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Etsy helps build a family business

By Julia Carpenter, Special to CNN
August 12, 2013 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
After being laid off from their construction jobs, <a href='http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1006727'>Heather and Mike von Quilich</a> found inspiration through Etsy and Heather's love of crafting. After being laid off from their construction jobs, Heather and Mike von Quilich found inspiration through Etsy and Heather's love of crafting.
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From a daydream to a family business
From a daydream to a family business
From a daydream to a family business
From a daydream to a family business
From a daydream to a family business
From a daydream to a family business
From a daydream to a family business
From a daydream to a family business
From a daydream to a family business
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Heather von Quilich opened an Etsy store after she was laid off
  • Sunshine Daydream offers customized embroidered hats, stockings and baby clothes
  • Her husband joined after he was laid off, making the business their sole source of income
  • Michael von Quilich: "We're not ... going to buy a Lear jet but we can support ourselves"

Editor's note: This story is part of CNN's American Journey series, showing how people have turned hobbies into jobs. Have you transformed your passion into profits? Share your story with CNN iReport, and you could be featured in a CNN story.

(CNN) -- Heather and Michael von Quilich are still adjusting to life without a regular payday.

They are makers of customized holiday stockings, party hats and baby bibs, and their profits come in large waves at Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas.

The periodic booms allow them to live off smaller orders the rest of the year, a huge change of pace from their previous jobs in the California construction industry.

"You get into that mindset of 'go, go, go' all the time," said Michael, 42. "When Jack our son was first born, I feel like his first five years were on fast-forward."

They were making good money, but something was missing. Heather, 40, was the first to press the pause button, albeit suddenly and involuntarily. She was laid off from her job as an office manager for a home builder in late 2009. Amid the job hunt, she threw herself into crafting as a hobby, and a new career path began to emerge.

When friends encouraged her to sell her personalized and embroidered party hats, stockings and baby bibs on Etsy, she figured it was worth a shot. She named the store Sunshine Daydream after a Grateful Dead song in honor of the band. She set up the Etsy store and continued looking for other jobs.

"Why don't I do something I love and make it work?" she figured.

As Heather began putting more effort into the website photos and product descriptions, her husband complained about piles of fabric and supplies cluttering the house. Then in 2010, Michael lost his job as vice president of operations for a home builder and joined Sunshine Daydream as operations manager.

Heather's hobby became the family's sole source of income.

Over the past three years, the von Quiliches have ridden the crest of the online shopping movement that has taken their idea from daydream to successful business. Sunshine Daydream is fortified with 1,883 reviews, 438 "followers" and a 99% positive approval rate from buyers.

"We're not talking like we're going to buy a Lear jet," Michael said. "But we can support ourselves."

Listening for 'cha-ching'

It all started with a ladybug hat.

For daughter Natalie's first birthday in 2010, Heather brainstormed a whimsical ladybug party hat fashioned out of red and black fabric with "Natalie" embroidered in curly font.

She posted it on Etsy and soon enough, she started receiving requests.

In the months leading up to Thanksgiving 2010, Heather branched out into holiday products by offering sets of eight Christmas stockings personalized in Sunshine Daydream's signature style of bright colors, fun font and personalized embroidering, at $10 a stocking on Etsy.

From there, sales exploded.

During the busy 2011 holiday season, relatives from both sides of the family crowded into the von Quilich living room to sew, embroider and help out however they could. The couple finally realized things were getting serious, and after the holiday season, they purchased four large industrial sewing machines.

The investment paid off, and now they don't need the free labor. In 2012, Michael estimates Sunshine Daydream earned 25% more than the couple pulled in during their best years working other jobs.

They mark progress with alerts from the Etsy app on Heather's phone. Every time Sunshine Daydream makes a sale, a cash register sound rings from her phone. Heather admits she gets nervous if a few hours go by without a new "cha-ching."

In 2012, the phone "cha-chinged" every day but Christmas, they say.

"Now, this business is overwhelming our house," Heather said.

Stacks of fabric line the hallway, potential samples are tacked on walls and pom-poms, ribbon and other materials spill out of a small workroom.

Building a fan base

Heather says she values the creative freedom the new gig allows her. What was once an outlet for stress smushed into an hour or so of a hectic day is now her sole professional responsibility.

"I like to paint my world with color and with fabric," she says. "Having this job allows me to do that every day."

And they've built a loyal following on Etsy that they both say is invaluable to their success.

In the early days of the Etsy store, Heather says one woman e-mailed her a thank-you note, with pictures of the handmade stockings and a heartfelt description of how much she appreciated the care and detail.

"It brought tears to my eyes," Heather says. "That gives me such a good feeling, that I'm responsible for adding to these family memories."

With the majority of orders coming from outside of California, the couple is even considering moving to Florida to be closer to customers in the Southeast so they can cut down on shipping costs.

Most importantly, that "fast-forward" button is finally off and they have more time to spend with their children. And, wherever they go, the cash register ring reminds them Sunshine Daydream is alive and well.

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It happens in funny moments, such as the time they went to buy a pickup to carry their son's go-karts, Michael recalled.

"The guy said, 'How do you plan to pay for this?'

"And then her phone made that cash register noise."

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