Gretta Van Someren of Attérg™ Jewelry Design Part 1 of 2

Part 1 of a jewelry business success story
© by Gretta Van Someren; all rights reserved.

From classic to contemporary, internationally acclaimed and published designer Gretta Van Someren of Attérg™ Jewelry Design creates ever-evolving jewelry collections that encompass fresh and innovative designs – enriched with striking color palettes, unique textures and the finest quality materials.

Currently servicing retail and wholesale customers worldwide, Gretta remains focused to the needs of each individual, an art often lost in today’s world of mass production. Her goal is “to create pieces that capture and evoke the beauty and personality unique to her wearers… to create pieces that CELEBRATE YOU!”

Attérg™ Jewelry Design (formerly Pizzazz Creations) offers unique, artisan-crafted designer jewelry in multiple styles to suit even “the most discerning woman who isn’t afraid to make a statement with her accessories.” (Jennifer Walla, Fox Cities Magazine, Feb. ’04.)

Interview with Gretta Van Someren
Part 1

by Rena Klingenberg

Note: Gretta was kind enough to include several great photos of her jewelry studio/showroom – be sure to see them all!

Also, at the end of this interview, follow the link to Part 2, when we catch up with Gretta two years later!

1) How did you get into making jewelry? And are you self-taught, or have you had formal instruction?

Funny you should ask! With a degree in piano and choral music education, designing jewelry wasn’t exactly what I thought I’d be doing 15 years ago.

I think many “creative folk” travel through life taking steps divulging several of their passions that eventually lead them to their career. My story is no different.

After the birth of my first child, I retired as a professional musician in order to stay home with my baby. The need to kindle my creative fire, however, continued to stir within so I decided to further my writing and worked as a freelance poet.

After the birth of my second child, I again felt the need to explore other creative endeavors. I discovered a hidden passion for the visual arts and before long, found myself teaching, winning awards, and my pieces on the walls of galleries and corporations like Century 21. It was about this time that my jewelry making began to evolve. I accepted the challenge to create a pin for one of the companies I’d freelanced for, and soon thereafter, started receiving requests for earrings, bracelets and more. ‘Twas the beginning of a career I’d since been enjoying!

I’ve had the honor of studying under several gifted artists/teachers like Preston Reuther, Dale Armstrong, Louise Dunhamel and Connie Fox. I also frequent Eni Oken’s website for her terrific online tutorials. I’ve found a lot of inspiration and tips from the Creative Wire Jewelry and Jewelry Making forums and consistently read trade magazines and books to further enhance my skills.

There’s so much I want to learn. I’ve really only just begun to touch the surface of my jewelry making endeavors!

2) Many artists have said that their sales at shows have been down. But you have some fantastic, innovative ways of selling directly to your public – such as coffee break trunk shows and open houses in your home studio showroom. Can you tell us about them?

I’d love to! At this point, I’m very fortunate to be in a position in which doing shows (per se) is no longer a necessity, and the revenue generated from online sales and from my regular customers and retailing partners is enough to run the business and pay a few bills. However, I also feel that personal interaction and the inspiration I receive in meeting face to face with potential buyers is an extremely important and valuable asset to my business. Therefore, I’ve come up with a few venues aside from doing shows that work well for me at this time.

Coffee Break Trunk Shows
Because our daily regime demands so much of our personal time, many prefer to meet during their lunch or coffee break – either at their work establishment or favorite café/restaurant for a quick, informal “trunk show.” This is a great way to break up the afternoon, and potential customers can view the most recent of my designs in a fun, relaxed environment. If a customer brings three or more friends/co-workers with them, I extend a special discount on their purchases.

The Coffee Break Trunk Shows are a lot of fun. Most of my clients who enjoy them work in an office, hospital or salon. I travel as light as I can and bring only my jewelry bags housed with trays to pass around the table as we talk about the pieces, life, whatever the latest news may be. (You get the idea.)

Surprisingly, I don’t think I’ve ever left an establishment with purchases made by only those attending the trunk show. Their colleagues, the restaurant staff, and people sitting at other tables . . . they seem to crowd around and want to look too.

TIP: If you’d like to try this, just make sure you’ve discussed and get the “okay” to sell your wares from the owner/manager of the establishment beforehand. It never hurts to offer a small percentage of the sales to them either. At this point I’ve established a few favorite spots to meet in which it’s almost “expected” I bring my goodies. Funny, at one place I frequent I’ll walk in and they actually yell “Norm!” and then hoard around my jewelry cases! (Remember the TV show, “Cheers”?)

