HAUTEheadquarters.com is a designer jewelry and accessory retailer that sells high-end designer costume jewelry. Founder Nicola Ford attributes the business’ success to the relationships she’s nurtured with designers, customers, and Internet personalities.
Why did you start your business?
I had a website when the Internet was on the verge of coming out. I was putting it all together on my own. It was called SheSheParis.com. It kind of fell apart because of financing. So, I went back to school, but I was always interested in e-commerce.
Probably three or four years ago, I was working in the jewelry business. I had a lot of clients I was styling. People were always asking me where I was getting this designer jewelry from. I noticed that there was an unmet need in the designer jewelry market for costume jewelry that wasn’t junk. I thought I would try to put it all online. I gathered a lot of independent designers that didn’t have a strong online presence. That’s how I started HAUTEheadquarters.
How did you get the funds to get going?
I started really small. I met a webmaster who was working at the University of Alabama on www.rolltide.com. We met at school, and he just worked with me. Literally, I started the business with less than $500.
Have you heard of business credit?
I do have business credit. I have not taken out any loans, though there was a moment when I was using my business credit as well as my personal credit to grow the business.
I really would advise people who are just starting out to really look into business credit. I think there’s less liability in it than there is in using your personal credit. I started using business credit for that reason and for tax purposes, since it’s not really kosher to be putting business expenses on your personal cards, because things get mingled and blurred. For accounting purposes, it’s good to keep them apart.
I understand that some people who start businesses don’t have good personal credit like I did. I think people who are starting out should consider where their credit score stands and what they can do to start improving on that.
Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
There are only 24 hours in a day. As an entrepreneur you wear so many hats. On any given day, you just don’t know what hat it will be. And it’s a challenge to figure out how you’re going to grow.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
I’ve been really cautious with my money. I’m always putting the money I make back into the business in order to grow. I also really try to maintain enough money to operate as we grow. It is a challenge because we’re small and we’re not financed by anyone.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
With the designers, we pay for everything upfront. We do pay on terms for shipping supplies.
What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?
I always see all of the mistakes as learning experiences. The first really big learning curve for me was putting public relations in front of search engine optimization.
Another big learning experience was being featured on a national talk show. Part of that required that we gift the audience with gift cards to the website. At the time, I assumed that since it was such a large television show, it would drive traffic and result in sales. It actually did not, because the target market was not aligned with my brand. It ended up costing us an enormous amount of money.
What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
Developing really good relationships with my vendors, getting to know them, and visiting their showrooms. Building my customer base …
Also, when we were starting out, I was introduced to a blogger named Lauren Sebastian who blogs at Big Blonde Hair. She really helped expose my brand to a large audience. There were a lot of people on reality television wearing the jewelry I was providing at the time. She would link back to my website. Our relationship was a really good move for me, because it exposed my brand to an enormous audience that I would have otherwise not had access to.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
The responsibility that I have for my own destiny. The happy customers who call me. The amazing people I get to meet. Networking with other entrepreneurs, and being inspired by them and their successes. It’s a lot of fun!
What does the future look like for your business?
I would really love to add more products and more brands. I would love to partner up with more brand ambassadors and bloggers. Ultimately, what we’re working on is creating our own line of jewelry.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
Be passionate about your work. Plan your work. Work your plan. Understand that building a brand is not an overnight thing. It’s a lot of work. You’re going to be involved in so many aspects of your business. You have to really be prepared to get your hands dirty.