Local artisan's business booms with online sales

Posted December 21, 2018 8:46 a.m. EST
Updated January 9, 2019 3:20 p.m. EST

Mary Elizabeth says her Cardinal pieces are her signature pieces for the holiday season

— The two words "struggling" and "artist" often go together. Now artists are finding more art-loving customers online.

Chapel Hill artist Mary Elizabeth has paint in her blood.

"I just can't stop," she said. "If I made money at this or not, I would paint regardless."

Mary Elizabeth

Elizabeth does have an entrepreneurial side to her. Twelve years ago, she started listing her painted glasses, ornaments, mugs and dishes on her own online sales site, Mary Elizabeth Arts.

The natural surrounding of the family farm land on which her family lives is the inspiration for her creations. The flora and fauna appear in vibrant colors.

"These are ferns I collected from my garden," Elizabeth said, holding up a fern adorned pitcher.

Leaf Mug and Fern Pitcher

A large dinner plate features a beautiful golden rod. Fiery orange and red autumn leaves grace other plates.

"These are all food-safe kiln-fired," she said.

The holiday season means a demand for Christmas colors, especially red.

"I do lots of cardinals," Elizabeth said. "It's sort of my signature for the holidays."

Cardinal on Wine Glass

In addition to her own website, Elizabeth added her listings on the artisan sales site Etsy. Three years ago she found an even larger customer base on Amazon Handmade.

"Amazon Handmade has really transformed my business," she said.

Amazon says that more than 24,500 North Carolina small and medium sized businesses sell their items to Amazon customers around the world. The company estimates small and medium sized businesses selling through their site have created more than 900,000 jobs worldwide.

As an example of Amazon's impact on her business, Elizabeth says she used to paint pieces per order and shipped them out herself once the paint dried.

"I now do all of my Christmas work in the summer time — package it all at once and ship it to Amazon's fulfillment center," Elizabeth said.

Amazon picks, packs and ships orders for her as well as handle customer service. Elizabeth says her Amazon customers get their orders within two days. The company charges no startup or monthly fees. Artisans pay a 15 percent referral fee when they make a sale.

Since starting with Amazon Handmade, Elizabeth's profits have soared, "an average of 30 percent growth every year," she said.

Her holiday work at this late point in the Christmas season is for personalized orders for customers who order from her own website.

Elizabeth's focus is and always will be on the art, she said.

"The trick is to do what I love, and if it makes me happy, then it's going to make other people happy, and that's what it's all about," she said.