Home Shows
Home jewelry shows are nice because you can set your own hours, it’s a LOT less stress, and the expenses are minimal compared to doing the larger shows. Many people prefer to hold parties, but I prefer to run mine as open houses. The customers can come and go as they please, I don’t make a big speech in the beginning, and I don’t allow the pressure of an environment in which people feel they “have to buy” get in the way of simply having fun.

I basically try to be myself and walk around to meet and greet the guests, explain what I do and how things are made, where the beads came from, etc. – and most importantly, always try to learn a little about each person who attends.

I never try to push a sale, nor do I run the cash register (unless I’ve no choice of course), and NEVER EVER count my earnings before the show is over. People come first . . . NOT the money! It’s through my passion about what I do, and the inspiration and interest shared between us, that the sales just naturally derive.

In-Studio Home Shows
This year we’ve done something completely new along the lines of holding jewelry shows (open houses), and have built a studio with a permanent showroom in which I invite others to host a show. We’ve had a terrific response to this new idea, and within the first month of announcing it, had shows booked through May!

Gretta’s new home jewelry studio/showroom.

It was a dear customer of mine that actually thought of the idea. She’d hosted a home show for me in the past and mentioned how nice it would be to invite the guests but not have to clean the house, worry about the kids, etc.

Jewelry displays in the showroom half of the area.

So basically, it’s two-fold: The hostess receives the benefits without the stress, and the artist gets to create without returning to a mess! (Sad rhyme, I know.) There’s no need to pack up, drive, set up, stress out, pack back up, drive again, get home, set up again. Where can you find time to design like this? By holding the open houses in my studio, I’ve been able to refocus my time back into what I really love to do.

Where customers checkout with their purchases.

An unexpected bonus – I found that customers actually enjoyed seeing where I work. And with all of my tools and beads/stones on hand, also discovered they enjoyed watching the creative process. So I began creating custom pieces (such as earrings, basic wire rings) for customers RIGHT on the spot that they could take home with them that very night. They can’t get service like that just anywhere! I’ve gained a lot of repeat customers doing this. I’ll get calls asking if I have anything new or if they could stop by for a minute to pick something up. I also get calls right before shows to see if they could browse my selection before anyone comes to get first pick. So as Martha would say, “It’s a good thing”.

3) Your website is extremely professional. Do you have any success tips for selling jewelry from a website?

First, unless you’re computer literate (which I am not), I highly recommend investing the time and money into hiring a webmaster willing to work with your needs. I was fortunate to find a webmaster (Christine of CMO Designs) who not only caters to my needs, but has immense patience (I like to change things quite often) and was able to design my website from scratch. (Not once, but twice!)

If you plan to sell online, you need to update your website frequently. Make sure your photos are top notch. Remember, a potential customer 1,000 miles away has only a picture to go by.

If possible, periodically send updates such as a newsletter or event notices. Make sure your site is user-friendly. A Guestbook and Feedback section are always nice. (People like to read what others have said about your jewelry and as well, like to make their own comments.)

There’s a lot of work to running a website if you want to continue building traffic and sales. As long as you’re willing to work many long hours behind the scenes, the reward can be phenomenal!

4) What other methods of marketing your jewelry have been successful for you?

With the exception of my website and attending one expo, I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of effort marketing my jewelry. Most of my client base has been built by word-of-mouth and by wearing my jewelry everywhere I go.

5) Do you do everything yourself, or do you have help with your jewelry production, shows, packaging, photography, filling orders, etc.?

Yes and no. As for the jewelry, I make it all myself. On occasion I may ask for help in stringing a bracelet or cutting wire, etc., but I always finish each piece.

99% of the photography is also done by me. A few of my photographs were taken by GemFox (she’s awesome), and all of my pieces published in The Wire Artist Jeweller were taken by Patricia Capotosto (also wonderful!).

Until recently, I didn’t have a camera capable of taking photos at a high enough resolution for the quality I desire, nor did I know much the about the editing process. Yippee, something else I’ve aspired to learn!

I do have a studio assistant and (usually) an office manager and when needed, hire outside help from friends and even customers. They help with the shows, packaging, invoicing, database, tagging and labeling of the jewelry, basic studio maintenance, etc. I still spend a large percentage of my time on the “paperwork”, but am learning to better delegate tasks as the business progresses.

6) How do you balance your home-based jewelry business with being a mom?

