This is a follow up story for Bang-Up Betty. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi! This is Stacey Bowers, creator, and designer of Bang-Up Betty, a snarky, feminist handmade jewelry business based in North Little Rock, Arkansas. I started this small business on my living room floor in 2015 when I taught myself how to stamp funny words and phrases onto metal and turn it into cute jewelry. I’ve since grown the brand and what I sell to include the raucous hand-stamped jewelry I’m best known for as well as feminist enamel lapel pins, stickers, t-shirts and gorgeous cast bronze jewelry. It’s fun to create jewelry and apparel for yourself and find out that there are so many other people out there like you who would also love to wear it!
My funny, headstrong, feminist clients are THE BEST, and they make me love this creative work so much more. My work has even been worn by some magical celebrities you might know, including Julianne Moore and Janelle Monáe!
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
As to be expected, 2020 did weird, wild things for Bang-Up Betty. In September of 2019, I announced my partnership with a local gift shop, where for 6 whole months of normalcy I had a brick-and-mortar for the first time. With a retail space that had lots of room, I was able to make custom jewelry onsite for clients have a showroom of sorts where folks could always find a huge collection of my work for sale, and I also started teaching creative hands-on workshops. When the pandemic hit Little Rock and everyone shut their doors, we kept our doors shut and tried to refocus on online sales and workshops even while the rest of the city began to try to shift back to normalcy despite escalating the Covid-19 case numbers. We just weren’t going to take any risks at our shop.
In a way, 2020 pushed my boundaries so far in such a good way. I started hosting online events instead of in-person events, and even though teaching online and doing events is in many ways so much harder than doing them in person, I had to evolve rapidly, and I did! And all that time at home worked wonders for my creativity. I released four collections of handmade jewelry last year, including my biggest ever, a huge collection of hand-cast bronze jewelry inspired by Greek mythology.
Despite closing the shop and living in an anxiety bubble for almost a whole year, I managed to grow Bang-Up Betty, doing about 30% more in retail sales than in 2019. Being stuck at home meant I had plenty of time to focus on my business, and that I did, continuously designing new products; taking virtual classes to hone my metalsmithing skills; investing in new equipment that will make my work faster and easier; making Bang-Up Betty greener by re-evaluating and changing my shipping materials to more eco-friendly ones; and finally asking for help, which was HUGE for me. At the end of 2020, I found a couple of wonderfully talented friends to help me with assembly and marketing. Whenever I’m overwhelmed, I call them up and they make my life easier. Why did I wait so long to do this?!
I’m still using the same marketing channels (Instagram, Facebook, email marketing), but definitely paid to advertise more on those channels in 2020 since my only focus was online sales. I finally hit 10K followers on Instagram, but I maintain that the quantity of followers is nowhere near as important as the quality! I try to keep my followers active on my page with engaging content and humorous posts. I’m not all product shots on there, and my cat George Meowchael makes a lot of appearances.
Invest in yourself. Make sure you’re always learning.
One thing that was big for me in 2020 was a necklace I made going viral online. The morning after the VP debate where a fly landed on Mike Pence’s head, I made a necklace that says “I’m Speaking” and has a tiny fly charm, and it blew up immediately! I often hear folks say, even to me, “Keep politics out of your business,” and I say to them, “Everything is political and I do what I want.”
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
2020 taught me a lot. It taught me that you need to be flexible in your business and ready to adapt to anything. It taught me, while I watched so many of my fellow retailers struggle to get their stores online during the pandemic, that you can’t rely on one income stream for your sales. I saw that personally when the pandemic almost completely knocked out the wholesale side of my business because small shops were closed, hurting and unable to buy new products to stock their shelves. I had to lean into my retail side harder than ever and basically gave up completely on wholesale for several months. Thankfully things are slowly bouncing back on that side.
2020 also taught me the value of my time. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to manage store pick-ups for customers while we were closed and I was trying to be everywhere and everything for everyone. I had to set boundaries, even to the point of shutting down the pick-up option on my website close to Christmas. Last year I really started investing in new equipment, like new kilns (and more kilns!) to be able to make more jewelry faster. And like I said before, I asked for help. Going forward I’m not going to let myself be buried completely in work; I’m going to let people help me (in exchange for money, of course).
