Stephanie Ritchie’s handmade jewelry business is called “The Tortured Heart.” She talks about her launch and the hard work of building a business.
ABI: You have a unique studio situation. Could you tell us about it?
SR: A year and a half ago my family moved to Gulf Breeze, Florida into a house overlooking the beautiful Santa Rosa Sound. When we moved there I had packed up my 10×12 backyard shed studio, knowing that I could not put my workshop on a property that would likely flood every year.
So, when it became clear I would have to rent a workshop, my husband suggested I rent a 1500 sq ft retail unit in the little strip plaza exactly 1 mile from our new house.
I scoffed at first, then realized several major conveniences and benefits: space to spread out my growing collection of tools and workbenches; room to teach classes; a storefront space that would allow me to have studio openings and try out the tricky business of holding regular retail hours. Last but not least was a miniature “commute” to work (very helpful.) So I leased the unit, named it “The Tortured Heart,” and hired a fabulous assistant, made the front half a pretty shop and the back half a metalsmith’s dream workshop.
Pretty quickly I determined that what I liked most about the retail aspect of my new business was holding gallery openings, because face it: I like to throw a damn good party! And we had three big events in the first 6 months. My grand opening drew almost 300 people. The other thing I like about it is the way it provides me with a creative outlet for my decorating habit. I love to stage, display and merchandise. The Tortured Heart has a boutique feel and a decidedly nostalgic style that is best described as elegance noir.
ABI: What’s the story behind “The Tortured Heart” and how your business got its name?
SR: Tortured Hearts is a collection of heart pendants reflecting the condition of most hearts I know: broken, tattered, torn, beaten up, full of holes, patched, stitched, riveted, sewn back together, but still boasting a hint of sparkle. I believe if you’ve lived, loved, or lost very much at all in this life your heart has some marks to show for it.
ABI: What’s your secret for doing well at your first Buyers Market wholesale trade show?
The secret to this mild success was out in the open, plain as day. No secret at all.
I followed the suggestions of people in the field. First, I worked up a “line” of jewelry. committing to these pieces I was willing to make over and over, developing SKUs, standardizing prices, getting photos and devising the godforsaken line sheets.
Secondly, I engineered my “brand.” From logo, to color scheme, to font, to display items, to tiny quadfold artist-bio box inserts that I send to galleries that carry my work. I made a recognizable brand with a visual impact in my booth. Thirdly, I worked up a pretty good looking booth. That being said, I’m changing everything about it for the next shows.
Lastly, and here’s the one I think made the most impact on closing accounts: ALWAYS BE CLOSING! I had my order form in hand and made notes on what buyers liked as they looked around. I talked to them about their store, their price point. I extolled the virtues of my “six piece minimum,” no matter how low end the pieces.
I asked them direct questions like, “What could I do to get my foot in the door at your gallery, give my line a try.” By God, if I was going to spend thousands of dollars to get myself to shows at this level, I wasn’t going home empty-handed.