Balancing family life with work has been my main struggle from day one! This is the first year all of my children (now 5, 7 and 10) are in school, so it’s been a “little” easier to run a business from home. I’ve also been blessed with a husband (we often refer to as “Mr. Mom”) who helps a great deal around the house and with the kids. Without him I know I couldn’t do it all.

In general, my daily routine goes something like this: Once the kids are on the bus in the morning, I hit the studio. I break for a few minutes after school and again at dinner until bedtime. Then it’s back to the workbench until wee hours of the morning.

Hiring a housekeeper and learning to delegate more tasks in the studio have been a big help. I figure I’d much rather spend more time with the kids than package boxes or scrub the toilets! Oh yes, and we’ve recently designated one evening a week as “Family Night” in which I’m NOT allowed to work.

7) How do you build your base of repeat customers?

First and foremost, I truly appreciate my customers and make it apparent by offering them:

Honesty (I’m not going to tell someone deciphering between two pieces that the higher priced piece looks better on them if the less costly piece does).

1. Great customer service (I really try to listen to what my customers want).

2. Respect for each customer equally.

In addition, I send a monthly newsletter via email highlighting new features, specials and the latest happenings at Attérg™ Jewelry Design. I also send my customers Gift Certificates on their birthday. On occasion, I offer special discounts or a free piece of jewelry “just because”. After all, they’re the reason I’m in this business. The inspiration and heartfelt response I gain in having made someone feel good far outweighs the occasional loss in inventory.

8) One of your jewelry designs was featured in the March 2005 issue of Art Jewelry magazine. Do you have any tips for submitting jewelry designs to magazines?

Perhaps it was a fluke (or a bit of luck), but the article in Art Jewelry actually derived from having submitted a piece to Bead Style magazine. (They’re both published by the same company.)

I was first contacted by an editor of Bead Style and asked if interested in submitting my work. As fate would have it, Bead Style accepted one piece and felt the others were more suited for Art Jewelry, so passed them on to their department. As far as the other jewelry related publications I’ve been in, most have come about due contacts made by editors having visited my website or customer referrals.

Before jewelry, however, I was writing poetry and into the paper-arts, and frequented publications in which I had a lot of experience in actually submitting my work “cold turkey”. The best advice I can offer is to know the magazine and their readers, and be sure to follow their submission guidelines. These can vary greatly, so do your homework!

I still remember the humiliation (embarrassment) I felt after having submitted a whimsical poem about bathroom etiquette to an English periodical. Without doing any research, I sent the poem based solely on the title of the magazine, which (I thought) suggested humor.

My poem was returned along with an editor’s note, irreverently attached for only his colleagues to read. The editor degraded my attempt to even consider sending such writing to their serious periodical on aging! “Who was I to think elders incompetent of toilet mannerisms?” (His words.) I’ll never make that mistake again!

9) How have you set up your new studio to make it a great jewelry workspace?

I really do love my new space. When you spend 70-plus hours a week in one area, it should be a place you enjoy! My husband Jay built the entire studio by himself. From a sub-floor to the electrical and the plumbing, he did it all. Okay, so he also managed to glue himself to the sink with contact cement, but hey, nobody’s perfect!

As I mentioned earlier, it’s part studio, part showroom. These two rooms are open to each other and share one central area between them. Behind closed doors are a small utility room used for oxidizing (stinky work), running the tumbler, etc.; and another, much larger room for packaging, shipping and other miscellaneous items.

Gretta’s studio in the foreground, showroom in the background.

The workspace itself is set up kind of like a “U” with an extra half-wall on one end. A laminate countertop wraps around all of the walls. On one end is a computer, a few filing cabinets and drawers, a scanner, printer, phone, etc. It’s basically a place for the paperwork. There are large cabinets over the desk for invoices, books and other materials.

Gretta’s computer/paperwork area.

Underneath the counter along the longest wall are two rolling gem cabinets with six drawers in each and four gem trays per drawer. This is where the beads, gemstones and findings are stored. When creating, I’m stationed in-between these two cabinets.

Gretta’s jewelry making workspace.

On the counter are carousels for tools, a drill press, wire winder, etc. Above, there are long shelves the same length of the work area with tutorials, magazines, videos and LOTS of baskets for things like leather spools, misc. wire spools, orders in process, you get the idea.

Just beneath the shelves are long magnetic strips in which to place custom order invoices as they filter in. Oh yes, and I can’t forget the stereo. I need music!

Studio assistant’s area.

