One of our favorite places to shop for almost any gift is Etsy. Etsy is filled with some of the most unique and beautiful handmade items available. However, in the thousands and thousands of shops on Etsy it can be hard to stand out. Space Rebel Studios does not have that issue! Our scrolling immediately stopped when we saw their llama earrings and we knew we had to find out more about this business.
Bobbi Heiman, owner of Space Rebel Studios, stands out just as strongly as her earrings do. We were immediately impressed with her balance of humility and confidence. This woman is going places and she knows it! Running a successful Etsy shop requires an incredible amount of hard work and desire to continually learn. Bobbi has both these things in excess. Her knowledge on the complicated technical side of staying at the top of the Etsy search pages is impressive while her constant drive to create is inspiring.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Germany and spent much of my childhood moving around (Army brat). I blame that for my tremendous affinity for traveling and adventure. I love different cultures, people, architecture, ancient things and the amazing array of creatures that walk or swim this Earth. I would love to travel like Henry Rollins or Josh Gates.
I love music, literature, art and science. I believe one of the keys to humanity is in the arts. Some of our greatest accomplishments, without discounting modern medicine and science of course, are the arts. Although I’ve always wanted to be my own boss and dream of one day opening a creative arts community center; I want to go back to school for environmental science and do something meaningful. I am very passionate about the environment and our planet.
I quit smoking on March 22, 2017. It really was one of the hardest things I’ve ever accomplished. It was woven into the fabric of my life for so long it was like losing a good friend. Doing the Inca Trail in Peru is a dream of mine and cigarettes stood in the way. You need good lungs, especially at those altitudes. My niece was also getting old enough to try and figure out what I was doing when I stepped out and saw me smoking. I had to be a better example.
I’ve spent the last 16 years working at a casino in Niagara Falls with a bunch of great people who are like extended family, although I’ve been out for the last six months for health reasons (returning very soon hopefully). My body had started to go haywire on me. I was checked for MS and found out a spot on my brain is a tumor. I was pretty freaked out. The good news is that it’s stable, not causing the symptoms and MS was ruled out. So grateful!
I was diagnosed Fibromyalgia, which I never even heard of until earlier this year. I’m in the process of trying to find a treatment I respond to and getting it under control. But, I am lucky. There are billions of people worse off than I and I am in American. I don’t live in fear of bombs destroying my house and becoming a refugee. I don’t have a terminal disease. I have great family and friends.
To distract myself from everything I just started putting my heart and soul into my Etsy shop and it has started to grow. I worked my way into the top 9 percent. I have a six year old niece that I adore named Chloe Magnolia. She is the reason I have my little business.
How did you get into your business?
It just kind of happened in a way. I didn’t plan on starting this business. Around the time I quit smoking we had bought my niece a couple sets of shrinky dinks. We had so much fun making them! But, she went through them so fast. I looked into finding an alternative material to make homemade ones. There was and I started to draw her things to color and shrink so we could make whatever we wanted.
I made some Winnie the Poohs and my significant other Bradd said they were so cute that there has got to be something I can do with them. I was like, “Who the hell would buy a shrinky dink and what would you do with one?” I looked online and there was a whole little world of shrink art and people were making jewelry with them.
A floodgate of ideas came, I couldn’t shut it off, the possibilities were endless! I started experimenting. I tried every material, technique and combination I could. I looked at a thousand shops on Etsy. Successful ones and ones that weren’t, trying to discern what made them special and what was hurting them. I noticed the ones I was drawn to the most had great branding. The other shops were still great but they didn’t showcase their work and do it justice. That’s what was hurting them. People are willing to take more of chance on something when it looks like a lot of time and effort was taken. It says quality, “This shop goes the extra mile, so their stuff is probably nicer.”
Then I started to put together a look for my shop (branding). When I got confident enough, I joined Etsy in September 2017. I thought it would be great if my shop took off and I could quit my job. But, realistically that is very rare and so I thought if I could make enough to be able to afford to travel, that would be a dream. It was slow…crickets. A few sales trickled in but around Thanksgiving and through Christmas I had made enough to pay for Christmas and come out of it not in the red. It was awesome.
