How did the idea for your business come about?
The Smithery is a one-of-a-kind, women owned, working jewelry studio, gallery, and artist-made shop on Grandview Avenue. Our shop features work from over 70 independent artists from across the country. We have an amazing selection of jewelry made by award winning and internationally recognized contemporary jewelry artists. In addition, you will find a wide variety of ceramics, prints, artwork and accessories. If you are looking for unique gifts, you will more than likely find something perfect here.
Several of our jewelry collections are made in house by owners, Jen and Anne. We offer custom jewelry services including engagement and wedding/commitment rings.
In our studio, The Smithery offers a range of jewelry making classes for beginners and also for those with some experience looking to expand their skill set. We provide all the tools, materials and professional instruction. This includes silversmithing, kiln-fired enameling, lost wax casting, and workshops where you and your partner can make your own wedding bands!
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
In 2013, we began sharing a studio where we were each making work for our independent jewelry businesses. We discovered during this time that we both had a similar vision of a storefront/studio. We found that our skill sets and personalities were very compatible and were equally dedicated to our goals. Soon after, we started taking steps to make our ideas a reality, and in October of 2014 we opened the doors of The Smithery.
A validating moment was being invited to present at the 2017 annual conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) about our unique business structure of operating a metalsmithing studio as part of our retail space. As artists in the field of jewelry and metalsmithing, it was an incredible honor to be recognized by an organization that is so deeply rooted in the history of contemporary craft. SNAG, a fifty year old organization, is dedicated to advancing jewelry and metalsmithing by inspiring creativity, education, and community while preserving tradition and embracing innovation.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
One of the reasons we began The Smithery, was to create more opportunity for studio jewelers like ourselves to have a venue in Columbus to exhibit their work. Our main focus always will be creating more visibility for art jewelry, but we have a passion for all things artist-made. Through creating a boutique-like shop with a range of price points we want to encourage our passion for including handmade items in everyday life. We want people to wear and interact with these objects. There is soul and story to pieces that were put together with someones hands based on years of perfecting a technique, and ideas that develop from their life experiences.
As artists ourselves, we have sold our work in many venues, some with more success than others. We wanted to create a venue that would give other artists an opportunity to have the experience and relationships we valued with our most successful business partnerships.
Being able to share our knowledge of the processes involved in making jewelry is very important to us. Keeping the tradition of the handmade alive in a culture dominated by technology and efficiency is our motivating passion. Learning about “how it’s made” gives our customers a deeper appreciation for the work we sell.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Columbus has allowed us to take risks here that wouldn’t have been possible in other cities. We have been involved in the arts scene in Columbus for 20 years and feel like there is a supportive creative community here and an opportunity to try new things.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
We both came to Columbus to attend the Columbus College of Art & Design. After graduation we ended up making Columbus home, as we both had established a network here. It was an affordable city to live as an artist, and for Anne, to raise her son. We have had various opportunities organizing events, exhibiting our own artwork, teaching at CCAD and community art centers, and collaborating with other artists. We value the relationships we have built here and look forward to building more.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
We did a LOT of research and writing prior to opening to measure the risk and potential for success. We wrote a very thorough business plan that helped us in securing a loan and a lease in a competitive location.
Since we started as a partnership, going through this process was very important for us to know we were both on the same page to start, and also in planning for the long term.
As an exercise in planning the direction for your business and all the various components, we highly recommend dedicating time on this step. Allowing yourself the time to really dig into every part of your business will benefit you not only in the beginning stages, but also makes a valuable reference as business grows and shifts. It is a good reference point to look back on the initial motivations and goals you set out to accomplish.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
How long it takes to build up a team. We’ve been lucky enough to have had some incredible part time employees and have mentored a couple of talented CCAD interns. It took three years before we were able to bring someone on full time.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
Maintaining visibility in a fast growing city. Location helps but isn’t everything. You have to constantly find ways to bring people in the door. We have so many facets to our business that it makes it a challenge to market them all to the right audience.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
One of the things we struggle with is finding the time to pursue all our ideas, we have to pick and choose which to give our full attention. Similarly, we are learning to say no and turn away work that isn’t aligned with our core mission. Ultimately, these both come down to evaluating and focusing on the things that bring us closer to our goals.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
Many people do not realize the work it takes.
Prior to starting The Smithery, we both were self employed as independent jewelry artists. We developed a very strong work ethic and were used to wearing all the hats for our own businesses doing everything from building a website, graphic design, accounting, marketing, designing and making the actual work, selling, etc.
Growing into a brick and mortar shop definitely added more complexity to this, but we had a good sense of what we were getting into. There are still many ways in which we are forced to stretch our skill sets and grow and push beyond our comfort zone. You have to stay on your toes and be prepared for anything.
People always seem surprised that we make it work as both business partners and friends. This doesn’t work for a lot of people. It works for us because our individual strengths and weaknesses balance out well. We are very transparent with each other.
