Growing Prospects for Makers “Close to Home”

Jenna Scifres has developed her handmade jewelry business into a career using a mix of strategies, platforms and resources. Today, her hard work has paid dividends as her products are proudly featured in 30 Bon-Ton stores across Illinois.

Like many artists and handmade vendors, Scifres started out selling at farmers’ markets and craft shows. She then partnered with local boutiques to sell her products on consignment, while expanding her online business through the Etsy Wholesale marketplace. By 2016, she had progressed to wholesale arrangements with retailers and resigned from her job in human resources to focus on growing her business. Last year, she opened a web store, joined Amazon Handmade and applied for Bon-Ton’s “Close to Home” program, which places products from local artists and makers in stores near their homes.

Scifres waited months to learn that she was selected for the program—then it was ready, set, go! Upon negotiating the first purchase order of 1,200 items, she had 30 days to get her products in-store. That meant scrambling to get materials from suppliers, making and packaging each piece, adding barcodes, and shipping to each location. She made it all work—and learned a lot in the process. “There were definitely some growing pains,” she admits. “It was kind of overwhelming, but exciting, too.”

It’s Scifres’ largest opportunity to date, and she’s grateful she learned about invoicing, payment terms and pricing structures by first working with local retailers. “If I hadn’t already had these relationships… I wouldn’t have been prepared to make that leap,” she explains. Working with a major retailer has meant dealing with many layers of command (store managers, merchandising directors, etc.), understanding their retail cycles (merchandise is purchased about six months ahead of season) and adjusting to a “Net 45” invoicing system. She is quite pleased with the experience, and she’s already received new purchase orders from Bon-Ton.

Scifres encourages others to utilize networking groups on Facebook, where she shares advice and experiences with other artisans and business owners. She highly recommends the Etsy Wholesale and Amazon Handmade programs, and stresses the importance of having a diversified income stream. Entrepreneurs need to maintain their motivation, she adds, which for her came from joining Flourish, a community for creative entrepreneurs, and listening to Gary Vaynorchuk’s energizing podcasts.

With a new year on the horizon, Scifres is excited to continue expanding her business. “It took years of taking all these little steps, and working nights and weekends on top of my regular job,” she affirms. “But working with Bon-Ton has really opened my eyes to a whole new world.” Visit jennascifres.com to learn more about Scifres and her work. iBi

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