Along the back wall is a section where the studio assistant and one other person could (eventually) work, but for now, that area is taken up with photo equipment. There’s a TV raised in one of the corners for watching tutorials (or late night television . . . you have to have fun too, you know)!

To the left, the studio assistant’s area used for jewelry photography; to the right, the jewelry showroom.

On the long wall parallel to the “workbench” is the office manager’s computer, a fax machine, second phone line, another work station and second set of cabinets.

It’s very open in here and very bright. Jay installed 12 large overhead lights; there are two free-standing full spectrum lights and a SAD (seasonal defective disorder) lamp.

That’s about it! Oh, and did I mention there are at least 15 pictures of my kids and their “I love you” notes pasted all over the place? If my children aren’t enough to inspire me, what is?

10) What’s one thing you’ve experimented with in your jewelry business that you would NOT do again?

1. Attend an Expo.
Perhaps a bit naïve, I spent a ton of money to enter and rent the largest booth at a Women’s Expo last year, only to learn the hard way that an “Expo” is not the same as a “Show”. Two minutes in the dictionary and I would have discovered this well beforehand. (Duh.)

This particular expo was 12 hours long (not including the drive) and I’d hired help. People literally walked around with shopping bags looking for “freebies” to throw in and left. The poor guy housing the booth next to me actually had a woman angry with him because he’d run out of free pencils and had the nerve to ask for one of his display stands instead!

Now don’t get me wrong, an expo can be very rewarding, especially if you’re starting out and looking to expand your name (by name I mean “business” name), but if you’re basically looking for a place to generate a few sales, a show is a much better investment.

2. Make promises I can’t physically keep.
Last year during the holidays my business literally tripled, I’d taken on several new retail accounts, and I still expected myself to complete and ship orders within the same time period as I had in the past.

Somehow I managed to get through the season (thanks to my staff and the support of a great husband), but missed the enjoyment of spending holidays with my family and nearly ended up in the hospital. January came and I was sick for 3 weeks. My body was so exhausted that even menial tasks like brushing my teeth were hard to accomplish. I still had several orders to finish and the stress of it really started to get to me.

What I didn’t realize then (or perhaps didn’t want to accept) but realize now, is that what we do may be important, but it is NOT an emergency. People (at least most) are more understanding than we think. If we need more time to finish a piece or two, they will likely wait if we simply ask. After all, creating jewelry is wonderful and extremely rewarding, but it isn’t going to cure cancer or eliminate world hunger. Perspective is the key.

11) If you were starting a jewelry business today, but with the experience you have now, what would you do first?

Take a business class! Because my experience in this field has derived from what I initially considered a “hobby”, using the left side of my brain didn’t appear a priority at first.

Had I known my hobby would so quickly become a full-time business, I most definitely would have spent the extra time it took to learn the basics of running a business before diving into it, and belly-flop style! There’s so much more to running a jewelry designing business than making jewelry alone, and you’ll save yourself a lot of wasted energy if you begin with a solid foundation.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation to mine and are currently treading water after the big plunge, don’t sweat it. Run as quickly as you can to your local college and sign up for the next business class. Too shy? Live in the boonies? Search online for entrepreneur mentoring (often offered free by the state), join a small business forum, or network with other business owners in your area. Do whatever it takes to gain the knowledge you need (or have been missing) to run a successful business starting today!

After having run Attérg™ Jewelry Design (formerly Pizzazz Creations) for nearly six years now, 2-1/2 years exclusive to jewelry, I’m taking my first business class at the end of this month. Remember, it’s never too late to learn!

12) Do you have any other advice for jewelry artists?

* Patience and perseverance are key! Without failure, you can’t possibly being to know or appreciate the meaning of success!

* Never forget to credit those who’ve helped you along the way! Be it a teacher, your family, friends, a mentor or your customers; they’re all deserving of your recognition and shouldn’t be forgotten amidst success.

* As much as you can, give back a percentage of your time and profits to help others. As Edith Wharton so eloquently states, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects is.”

* Remember, success in life (at least to me) is not measured by how much money you make, but by how many hearts you touch along the way!

Note from Rena:
Gretta, my sincerest thanks for sharing so many of your wonderful, innovative ideas and tips for jewelry business success. And for inviting us into your lovely new jewelry studio/showroom! We’ve really enjoyed this glimpse into your artistic journey and unique Attérg™ Jewelry Design jewelry business. :o)

Find out what Gretta’s doing now – go to Part 2 of her jewelry business success story!

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