From then on it would go in a travel fund. It slowed back down after Christmas.Then my health took a left turn and I poured all I could into my shop to distract myself. It had worked with the cigarettes. I dug into marketing, SEO (search engine optimization) and customer service skills. I’m still working on everything, always. There are so many wonderful shops on Etsy and I still have a long way to go but now I feel with hard work and determination that I got a shot at something real. I love being apart of the Etsy community and the customers are really great people who shop small and support small business.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I’d say my biggest challenge is not being discouraged and it can still pop up every now and then. Not everyone is going to like your stuff and that’s okay. Not everyone is going to root for you. But, they don’t have to. Some people don’t want others to succeed because it’s a reminder of what they could do, but haven’t. People will talk, make fun, laugh, not acknowledge and try to discredit you. It hurts, yes. It could even be family and friends and that really hurts because what they think means the most to you. Some of them can’t help it. Don’t react to it and remember it’s not really about you. It says more about them. Don’t let it discourage you, channel it to push harder.
Listen to the cheerleaders in your life. I have so many people root for me, it means the world to me and has really lifted me to do better. I can’t thank them enough. My one friend in particular, she’s a warrior. She battled and beat breast cancer recently. Her attitude and gratitude inspires me. Even in her downs she still holds others up. She helped me to continue to believe in myself, along with so many others. I am very grateful to them all.
What do you wish you’d known when you started?
How to network. Although I’ve served and have tended bar for much of my life, I am still somewhat of an introvert and hate asking anyone for anything. Self promotion is not my strong suit. I recoil away from it. Even doing this makes me cringe. That’s why I love Etsy, there is an element of anonymity and it’s comfortable.
I’m working on getting out of my comfort zone now. I’ll be doing an adorable community farmers market in Lockport and did an event with them called Locktoberfest recently. It’s ran by great people and everyone is so welcoming. It was a great experience. I’m open to trying more events and getting involved in more things.
If you could narrow your success down to one thing, what would it be?
I would say presentation. Branding. It shows that you’re giving 100 percent and that you take your work seriously. People are more likely to look and give you a shot if it looks like you put in the time and effort.
Where do you see yourself in a year?
Business wise: hoping to and working towards having a sustainable business with more knowledge, confidence, organization and networking skills. Maybe a website of my own. My items in brick and mortar shops would be really cool.
Personally: I hope to finally get to Peru and do the Inca Trail.
What are your top three tips for women starting a business?
1. Learn as much as you can, research until you’re exhausted and then do it some more. Know that you’ll never get to a place where you will know it all and have it nailed down and that it’s okay. Keep learning and keep growing.
2. Love what you do and be passionate about it. Gain a healthy obsession for it. I really love what I’m doing and hope it shows in my work. Set realistic goals though and let yourself be pleasantly surprised at times.
3.Know your competition in a healthy way. What can you do to set yourself apart from them and improve. What can you offer that they don’t. Not everyone has the same taste, so root for them too. Why? Iron sharpens iron and that’s just good karma. There is room for all. Be humble and stay authentic but stay confident.
What is a typical day like for you?
Time management is something I do need to work on. At the moment my day starts with coffee and then I head right into the studio, which used to be a spare bedroom. If I have any orders through the night I work on getting those done and out first. Any messages I try to respond to next. I’ll make stock if needed. I make and hand stamp all my packaging.
What I love is making and creating new things. So I spend a lot of time brainstorming and drawing up designs and working out different combinations of size and colors or manipulating images digitally. I also started learning some graphic arts and have been incorporating that into the shop as well. My earrings take about 12 to 14 steps to make depending on whether they are individually hand drawn or printed from designs. So I am always in various stages with those at all times too.
If I have new stuff to put up I spend time researching how to market it and what SEO to use so it will rank well on Etsy. Then I work on staging and photographing it which is key. I’ve been switching up and trying new things and seeing what works. Presentation makes a huge difference. Social media when I get to it. I have to force myself. Still working on that networking!
I lose all track of time in the studio most days. Sometimes I have to remember to eat. I love music and get to listen to music or podcasts and time flies. Putting on a YouTube video of a concert while I work is the best! I can spend up to 18 hours a day in here at times.
What is your business motto or quote you live by?
People much greater than me failed many times and they didn’t get there by giving up and not taking chances. I love the lyric from the late and great Gordon Downie of the ‘Tragically Hip’, “Armed with will and determination, And grace, too.”
If you were starting your business over again, what would you do differently?
To not let fear of the unknown hold you back. Don’t keep putting things off, it will hold you back and slow your progress. Take chances and if you fail, you will learn your lessons sooner, be able to grow from it and bounce back sooner. Yes, it is scary.
I wish I had the experience I had at Locktoberfest sooner but I was scared to fail because I had a bad experience and lost money on a artisan market that didn’t work out. It could of been amazing though if it had worked out. You gotta take chances or you’ll never know. I probably missed out on other great opportunities because I let that fear take hold of me for awhile.