Amazon comes to Mystic to recruit artisan sellers

In this Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, photo, a clerk reaches to a shelf to pick an item for a customer order at the Amazon Prime warehouse in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
In this Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, photo, a clerk reaches to a shelf to pick an item for a customer order at the Amazon Prime warehouse in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Mystic — Since they started selling their beeswax products on Amazon Handmade 18 months ago, Southbury residents Scott and Krista Priore have sold to customers in all 50 states, and even to a U.S. military base in Japan.

Scott is a packaging engineer and Krista works for PepsiCo, and the husband-and-wife team founded Little Bee of Connecticut as a hobby on the side.

"We found the process super simple, as far as the setup," Scott said of Amazon Handmade, an online marketplace for artisans that launched in 2015. "The tools and the process they have online, it really supports a small business."

In October, the Priores joined Fulfillment by Amazon, paying more to get logistical support from Amazon, with the benefit of being able to sell their products on Amazon Prime. Sales jumped, and they stayed up even beyond the holidays.

They were introduced to Handmade by Mystic Knotwork owner Matt Beaudoin, who was the catalyst for an event that Allie Caldwell, category manager for Handmade, held at The Whaler's Inn on Monday.

It included a presentation, Q&A and 15-minute one-on-one slots for artisans to be approved on the spot to sell on Amazon Handmade.

More than a dozen artisans signed up for these one-on-ones. Most – if not all – of them are part of The Nutmeg Collective, an organization that has more than 80 members and bills itself as "Connecticut's chamber of commerce for creatives."

Mystic Knotwork is a member, and a few months back, Beaudoin responded to an email about Fulfillment by Amazon with, "Sounds like something we should talk about face to face."

To Beaudoin's surprise, Caldwell responded almost immediately and said they could meet on Dec. 20, during her one-day layover between London and Seattle. They did, and this led to the event in Mystic.

Caldwell travels a lot trying to recruit potential Amazon Handmade sellers. She was recently at NY NOW, a twice-yearly market for home and lifestyle products, and she will soon be off to Atlanta and Baltimore for American Craft Council shows.

Caldwell said Monday was her first event in a small town.

She said that Amazon launched Handmade in 2015 because the company noticed a lot of small businesses in the marketplace, and "Amazon just really wants to have one of everything."

In 2017, Handmade launched the categories of apparel and shoes, pets and wedding. Unlike Etsy, Amazon Handmade has a mandatory application process for its sellers.

Amazon keeps 15 percent of every sale but does not have listing fees, and the $39.99-per-month fee that is typical for other sellers is waived for Amazon Handmade sellers through at least 2018. Sellers set prices, and there is no minimum inventory level.

Caldwell repeatedly stressed the benefits of signing up for Fulfillment by Amazon. This means a seller sends inventory to a fulfillment center somewhere in the country – based on an algorithm for demand – and Amazon completes two-day free shipping for Amazon Prime orders.

The fee for FBA varies because it is on a per-unit, per-weight basis, Caldwell said. The seller gets increased visibility, as many Prime users search only for products that are Prime-eligible.

Caldwell could not give specific numbers on the number of Amazon Handmade sellers or the number of Handmade employees, but she said the team is small. Beaudoin commented that when he calls customer service, he often speaks with the same person.

Customers can find Amazon Handmade products by searching for a specific maker on Amazon or by going to amazon.com/handmade.

Kay Pere said she came to the event Monday because she's always looking for alternative ways to get her work out there. Pere sells pottery through her Mystic-based business Sacred Shards, and she noted that schlepping heavy pottery to art fairs and markets can be difficult.

Norwalk resident Heather Devin was approved to sell on Amazon Handmade a year and a half ago, but she has yet to post swimwear and apparel from her line Quonnie Kids. The presentation made her "definitely more likely" to start selling on Amazon Handmade, and she was impressed with the ability to form a human connection at the retail giant.

"Having someone just to be able to contact if you have any questions is amazing," she said incredulously, "like at Amazon, are you fricking kidding me?"

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