parts.

A few years ago, I started watching videos and began soldering. That was a game changer for me as it allowed me to be more creative with my designs. I now combine soldering and wirework in my designs and other than beads and stones, all of my designs are created with materials that I’ve crafted.

How did you get your first sale?  

As I said, I started out just making earrings. I was still working full-time then and would often wear my earrings to work. A co-worker asked about them and wanted to know if I’d make her a pair. That one pair of earrings evolved into many more and I began to think about jewelry as a business.

When I retired in 2009, I began looking for ways to increase my revenue. I applied for a holiday show in CA and was accepted. It was a tiny, one day street show and I remember that I had a card table with a christmas tablecloth covering it. I had no displays, so just spread my jewelry across the table. I had no idea what I was doing but still managed to sell most of the items I took with me.

Since that time, I’ve done countless shows in 5 states and my sales have steadily increased. I have many repeat customers who come see me every year and my designs have won awards at some of the shows I attend.

That’s amazing! Any advice for shop owners who are interested in incorporating live shows into their business model?

Be fearless! Try new shows and figure out your target market! Be picky and don’t be afraid to apply to juried shows. Focus on shows where your ideal customer shops. For example, we shy away from carnivals and swap meets. Although those shows can be a lot of fun, the participants are usually young families and that’s not my target market. I mostly do art shows because my ideal customer usually attends that type of show.

What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?

My age is often a challenge when it comes to online sales. I just turned 70 in March and although my kids tease me about being a “gadget girl,” new technology can still be a challenge to me. I didn’t grow up immersed in the online world like my kids and grandkids did so it’s sometimes a struggle for me to learn new programs and apps.

I’m self-taught, so it can be challenging to learn new techniques. I rely on YouTube videos and brainstorming with friends to learn new things.

Also, family and friends can be negative when they find out you’re starting a new business and talking about leaving your job to pursue it full time. It’s like the story of the crabs in a bucket. When one manages to claw its way to the top, the other ones will grab it and pull it back down. I learned that if you’re starting a business, you have to have a thick skin and ignore the negativity often thrown your way by “well-meaning” friends and relatives.  

What influenced your decision to use Shopify?  

I have an Etsy shop and worry about the state of Etsy right now. I decided not to put all of my eggs in one basket and wanted to eliminate some of the fees the Etsy charges. I tried another company first but found them to be too complicated. So I researched the options currently out there and liked that Shopify was 1) easy to use and 2) had many sales channels that I could use to help get my products seen.

What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?  

I still struggle with SEO. I spend a lot of time online trying to get more traffic to my shop. Once I went live, I realized that I still have a lot of work to do. I wish I knew more about SEO.

What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business and why?  

I use Shippo, which I find easy to use and seamless. I also use MailChimp, although I may change to one of the Shopify mail apps.  

What theme did you choose for your site and why?  

I chose the Simple theme because it seemed clean and easy.  

What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow Desert Shine Designs?

I rely heavily on social media to drive traffic to my site. I’m currently redesigning my store to make it more streamlined and may change my approach at some point, but right now it’s primarily SMM.

What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?  

Customer service is critical. I always communicate with my online customers. I send a discount code with all orders to encourage them to return again. Spinner rings are one of my best sellers online and I always accept exchanges when a customer doesn’t order the correct size. I also offer discounts to customers who send me referrals.

Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?

In the past year, my Shopify store visits have increased 30% and my conversion rate is steadily improving. I’m still not realizing the sales I get with Etsy but I can see the improvement month over month. My goal is to have sales on my website that exceeds my Etsy sales by the end of the year.

To what do you attribute those positive metrics?

I think about this a lot and after a few months on Shopify, my analytics showed that when I listed consistently and used social media regularly, my stats improve.

It’s easy to get lazy and not pay attention for a few days but this is a business, not a hobby and has to be tended to every day! I use a day planner to plan my schedule now, just as I did when I worked in the public workplace.

What are you working towards now?

I’m focusing on creating jewelry collections. I’m currently working on a heart collection that will include wirework necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings featuring my crooked heart designs. Also, as I mentioned before, I’m working on revamping my website with a new theme and look.

Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?  

I really like watching Renae Christine. Her marketing ideas are very helpful. I also read a lot of Shopify articles.  

Based on your own success, what advice would you share with others who might be just starting out with Shopify (or with eCommerce in general)?  

I’m still fairly new to online selling, so I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask this question. I will say I’ve found it best to have multiple streams. My website is a great way to get my products out there but most of my sales still come from art shows. Jewelry is really a hands-on item, so it’s hard to sell it online. I also teach advanced wire wrapping at our local rock and gem club.

Where can we learn more?  

You can find me on IG at @desertshine. I am also on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.  


Lynne Simpson, Founder of Desert Shine Designs


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