Etsy’s IPO for Investors and ROI for Artists

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

It’s 10 a.m. and Jenny Lichtenwalner has dropped her son off to school and put her 4-month-old daughter down for a nap. It’s time for her to quietly get to work. The former librarian helps pay the bills by freelance editing and Etsy-ing. She creates crafts for Charlie Thyme, her shop on the e-commerce site.

“I sell a lot of customized products on my Etsy shop,” Lichtenwalner says. “Tote bags, customized labels, lunch bags, stickers and decals. Basically, anything a customer can dream up, I can create for them.”

Etsy is a lot like an eBay for handmade and vintage items, and for shop owners like Jenny, who used to lug boxes of merchandise to craft fairs, it’s a godsend.

“You say, at a craft show, you have 100 or 200 people walk by,” she explains. “Every day on Etsy, I have 200/300 people who are looking at my shop because they want to look at my shop, not just because they’re driving by. Because they’re looking for something.”

Lichtenwalner says she nets much more than she would from craft fairs alone: “It’s enough for me to be able to spend time with my kids while they’re young, which I’m really grateful for… I can kind of be mobile. I can check the orders on my iPad, answer questions, answer emails, while still taking care of her… Pack things up during nap time… The postman actually comes to my door to pick up packages.”

Through the site, Jenny’s had nearly 900 sales to buyers in Switzerland, Australia and just a few blocks down the road. There’s a search field on Etsy that allows buyers to find sellers in their town, making it easy for those looking to buy local.

In fact, through New Jersey-based shop owners alone, you can find quilts, jewelry, pet products and much more.

Over a week ago, the Etsy community expanded when the company went public. Shares opened strong in the initial public offering — nearly doubling from $16 to $30 by the end of the trading day, and peaking at more than $35. But, prices have since fluctuated.

“That’s the thing you have to understand about an IPO,” says Rutgers Business School Assistant Professor Arthur Guarino, who teaches finance and economics courses. “There might be an initial energy about it, enthusiasm about it, but then after a while it just tends to trail off… It’ll level off, as far as a certain price. But whoever had the stock initially when it went public at $16 … they’re still making money.”

Articles indicate that there are concerns of whether the company will be able to maintain its social mission. Per Securities and Exchange Commission rules on IPOs, Etsy is in a quiet period and is unable to comment.

Guarino points out that the market for crafts relies heavily on the economy being strong enough for people to have disposable income, but Lichtenwalner says it’s that handmade craft feel that keeps her customers coming back.

“I think that the people who shop on Etsy know that they’re getting a good product, a hand-made product,” she says. “I could almost see people walking into Target and … thinking, ‘Maybe somebody on Etsy has something cooler than that, something better than that.’”

Lichtenwalner thinks the website has encouraged crafters to create businesses out of their passions. Also encouraging? The cash register sound her Etsy app makes when she’s made a sale.