Etsy: Arts and Crafts On Demand

Brooklyn-based Etsy, founded in 2005, allows people to buy and sell arts, crafts and vintage goods without the expense of a middleman.

More than 1.5 million sellers actively used the site in 2015, attracting more than 24 million buyers.

Audrey Boobar of Lexington has been selling her artwork and crafts on Etsy since 2012.  She specializes in Christmas ornaments, which she tailors to the local Lexington colleges.

Boobar enjoys using Etsy more than traditional methods for artists, such as selling in a store or a gallery.  One advantage is Etsy’s pricing structure.

“A store normally wants to take 50 percent of whatever the price is, but Etsy is only like five percent, so you retain more,” Boobar said.

Boobar says that she uses social media to help promote her shop, something that Etsy encourages its sellers to do.

Unlike Uber and Airbnb, two giants in the sharing economy that are still privately owned, Etsy is a public company whose stock trades on NASDAQ.

The company went public in April 2015 and the price of its shares nearly doubled in its first day of trading, closing at $30.   But the stock has fallen steeply since then and now trades for about $8.50 a share.

In 2015, Etsy reported annual revenue of $273 million and a $54 million loss, but the company’s business could be moving toward the black.

On May 3, the company reported a 40 percent jump in revenue and its first quarterly profit since going public. And Etsy’s stock price jumped five percent.


Blue Bikes: When the sharing economy gets tested

The sharing economy arrived at Washington and Lee University in 2012 thanks to 1981 alumnus Jamie Small.

Small, who works in the energy industry in Midland, Texas, endowed the Blue Bike program with about a $15,000 grant, which provides 40 blue bikes that students and faculty can take from bike racks around campus, and then leave at their destinations for other students to use.

An additional 20 bikes are available for students and faculty to rent for free for up to a semester.

“I saw kids driving from Davidson Park to the parking deck,” Small said, “and I thought that was stupid.  Why not use a bike?”

Rolf Piranian, an associate physical education professor, retired men’s soccer coach, and alum of W&L, volunteers with the blue bike program, which is run by the university’s campus recreation organization, the Outing Club.

Washington and Lee University provides 60 "Blue Bikes," free bikes that are shared in the Lexington community.

Washington and Lee provides 60 “Blue Bikes,” free bikes that are shared within the university community.

“I’m a big bike believer, and when I was a sophomore at W&L I lived off campus and biked,” Piranian said, “I believe that bikes have an important role in society today.”

But, he said there are valid concerns about the abuse of the free program.

“I see the bikes all over town, and we get calls about picking them up in strange places, but they end up back here,” Piranian said.

Out of the initial 60 bikes, 55 still remain, and the endowed program might purchase replacement bikes before the start of the next school year, Piranian said.

The original 60 bikes came in parts, Piranian said, and it took the blue bike team, comprised mainly of volunteers and student workers, a couple of months to assemble them.

Piranian believes the W&L honor system has enabled the program to succeed; he doesn’t believe a free bike program would work at many other schools. The 40 shared blue bikes are not locked on racks.

Going forward, he said he hopes the program will expand and that blue bikers will take good care of the bikes.

“With the free bikes, we just hope people will use them in the community and treat them with respect,” Piranian said.