A look back on my first official keyboard store
It has been over half a year since I assembled and delivered my last ergonomic keyboard for ergoboards, my ergonomic keyboard store on Etsy. I have recently sold the remainder of my supply as well as my soldering equipment, and I feel this post will offer a last bit of closure for my store.
There are a few reasons why I closed my store, but time was the primary factor. There are many overlooked tasks to running a store, such as replying to customer messages or preparing each board. For reference, a Corne/Corne LP with front and back LEDs and OLED screens would take me just under two hours to solder. Installing, testing, then removing 42 switches would take me about fifteen minutes, after which I would spend another ten minutes assembling the case and packaging the board.
Setting up and cleaning up also took time. Because I operated the entire business - soldering to shipping - out of a single room, I had to keep my small workstation clean and organized. The most convenient place for my electronics desk was against a windowless wall, so I had to route my fume extractor’s DIY HVAC tube across the room out the semi-blocked window, a process most cumbersome and dreaded.
My time management and scheduling is still a work-in-progress, but it was very poor when the store was running. There were times where I would stay up until the morning hours just to finish an order. This would further perpetuate my disorganized “schedule” and add an understandable amount of stress. Regardless, I improved my time management towards the end of the store’s operation.
Almost all of my parts came from Aliexpress, and it was a mixed bag. Most of what I recieved was accurate, but I struggled with the Pro Micro microcontrollers. I opted for USB-C Pro Micros for the Corne LP, and the first couple shipments I recieved were usable; although the PCB was longer than a standard Pro Micro or Elite-C, the unit fit with my 3D-printed case. Towards the end, however, the supplier changed designs and shipped an even longer PCB that was unlikely to fit my 3D-printed case. I contacted the seller about this issue, and while they did offer a small refund and shipped me more (of the incompatible revision), there was a noticeable language barrier and I was unable to receive more of the pre-changed product.
I also had some issues with PCBs. The microcontroller holes on some of the Chocofi PCBs I ordered were not large enough to fit the Mill-max socket, and I believe this to be a QC issue and not a flawed design. Some PCBs may have been DOA, as the microcontroller would flash and detect when unplugged from the board but would not function when socketed to the PCB. While there is a possibility that I made a mistake while soldering, I was unable to find any bridged connections, burned pads or scratched traces.
Also, JLC’s post-purchase upcharges were frustrating and inconsistent.
One word of caution to aspiring sellers - manage your stock and do not overorder. It’s hard to get exact quantities, and it may sometimes feel as though you’re “saving money” by ordering a larger quantity for less cost per unit, but unless you actually use those units, you’re losing money.
Etsy - The good
Promotion, reach, growth
I had a hard time believing that Etsy (trendy homemade crafts shop) of all places was the ideal place to sell niche ergonomic keyboards, but it actually worked out really well in my favor. I’m not sure how exactly I came about the idea, but it was a mix of recommendation and my own searching. I had first considered WooCommerce, but I wouldn’t touch Wordpress with a ten-foot pole. BigCartel and Shopify were alterate options, each with their own strenghts and weaknesses, but in the end, Etsy appeared to be the best fit.
I thought that Etsy would offer sufficient promotion and share my products across the massive platform. At the time, I felt that r/mechmarket was geared more towards enthusiasts looking to try new boards for a good price, and the only profit I saw was from collectibles. Additionally, r/mk has grown so big and changed so much over the years that I felt advertising a niche for-profit ergonomic keyboard store may not have been received well. I have no clue why I didn’t make any post on r/ergomk.
I am still shocked that my listings received over 15,000 views, my store receiving over 12,000 visits too. My first four orders came only two weeks after creating my listings, and right from the start I saw the potential this platform had to offer. I spent a small amount on monthly advertisements which further increased my store’s recognition.
I am genuinely thankful for each and every customer who ordered from my store, and I hope my thank-you note and inclusion of two Hi-chews reflected that. I enjoyed answering questions, providing recommendations and creating custom orders. I can speak for most of the keyboard stores on Etsy when I say that this work is fueled by a passion for input devices and not just for a profit. I really appreciated conversing with customers, and the positive feedback from those happy with the product I created (and partially designed) pushed me to keep the store open for longer than I had originally planned.
A business is nothing without its customers. Treat them well, be patient and understanding, and offer them support after the sale. It makes a noticeable difference.
Etsy - The bad
The algorithm is great until you’ve fallen too far from it. When I experienced a lull in my supply shipments (had to change up the product line since the Corne LP was far more popular than the Corne MX), I decided to stop taking preorders and deactived all of my listings. Looking at the graph below, I’ll let you guess in which month this took place:
My store was never able to gain the popularity it once had after only a couple weeks out of the algorithm. This may have had something to do with me cutting options from my shop, but my one offering (Corne LP) received more wishlists/“in-cart” than either color of the Corne MX.
I summed up my thoughts on this in a different post. If I had been more prepared and had a separate bank account for my Etsy, this would be much less of an issue. My store was never suspended and I am no longer prompted to verify with Plaid, so maybe the original post requires another update.
Overall, I am very thankful for the experience I had with ergoboards, but I’m happy moving on from it. I may add to this post as I think of other aspects to reflect on. While I do have more ideas for Etsy, none of them are keyboard-related and none of them are being actively developed. It may be fun to return one day under a different store name, or to start fresh on a different platform, but I think I’m ready to retire the ergoboards brand.
If you were a customer, thank you very much for your support in my venture. I offer a general yet sincere thank-you to all the knowledgeable and passionate keyboard enthusiasts who helped me discover and learn from this hobby. I am also incredibly grateful for Ookami’s top-notch 3D-printing and the gracious sharing of his 3D-printed Corne MX design.
Thank you all.