Since high school I’ve had a fascination with building miniatures, specifically dollhouses in 1:12 in scale (where one inch equals one foot on the original). I started building a dollhouse from a kit as a way to de-stress and escape family issues. As I began working on my first kit dollhouse, I used the internet to find tutorials and guides on how to add things like lighting, landscaping, hardwood floors, and other items you might find in an actual house. To my surprise, there is a bustling online community with forums where people can share ideas and provide insight to newcomers to the hobby. There are even professed dollhouse artisans who build dollhouses, furniture, and accessories and then sell these items online to others. Some will even take on complex commissions; I read one blog where an artist built a replica of a customer’s childhood home. Some of these pieces sell for over several thousand dollars.
Since my first kit house, I acquired a vintage kit dollhouse that mimics the style of a 1950’s Atomic Ranch house. This has become my most ambitious project; in an attempt to keep everything accurate to the style period the house belongs, I will either be building or commissioning custom pieces and accessories. Because of this, I’ve improved my skills and believe that I’m now good enough at constructing pieces to make my own dollhouses, furniture sets, and accessories to sell to others. My new dream involving my dollhouse hobby is to run my own business where I can take commissions as well as build some stock items to sell to people across the country.
What Others Have Done
Many other dollhouse hobbyists have achieved a similar goal. My dream came from spending hours combing the internet, reading people’s blogs to observe the progress as well as navigating through their online stores where they sell handmade custom dollhouses, furniture, light fixtures, dolls, and accessories. Surprisingly, there is quite a market for these items; many customers are people who have recently begun the hobby but don’t have the time, motivation, or skill to pursue a complex project on their own.
One example of some who has made a success of this type of dream is Brae from Otterine.com Blog. Brae manages both an active blog and an online store through the online handmade goods marketplace Etsy. On her blog, Brae posts regular updates about her current projects (tons of photos included!) and she also writes tutorials on how she completes portions of her projects. I’ve learned tons of things from her, such as laying hardwoord floors and running wires for lighting. I also find her projects to be very inspiring; many followers have commented that they have a hard time determining her photographs are of a scale model and not the real thing!
Another great example is the Modern Mini House blog (the name of the author is unknown). The owner of this blog goes above and beyond just chronicling the progress of her projects (she currently isn’t working on any). She writes a lot about new dollhouse kits available, new artists who are taking commissions and events where dollhouses are sold to benefit a variety of charities. This is the blog where I get a lot of my dollhouse community news. The author also manages a small store with furniture and accessories made from molded and polished plastic.
All in all, the plethora of dollhouse blogs and online stores tells me that it is completely possible to accomplish my dream. The only thing left for me to do is find a niche in the dollhouse market to set me apart and I need to advertise my unique style so that potential customers will be interested in my work.
One of the biggest potential barriers when starting a business is creating a storefront to attract customers to the product. Luckily for me and many other miniature enthusiasts, the internet now provides multiple opportunities for selling items online.
Another potential barrier is finding the space to store and build my items. This is an issue for many online stores, since they don’t require a physical storefront which would normally include storage space.
I have two major options when considering what company I want to use as my online storefront. The first is Etsy, an online marketplace that allows users to advertise and sell handmade, vintage, or unique items. Many artists use this as their online storefront, and Etsy has received quite a few positive reviews. Etsy also gives the user access to a support community where he or she can communicate with other buyers and sellers to share ideas. Users who wish to sell items on Etsy must provide a valid credit or debit card. Users are charged $0.20 per item listing, which last 4 months or until the item is sold. When a transaction does occur, Etsy collects a 3.5% fee based on the item’s price.
Another option is to sell my items on eBay by opening my own “store”. The cost for this depends on the store level I choose (which is dependent on how many items I think I will be posting and selling). Since I’m just starting out, I think it makes sense to begin with a small store to keep costs low. This means I would go with a “basic” level store, which costs $15.95 a month. Once I’ve opened my store, I can choose to post my items as auctions or as fixed-priced items. If I choose to post my items as auctions, eBay charges an insertion price based on the item starting price or reserve price (the minimum I can set that people have to bid to before the item actually sells). If the item sells, eBay takes a percentage of the closing price. If I choose to post my items at a fixed price, I am charged a fee depending on the level of store I have, and then eBay also take a percentage of the selling price once the item sells (this percentage is dependent on the type and price of the item).
Outlined below is my current budget each month. My wages vary depending on whether I am enrolled at school or on break ($400 a month during the school year and $1800 a month during the summer months). Therefore, I averaged my wages for the entire year and used that in the budget spreadsheet. All of my tuition is paid for through scholarships and college fund investments. I don’t owe any money on my car and auto insurance is paid for by my parents to minimize my expenses. All other expenses are self-explanatory. According to the spreadsheet, I have $1,124 available each month for spending on other ventures along with $3000 in a savings account.
The expenses and estimated income generated from this venture were calculated on the basis of selling 10 items per month. To start out, I would only be building furniture and small accessories for customers; I would not be taking any commissions to build complete dollhouses. USPS currently gives customers priority mail flat rate boxes for free along with free tracking number labels. It costs $5.05 per package to send these boxes via the online website. The materials required to build the furniture were estimated; I won’t know the actual amount I am spending until I’ve been doing this for a couple of months. Because online marketplaces let you transfer the cost of shipping to the customer, I did not include the shipping rates in calculating what my net income from this venture would be.
Based on what I’ve calculated above, using the Etsy marketplace is the best option until I’ve gained some experience and have a larger customer base with a bigger demand for my product. Eventually, when I am building dollhouses on commission, I will need to find a different method of shipping (especially something with insurance).