Lifestyle 10 April 2017
A cutting edge business plan in today’s crowded marketplace must be more than simply spreadsheets, quarterly growth and profit margins. True success is measured by collectively using every avenue available for growing a vibrant community of customers, suppliers, distributors and artisans, and committing to a corporate culture of trust, quality and compassion. When I found Nashelle Jewelry and learned of their long-standing track record of doing all the right things, I fell in love.
As the new managing partner for Nashelle Jewelry, I firmly embrace the company’s signature mission of donating one plate of food for every piece of jewelry sold. I strongly believe that all responsible business entities have a unique calling to give back to our society in a tangible and meaningful way. Our company has a targeted legacy of providing those in need with nutritional help through a variety of nonprofit, neighborhood-based programs including Feeding America and NeighborImpact.
When Heather, my friend and business partner, first started Nashelle Jewelry in 1999, her goal was to use her talent simply to make enough money to support herself and her children. She wrapped jewelry in her living room, marketed at local festivals and was an iconic presence at a makeshift table with a handmade sign in the town square of Bend, Oregon. Word quickly spread throughout the region about her beautiful creations and enamored shoppers stood in line to purchase her newest designs. Often, a local bride would have Heather design a unique necklace to perfectly complement the theme, dress and style for her wedding day.
Not surprisingly, given Heather’s talent and popularity in her hometown, word spread through the Northwest about this budding, young jewelry designer, and over the past 17 years, she has been featured in major publications such as Vogue, Glamor and Cosmopolitan. Her stunning creations have graced the runways of major fashion weeks and star-studded award ceremonies across the globe and are carried in thousands of independent retailers and specialty boutiques. Heather’s keen eye for beauty grew a very successful business in a very competitive marketplace.
In tandem with Nashelle’s increasing popularity and profits, Heather made a heartfelt and courageous decision that she wanted to share her company’s success with children and families in need of the very basics of life. As a woman, a mother and an entrepreneur, she deftly focused on the needs of low-income families and banked in karma the knowing smiles of her children as they learned by her example with every dollar she passed along.
While Heather was busy creating Nashelle Jewelry, I was working on growing my own companies in a variety of industries, including retail sales of children’s clothes, a restaurant, a rapid delivery shipping company and investment real estate. My favorite business ventures are those where I have the opportunity to form connections with passionate, creative, smart entrepreneurs with crystal clear visions of what they want their business to become. It’s a unique personal bonus when I have a piece of the marketing puzzle from my own past experiences coupled with the financial resources to be able to help extraordinary people achieve their goals.
Nashelle Jewelry came to my attention in 2014 through social media after I recognized and respected many of the people who were commenting on, liking and promoting this unique brand. Surprisingly, I learned that Heather was also a product of Juneau, Alaska, and we had even attended the same high school. It’s fun to follow and celebrate success stories from your “homies,” and I was immediately drawn to Nashelle’s no-frills mission of giving back. I contacted her and congratulated her on the success of her brand, letting her know that if she were ever looking for investors, I would like to explore that opportunity.
We started following each other through social media, discovering that we both were newly married with large families. (We have 11 kids between the two of us!) It was fun to keep up with the posted adventures of our two families, and I stayed keenly aware of Nashelle’s progress.
By 2016, Nashelle found ever greater success in worldwide markets and was filling more plates of food than Heather had ever dreamed of, but growth offers new and often unforeseen challenges. Heather reached out to me last December during a stressful Christmas season and told me that she was ready to talk about taking on investors to help manage the remarkable growth of the business.
My husband and I journeyed to Bend just after Christmas and met Heather and her family for the first time. I immediately knew that she was the exact person with whom I wanted to be in business. Most impressive was her dedication to the mission of donating “one plate of food for every piece of jewelry sold,” which was fulfilled even during times when she wasn’t able to take a paycheck for herself. That sacrifice was one of many she made to maintain the integrity of her business culture during the 17 years of growing her brand.
When we first sat down to discuss the vision for the future of Nashelle, we immediately agreed that growth and profits, while critically important, are secondary to promoting the charitable mission on which Nashelle was built. In early 2017, Heather and I decided to write the next chapter of Nashelle as a partnership, and we are diving headfirst into our respective roles. Heather is, and always will be, the designing force and creative director behind the brand. I have taken over the day-to-day management of the business activities to support the ongoing sales and growth. Nashelle is rapidly approaching 500,000 plates of food donated, and with significant orders and new large retail partnerships coming online every day, we hope to sustain and expand this effort exponentially in the years to come.
Being a woman in business isn't easy. The constant demands of family along with the pressures that we all put on ourselves daily to succeed in business is a tough rodeo ride. We are all striving to be the best mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter and business partner we can be. The task is often overwhelming. One solution I’ve found to that relentless nagging feeling of “I’m not doing anything well enough” is to build my own daily report card on two strategies that are at the very core of my professional career.
The first criteria for my well-being is to support amazing women in their kaleidoscope of daily tasks by making sure that we can always share openly those irksome pressure points that we face around every corner, every day. I work diligently at creating and refining a personal culture of compassion and uncompromising support for those women experiencing the very real fears of failing to be perfect in everything we do.
The second component of a meaningful life is in finding creative and business-friendly ways for giving back. My own investment of time and resources into Nashelle has been one of the most emotionally rewarding ventures of my career. Sharing success with others in need of your skills and resources goes together like a wink and a smile. It just feels good to give back to those who haven’t found their own path to success yet.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.