How sellers are "living the dream" through Etsy

Etsy's winning products
Etsy's winning products 04:54

On the online marketplace Etsy, entrepreneurs can sell anything to anyone. Close to two million makers and sellers already swear by the website’s reach, but Etsy wanted to take it a step further, giving their sellers a chance to pitch their products directly to major retailers, reports CBS News correspondent Vinita Nair.

From a keepsake for the top of your cake to outfits for the bottom of your baby, the Brooklyn offices of Etsy were jam-packed with handmade design. Some ideas were so thoughtful, they made you stop and smile -- some so intricate you wondered how they were made.

Thomas Houha’s 3D designs  CBS News

Thomas Houha’s 3-D home decorations are among them. Houha works with his partner, Patty, to create them.

“I’m kind of a nerd, and so I like little decorative objects,” Houha said.

Houha’s been selling on Etsy for about three years after quitting his job as an architect.

“So I’m doing this full-time now, and I’m kind of throwing all of my eggs in one basket and just going for it,” Houha said.

Houha came to the Brooklyn office to get a major retailer interested in his brand. He applied with 1,400 applicants, which Etsy whittled down to the 36 pitching their products.

Caitlin McClain said she’s pitched her products at trade shows before, but nothing quite like this. 

“It went great. It’s nerve-racking,” McClain said. “To hear them say, ‘This is what our customers are looking for. This is what sells for us,’ that’s gold to me because we can turn that into items that do well for both of us.”

McClain had tried reaching out to other larger brands herself, but she said, “it’s harder to get a name of a decision-maker.”

The decision-makers at the Brooklyn office came from six different stores, including Macy’s, Paper Source, Giggle and HGTV magazine. Each vendor had to show they were ready for mass production and to get their products into stores by the holidays.

Amy Mescal -- who’s been a buyer for Whole Foods for about four years -- said she knows what the shoppers look for.

“Why did Whole Foods want to be in a partnership with a traditionally crafts website?” Nair asked.

“Because it’s crafts, because it’s our customers. Our customers are crafty, they’re artsy. They are the chefs, and they’re the homemakers, and they’re experimenting with all these things,” Mescal said. 

Despite its humble beginnings in 2005, Etsy attracts an audience of more than 26 million. Annually, the website generates more than $2 billion in sales.

Diana Mauriello, senior director of Etsy Wholesale, said the idea for the open call came directly from the vendors. 

Thomas Houha’s design CBS News

“So I heard from our sellers that they really had all these aspirational retailers that they wanted us to sell to, but it was confusing how they would go about doing that,” Mauriello said. “So we wanted to create an event where the sellers could meet the buyers who worked at that retail store directly, form personal connections, learn from one another and create opportunities to purchase.”

After a full day of pitches, the retailers deliberated. 

“Any disagreements during your deliberation for who to pick?” Nair asked.

“There’s always some. We all have lots of opinions and we have our own styles,” Mescal said.

An hour later, the verdict was in. Each retail team had to pick at least one vendor and give them a golden purchase offer. Houha got two. 

“What is the lesson in your story that any retailer, any person who has an idea, could take away?” Nair asked. 

“I think the lesson’s very simple. You get clear with what you love to do. And if you can make that the way you earn a living you’ll be successful,” Houha said. “So to me, to make this a full-time job is totally living the dream.”