We dreamed our entrepreneurial venture would bring us freedom, ease, and wealth. But this was not to be.
Helen worked at designing, fabricating, and polishing jewelry in a snow-covered, unheated shed. I crisscrossed the country in an old car, walking into jewelry stores and selling the initial Reflective Jewelry collection of about twenty-five pieces. I was so green I didn't even know what the term "price point" meant, let alone the difference between a carrot, karat, and caret.
But we had enough success to keep going. We turned our house into a badass, illegally-zoned jewelry manufacturing company— our staff of four working out of sheds and back rooms. We did a lot of craft shows. And on one memorable occasion, a customer showed up at our house just as I was cutting the head off a turkey we had raised for Thanksgiving.
We purchased our current building in 2001 and began a massive remodel, going deeply into debt just before 9/11. Business more or less halted for two months, so our employees became a construction crew. Fortunately, business bounced back— and our company continued to grow over the next seven years. At this point Helen and I had a staff of fifteen, and our jewelry was in hundreds of stores across the US.
*Just a word about our employment practices over the past twenty-plus years: we pay good, livable wages, and offer healthcare, paid vacation, holidays, and sick time. We value and adore our highly-skilled and loyal employees.*
With the Great Recession, our sales dropped by 30%. Several years into this, we discovered that our bookkeeper— who was at the time our longest-serving employee— had been embezzling from us. We learned that we were hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red, due to unpaid taxes and credit card debt. One slender thread from bankruptcy, Helen and I were at risk of losing everything we'd built up over the years— including our home.
The stress that ensued nearly killed us. But our fantastic jewelers and suppliers were sympathetic to our plight— and with their help, we began the long crawl out of the abyss.