I also managed to reconnect with the things I love about jewelry last year. I made so much new jewelry, and I realized that THAT’S the part that I need to be focusing on. I can let someone else help me with the logistics of marketing and selling it. But the thing I love is designing, and I want to do more of it, which takes time. Precious time.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
True to myself, right now my main focus is on designing new jewelry. I’m about to release a brand new collection of jewelry that I’ve been working on for months! I’m also working on mini-collections (I just released a Valentine’s Day mini-collection and I’m working on a Mother’s Day one). I’m also working on streamlining my production processes to make the new designs faster to create.
I’m working on new partnerships with local nonprofits, which is something I’ve always done and that I love to do. Last year I created an I Dissent necklace that raised money for a local scholarship fund for women going into law school. I should be able to announce my next partnership soon! These partnerships are not only fun, they let me give back to my community by raising money for causes I care about and that I tout with my designs. They also give people a reason to talk about my work locally, and my local market is a huge deal to me. I LOVE Little Rock, and my Little Rock supporters are diehard. I want to give back to them.
My long-term goal is to grow my wholesale market. I chip away at that goal a little more every year, and the short term goals right now for that long term goal are to make displaying my jewelry easier and more appealing to store owners and seeking out gift shops and boutiques across the country that are quirky, snarky and a little feminist-y, so if you have any shop recommendations or you’re a shop owner who would like to carry Bang-Up Betty, please let me know! I’ll also be training someone to take over my wholesale communications for me because asking for help is key in 2021.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I’m the worst at reading books about business, but I do love to read! I will say that a book that was a great read and also happens to be written by a local author in Little Rock is But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life. It helped me get a better understanding of how much I should be saving and what I should be saving for.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I always tell people who are starting a creative business to BE YOURSELF. That means putting yourself into your work, being true to your values, and not borrowing directly from other creators. If you’re not original, people will see it and people will get bored. You’ll probably get bored, too, because making someone else’s work isn’t as fun as making your own.
Social media is super important in the websale-driven world of right now, but as I said before, it’s the quality of the followers, not the quantity that matters. I’m guilty of frequently seeing other creatives on Instagram who have massive followings and thinking, “Wow! How did they do that!?” Then I scroll through their posts and realize that their follower count may be high, but they’re getting less engagement than I am, which means fewer people are seeing them, interacting with them, and visiting their website. Don’t put all your eggs in the follower count basket. Instead, focus on creating worthwhile content for your social media pages. For example, instead of product shots with a clever sentence, use an interesting photo, or something that shows part of your creative process, or a picture inside your workshop, and tell from the heart a story about why you made this thing or why this thing is important to you.
Invest in yourself. Make sure you’re always learning. I learned this at my last job as a marketing and communications director for a nonprofit that allowed me to travel to conferences each year and improve my craft. Every time I left those conferences, I felt rejuvenated and enlightened. (I recommend The Communications Network if you’re in nonprofit marketing and development.) If you don’t take time to learn, you’ll get stuck where you are. I can say the same thing for my jewelry business. I was in a rut, so I started taking classes at my local art center (I started with pottery, so not even a jewelry class!), and getting hands-on with something new that forced my brain to operate in ways it hadn’t before opened doors in my jewelry craft. I also made connections through those classes to other locals I could look to for help while I was learning and bounce ideas off.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I am lucky to have a couple of friends I hire on an assignment-by-assignment basis when I’m in the weeds (If you’re reading this and looking for a FANTASTIC development consultant for your nonprofit, political candidate, or cause, check out Penelope Poppers), so I’m not currently hiring. If the business stays moving up as it has been and we can all move safely past the current pandemic so that we can work hands-on in smaller spaces together, I would eventually like someone to serve as a production assistant, but I’m so serious about sheltering in place that this won’t be happening for quite a while.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Bang-Up Betty has provided an update on their business!
Over 1 year ago, we followed up with Bang-Up Betty to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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