Interview With Robyn Konkel Of Viva Le Chat Etsy Shop
My name is Robyn Konkel and I am the creator behind Viva le Chat’s Catnip Mice. I started my Etsy shop after adopting a cat from a shelter and finding out she had a major heart defect. My family named her “Viva” for “she lives” and, at the suggestion of a friend, we added “le Chat” so her name became “Long Live the Cat!” The surgery was projected to cost $2,000-4,000, so I started knitting catnip mice and selling them to help cover Viva’s vet bills. Unfortunately, Viva’s heart gave out a month before the cardiologist could see her. In her memory, I continue to operate my shop and I donate a third of my profits to imom.org, an organization that raises funds for family pets that need medical care the family can’t afford. It’s the perfect memorial–helping families who are in the shoes I had been in with Viva, and to give their pets a fighting chance at life.
Etsy Shop: Viva le Chat’s Catnip Mice
All answers copyright of Robyn Konkel.
1. How did you get interested in cats? How old were you when you had your first kitty?
My family adopted an orange tabby, aptly named Orange Guy, when I was 1 year old. I grew up with him, and he lived to the ripe old age of 20. He had a very strong personality (a “tough” guy), but was a perfect family cat—he even tolerated wearing several outfits (including a mini Dolly Parton wig and silky black lingerie). The first kitty that was distinctly “mine” was a small black cat with odd eyes (an orange one and a yellow-green one) named T.T. that, undoubtedly, chose me as her owner when I was 6. She started hanging around my parents’ house when she was a tiny kitten, and refused to leave until she became mine. She was my shadow for 17.5 years—whenever I was home, there was always a small black presence with glowing eyes watching me from nearby.
2. How did you discover Etsy? Did you consider other ways to sell your products?
A friend of mine began selling cards on Etsy a few months before I adopted Viva. She’s had great success with her shop (http://www.etsy.com/shop/kittykatkards), so I decided to see if it would work for me as well. As for other ways of selling, while I was raising funds for Viva’s surgery, my friends and family helped by setting up baskets of my mice at their workplaces.
3. Do you sell your products in a local store in your area?
The curator of an adorable shop called Bumble’s Dry Goods in Chelsea, Michigan approached me about selling my mice there. The shop specializes in American-made and Michigan-made goods. I have sold two large batches of mice to the store to be sold there.
4. Have you been successful at selling your products on Etsy? Have you always been successful, or did you end up getting a lot more traffic after being featured on a specific blog?
I feel very good about the success I have had on Etsy. I am approaching my second anniversary selling there, and I am very close to 300 sales! I started getting sales right away, when my shop was geared toward raising funds for Viva—it sure demonstrates the kind hearts and generosity of Etsy-folks! I had a few down weeks right after Viva’s passing, when I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue my shop.
As for blogs, I have been featured in blogs a handful of times, often by purchasers who were excited to show off how much their cats loved my mice. Being listed as a favorite on a popular kitty blog, like http://www.moderncat.net, is a huge help as well.
5. Do your customers ever give you new ideas for products?
Yes! At buyers’ requests, I have made a few modifications. Some people have requested empty mice so they could stuff the mice with their own home-grown catnip. Some have requested that their mice be stuffed with pillow-stuffing to give to a child, instead of catnip. And one requested that I make big rat-sized mice for her over-sized kitty. I have gladly fulfilled all of these requests as custom orders, but I continue to offer my one design ready to purchase in my shop.
6. Have you thought of featuring a Ragdoll cat is some way? (Had to ask.)
From time to time, I list mice that I model after cat breeds. I found the perfect yarn to make a Bengal mouse (modeled by my twin Bengals Yeti and ZZ), and I have made a black cat mouse (black with yellow eyes) and a tabby mouse (orange stripes) before. The closest to a Ragdoll I have done is a Siamese mouse—with a creamy body, blue eyes, and tan tips and tail.
7. Are you a one wo/man show?
One woman and two Bengal product testers. My sister’s grey tabby has been my longest-term employee—over the course of a few years, she received several “prototype” mice and helped me come up with an extremely durable pattern.
8. Do you have a blog?
I do not—unfortunately I don’t have the time right now.
9. Do you do custom ordering? Can someone return it if they don’t care for it?
I love custom orders! I am happy to fulfill specific color or sports-team requests, and am happy to work with buyers that have more unusual requests.
Unfortunately, given the nature of my product (the mice get coated with cat spit), I cannot accept returns after the mice have been removed from the plastic bag.
10. Can you share a story with us behind any of your products that you especially enjoyed working on? Maybe because of the story behind the kitty?
When my twin kittens were turning one year old, I knew exactly what they wanted for their birthday. My girl ZZ covets everything yellow (yellow mice, yellow tootsie rolls, yellow paper) and my boy Yeti seems partial to purple. I had made a yellow “party hat” mouse to celebrate Team EFA’s birthday a few months before, and my girl ZZ wanted that mouse SO BAD! I made ZZ a yellow mouse and Yeti a purple striped mouse, and they knew right away which mouse was meant for which cat. ZZ chomped on her yellow mouse within a second of me taking a picture. The sheer glee on Yeti’s face when he got his purple mouse was so priceless that I listed a replica mouse with his face as my main picture.