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but more of a difficult realization that took some time to accept. When we opened The Smithery, we were simultaneously trying to maintain each of our existing independent jewelry businesses. We both got super burned out and discouraged trying to manage all three separate businesses. We found that we collaborated so well together in all the other aspects of The Smithery, that we made the tough decision to take a step back from our independent jewelry lines and focus on one collaborative collection as the house brand of The Smithery.
We wish we had made this decision sooner, as we are still currently working to build and grow this house made line into what we know it can be.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
We were a part of a Co.Starters cohort that was sponsored by ArtWorks in Cincinnati prior to opening our business. It was a great way to validate our ideas, work through the components of our business plan and make a committed first step towards making our ideas a reality.
We do custom work, wholesale and consignment so our inventory management needs are complex. We found VendHQ to meet our needs best for a POS system, and ultimately chose it as it syncs well with Shopify (ecommerce) and Xero (accounting).
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
Our studio and workshop had shared a space with our shop for the first four and a half years. While we loved having the workshop visible to customers shopping, we found that it was time to separate the two to allow them each to grow. In April of 2019, we relocated the studio and workshop about a half block away. This allowed room for the studio to expand and the retail portion of our shop has nearly doubled in size as a result. In addition, we now have a dedicated exhibition space within the shop, something that has been a goal since day one.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
Our recent expansion this year has changed a lot for us; many of these changes are ones that have not yet been fully realized.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out.
We knew we would be busy with the day to day tasks but we didn’t realize how difficult it would be schedule our own focused studio practice. Right now, most of the time spent at our jewelry benches is focused on custom projects. We struggle to give ourselves space to design and make new work, but this is something we are currently working to amend. Our expansion has allowed us some physical separation from the day to day operation of the store to better focus when we are in the studio. We have some exciting things planned and are eager to debut them in 2020!
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Rent to be in a good location on Grandview Avenue.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Curated exhibitions featuring work by emerging and established artists, making innovative art jewelry, was a goal of ours as part of the original business plan. Until our expansion, we hadn’t had a lot in the way of extra space, so it had been a challenge to find ways to display these temporary shows. Now, however, to have an area of the shop dedicated to exhibitions has allowed us a real tangible way to regularly connect with art patrons in Columbus beyond the work we carry everyday. It allows us to bring in more exploratory work and wearable sculptures. This has opened a curatorial and creative outlet for us as we come up with ideas and seek artists for these shows.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Word of mouth is everything for a small business like ours. Personal recommendations, sharing social media posts, and taking the time to write reviews are a great way to spread the word about local small businesses that you love. This helps keep your favorite shops thriving!
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
One of the many benefits to having a business partner is that you have someone who knows exactly what you are dealing with. There is always someone to bounce ideas off of, a shoulder to cry on when times are tough, and to celebrate successes with.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
Our goal is to become more of a go-to familiar place to find unique meaningful jewelry and gifts in Columbus. The Smithery is a hidden gem that people discover for the first time every day and once someone finds us, they tend to turn into loyal gift shoppers.
We plan to continue growing, making more opportunities for artists, and building our collaborative line of jewelry into a larger signature collection.
We will continue to build our national/international reach to attract more artists with whom to partner and feature in exhibitions, bringing new artwork to Columbus. Finding more opportunities to collaborate with other businesses and art organizations is always in our sights.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
We, quite literally, take a deep breath and have a moment. We generally balance out. When one of us is feeling super overwhelmed and stressed, the other seems to be more grounded and rational and will say “we need to take a moment!” We take a step back and look at everything that we have built and recognize, from a new perspective, the successes we can celebrate!
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
So much of entrepreneurship is based upon relationships: customers, vendors, employees.
A wonderful part of being a jewelry artist is that we are often making pieces to commemorate a momentous occasion in someone’s life, so it gets very personal. We know what we are creating often becomes an heirloom that will be around, possibly for generations. Because of this, we develop close relationships with many of our customers.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
We plan to be working on this business for the long haul. We are artists at our core and will continue making until the day we die – that isn’t something we will ever retire from. We want to see the business live and grow into whatever form it becomes. Like anything there is a growth and evolution. If a relationship came about that meant someone wanted to continue the vision of The Smithery, long after we are able, we would be happy to see it last.
How would your business fare if the economy hit a nasty downturn like it did in 2008? Have you prepared for this?
Our business has various sources of revenue, so that we can pivot as the market and consumer interests change. People will always be getting married, and we provide several opportunities for couples including custom engagement rings, wedding bands, and a Make Your Own Wedding Band Workshop. More and more couples are looking for ways to have a unique experience to celebrate their commitment to one another, or work with local artists to design rings unique to them.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
She is an incredible leader who values continuing education and strengthening a collaborative and creative team.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?