By Hailey Mensik
Most mornings after Shannon Clark gets her children ready for school and takes her youngest to day care, she comes home and gets right back to work.
Inside her Gilbert home, her office is just a tiny room filled with strange-looking industrial equipment – she has a laser engraving machine, metal stamping machine and walls donning shiny silver chains, pendants, crystals and anything else she could need to fulfill her customers’ requests.
Her company, “Branded Heart,” sells custom handmade jewelry, sometimes engraved with a favorite quote or loved one’s name per customer request. What started as a creative pastime took off as a growing online business and she continues creating and selling the pieces through the handmade section on Amazon.
Today, more than 50 percent of items sold on Amazon come from individuals and small businesses from every state in the U.S. and more than 170 countries around the world.
Other artisans in Arizona have also taken to the online platform for their businesses, with many rejecting the need for a physical storefront as the online retail industry swells, putting many traditional retailers out of business.
Despite online competitor Etsy’s focus on handmade items, Clark says Amazon reaches a much larger customer base that’s helped her company expand since she started in 2011.
After the birth of her third child, Clark wanted a personalized piece of jewelry as a keepsake. Instead of simply purchasing one for Mother’s Day, her husband, Sean Clark, bought her a sanding set and she taught herself to hand-sand jewelry.
Reluctantly, she posted her first piece on Etsy and watched requests flood in for more engraved pieces from buyers in just a week.
“I kind of thought it would start out as a hobby, you know, maybe I’d make $100 a year,” Clark said. “But after the first week it was blowing up.”
It’s now her full-time job, and with Amazon as a platform, she ships to customers all over the globe.
“I ship to the U.K., Canada, Australia, Singapore,” she said. “But I do receive a lot from the Phoenix area.”
As a mother of four, the ability to work entirely from home enables her to stay close to her family and maintain a flexible schedule – reflective of the brand itself, rooted in cherishing memories and loved ones.
“First and foremost, I’m a mom,” she said.
At ages 10, 7, 5, and 1, her four children help her implement new trends in her business.
“My kids kind of keep me in the loop with what’s going on,” she said.
One such trend is engraving personal handwriting on pieces, which she does with her laser-engraving machine, adding meaningful detail to her memorial pieces.
She is able to design the writing on a computer and transfer it to the machine, which does the engraving for her.
On the site, customers choose a piece and list what they want it to say. Once Clark receives the order, she gets right to work designing and creating the piece and is able to contact them online with any questions that arise.
As noted on her Amazon site, she ships in five to seven days, but often can do it sooner.
“I know a lot of my pieces are memorial pieces and they mean a lot to people so I try to get those out to the person pretty quickly,” she said. “I do it all by hand, but I sometimes can do it in one day.”
Currently, Clark uses Amazon just as a platform for customers to purchase her items. She receives the orders, designs and creates the pieces, and packages and ships them off herself.
Her next goal is to use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) , a service allowing merchants to sell online but to store their products in Amazon’s fulfillment centers so Amazon can pack and ship a seller’s products.
With FBA, sellers outsource customer service to the online retailer and its staff, allowing them to focus on making quality pieces. Amazon ships the products directly to customers and offers Amazon Prime benefits such as free shipping and fast delivery – within one day, on many occasions.
In 2016, sellers worldwide using the FBA service grew more than 70 percent.
Because Clark’s pieces are unique, with a relative’s name or special quote engraved, to use FBA she would create about 20 top-selling, more generic pieces for Amazon to store, but continue taking special requests and shipping those pieces herself.
Clark’s lifestyle and ability to work from home attracts others to the online handmade market.
For anyone wishing to enter the online retail industry, Clark’s hesitant first sell is an example of the platforms’ potential.
“I never knew it would become what it is today,” she said. “So if you enjoy doing it, list it online because you’ll never know where it will take you. You’d be surprised.”