From Etsy to Ravenswood: Taking a business offline

Insights from Jenny Beorkrem, Neighborly (Ravenswood)

Neighborly woman owned shop

Etsy is a powerful force for creative entrepreneurs, home to over 1.7 million sellers and 28.6 million buyers. One of the reasons we think it’s so powerful is that it’s dominated by women. Though women still only account for about a third of business owners, 86% of etsy sellers are women. And it’s not just a platform for selling goods, it’s a tool used to launch creative businesses. Almost half of the sellers on Etsy had never sold their goods before joining.

One of these creative entrepreneurs is Jenny Beorkrem, founder and owner of Neighborly.

When Jenny moved into her first apartment in the city, she immediately started searching for Chicago-related posters for her wall. She saw countless traditional neighborhood maps, but could not find the modern, geometric, and typographic styles she was looking for. “Being a graphic designer and knowing how to make something like that, I decided to try my hand at making what I was envisioning.”

neighborly woman owned business chicago

With a degree in graphic design, Jenny decided to sell the print she made to make a little extra money on the side. So she opened up her Etsy online shop. This was almost a decade ago, and Etsy, founded in 2005, was just starting to gain traction. But she accidentally chose the perfect time, holiday season. Bloggers were looking for material to write about, and people were looking for gifts to give. Her work sold like wildfire, and after the holidays she quit her job and launched her own website to sell her goods, Ork Posters.

Jenny was running her dream business, but she was working alone at home and her customers were just numbers on a website. She didn’t really know them. And she wanted to change that, so to get out and meet people, she decided to start selling at craft fairs: “That was when I started to realize how much I enjoyed being with the customers rather than all online.” Jenny’s instincts were on point: forming relationships with customers and listening to their opinions is not more enjoyable, but it’s statistically proven to make businesses more successful and profitable.

neighborly storefront

So just five years after creating her very first poster, Jenny decided to open up a physical shop: Neighborly. Now, on top of artwork, Neighborly offers home and kitchen products, stationery, kids’ toys and clothing, and of course, Chicago-themed goods. She prioritizes working with independent artists and vendors based in the midwest and stocks sustainable goods whenever possible. Jenny wants people to know exactly what they’re buying, and where it’s coming from: “A lot of our customers are buying gifts, so they want the person they’re giving the gift to to know that they picked this out especially for them and they were thinking about these things when they picked it out. Especially when the product is handmade, it’s innately more special to give as a gift.”

And at Neighborly, customers feel valued. The store is stocked based on what customers want to see: “Just having a conversation with people about what they’re looking for, because that’s all my original company was built on. … A customer might ask for a particular product, and maybe we find it and bring it in the store and it sells really well. Connecting with customers in that way is very very important.”

Jenny was able to use Etsy to test and validate her product idea, launching a business with low risk and then diving all in with confidence after her product started to sell. The evolution of Neighborly proves that a business can evolve across multiple platforms, from Etsy to craft fairs to brick and mortar, without losing its core identity.

"We simplify products down and look at their form as being beautiful, without adding ornateness or unnecessary aspects. It’s all about, how do we make this product both functional and beautiful?”

Isabel BenatarComment