Courtesy of Handmade Business

Calico Juno Designs, a handcrafted gemstone jewelry business, got started in late 2002 when Bonnie Riconda discovered a bead store and fell in love with all the colors of the stones. With a few cheap beads and wire, she experimented and came up with some designs she liked; she is completely self-taught. With a handful of designs that she felt were saleable, she went about creating a website. "I researched many sites to find what I liked and what I felt didn't work, such as busy backgrounds or odd colors or links that didn't work, etc., and sites that obviously looked like an amateur did them," Riconda states. "To me, a good-looking website that is user-friendly, updated constantly, with good pictures, etc., is so important." Statistics show that a potential customer can get frustrated with a bad website within just a few seconds, and leave.

Customer service is another vital element to a successful business. Making sure that the customer not only gets a good-quality product but also a happy experience with you and your store/product goes a long way. Riconda states, "Even when a customer gets something they don't like, for whatever reason, I make sure to either fix it--I'll make adjustments to the jewelry, either swapping out stones or making it different, even though it takes extra time and money--or offer an exchange or refund. I've had many customers tell me how happy they were with our customer service, even when they were returning something or having it made differently, and said they would be coming back, and also telling their friends! Word of mouth, both good and bad, goes a long way. Without your customers, you have no business, so, yes, they really are always right!" Riconda listens to her customers, and especially wants to hear when they have a problem. "Seriously! If you don't listen to, or know about, the problems your customers have with you and/or your product, then you can't fix it or make it better. While compliments are always nice to hear, I want to know about the problems or complaints, so I can do something about it." Little perks, such as free shipping, or just going that extra mile to accommodate the customer in any way possible also helps to ensure a good shopping experience.

A top-quality product is very important to Riconda. She stands behind everything she and her artists create, making sure everything is done to her high standards, creating the jewelry as best as possible. If she sees little imperfections in the way the jewelry is made, she will have the studio--if she is not making it herself--redo it. "I've seen some pretty awful 'handcrafted jewelry' out there, with no attention to detail or just sloppily done," Riconda notes. "I mean, if you're going to create something, do it right and make it great! I've had customers and stores tell me how well-done and how beautiful everything is, and that is so important to me. I certainly don't want the jewelry to look sloppy or fall apart! Then your customers won't come back."
Marketing is another key element to a successful business. "You can have the best widget in the world, but if no one knows about it…," Riconda states. "From the very beginning, I realized that I had to get the word out about my jewelry. You can't just sit back and wait for customers to come to you; you have to go after them!" She started off by contacting magazine editors, essentially doing the public relations herself. "Once we got a pair of earrings featured in a major magazine, the floodgates opened wide! I was so busy that I wanted to cry. But then I found some help to make the jewelry--and it isn't easy to find someone with this inherent technical skill--and we kept fulfilling orders as they came in. I saw how much of an impact this had on my business, getting your name seen." Riconda also does giveaways, not only on her own site, but with other places and magazines. "People will say, 'Oh, that's so nice of you,' but it's not an altruistic thing I'm doing; it's just another way to get your name out there. Get your product in the customer's hands, and hopefully they will come back to buy more. Also, when they're wearing our jewelry, they get compliments and let others know where they got it from! People have actually told me this."

From the vast amount of orders that came in from that early magazine feature, Riconda realized that there was a whole other venue in which to tap: wholesale. "From that feature, stores all over the country started contacting me wanting to sell our jewelry. So from that, I started doing research on stores, finding their info, and contacting them; again, it's about going after the customers. At first, I wasn't recording the places I sent info to, and I realized that with all the possible thousands of stores across the country, I had better have a list of who I sent what to! Doing this research and sending out info is a major part of the business, and it is an ongoing thing. I now have a database of more than 5,000 places, many of which I've never heard back from, and so I can keep sending them info until and unless I hear back from them!" Riconda is very aggressive when it comes to marketing and research, and she feels that this is crucial to any successful business.

"I also don't take 'no' for an answer. When someone says, 'Thanks, but not interested,' I find out why. I'll ask them why, exactly, they're not interested, and I have found out that there are different reasons, and many don't even have to do with us or our product. I offer to send them our catalog--a 50-page catalog that I do myself--and/or samples, anyway. I turned around one place that initially was not interested, sent it samples, and now it is one of our largest accounts, placing large orders all the time and continuing to do so after five years."

E-mail marketing is another tool Riconda uses to get the word out. She uses an e-mail service provider to custom-tailor messages about the jewelry, new lines, giveaways, and other promotions, and has amassed a large audience, staying in touch with the customer base, whether it is retail, wholesale, or magazine editors." Facebook and Twitter, both of which I have no personal use for, are actually good for getting the brand out there," Riconda realizes.

With wholesale accounting for 60 to 70 percent of the business, Riconda does everything she can to accommodate retailers who carry her line."Especially in this economy, with some places ordering less or even going out of business, I make sure that the places that do still carry us and order are happy. I offer to do trunk shows and pick boxes--sending whatever for the retailer to sell for some event, then they send the rest back--even though it means taking a chance that, while we spend our time and money making the jewelry, it won't sell. But, I will do whatever it takes, working with the retailer, to make that sale and ensure a good relationship."