What inspired you to start your business?
I have a jewelry design and production business, Judith Bright Jewelry. My designs are sold through brick and mortar stores and online through our website, judithbright.com. I started the business 10 years ago. I was pushed over the edge to do it by something a friend said to me: “Be mindful of the things that nag, for these are the things of destiny.” Tweet this! I made jewelry for years as a hobby and I decided that I had to figure out a way to make it into a career. It felt like a “now or never” moment. I started making jewelry for friends in my basement and gradually moved upstairs, had shows in supportive girlfriend’s houses, and then I ultimately opened a retail store. Now I have 3 stores, my flagship in Nashville, store in Atlanta in the trendy Virginia Highlands, and a Birmingham business.”
What do you see for your future?
I’d like to have stores all across the country so that I can reach more women with my jewelry, jewelry philosophy, and my customer relations values. In the short term, I’d like to have a store in every state in the Southeast. I love to travel and the thought of having stores in interesting cities is very exciting to me. It’s like putting down roots in many places and getting to know cities and people I might not get to know otherwise. It’s as much about connecting with others as it is about the expansion of the business.
What do you see as challenges for you and your business?
To run a small business is inherently challenging because you wear so many hats. You just don’t have the power to delegate everything. Most of our employees cover two areas of the business. On one hand that keeps me intimately involved with every aspect of the business, but on the other hand I feel like I’m working all the time and at all hours of the day to keep up. That schedule is also a necessity because I’m juggling time to be a mother who is present for my children. I have three boys and I want to be there for them whenever they call, to cook for them and to go to as many of their games and school functions as I can.
Specifically challenging is handling inventory and making sure we have enough supplies for the demand. We are still growing and we are never sure how much we need for the big holidays because each year outpaces the prior. This is good news for sure but it is nerve-wracking because we never want to tell someone we can’t make something. Our materials can sometimes be 6-8 weeks on order so planning and forecasting is imperative…and speculative.
We have endless opportunities and that makes what we do so exciting! We are always on the lookout for new gemstones and materials. We are constantly investigating new ways to reach a wider audience. We have been invited all over the country to do trunk shows. There are just not enough hours in the day to do it all. There are also endless designs running through my head. The business is so dynamic and creative!—and then there are the awesome people I work with. That’s another aspect of the business: a universe full of joyful and inspirational interaction. We love what we do, and when you love what you do it’s a magical thing.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Washington, DC. My mother was very hip and chic with a keen eye for detail, especially in interiors. My father was a documentary filmmaker and photographer who taught at the college and high school level. I went to an all-girl’s school and I think that was a fundamental part of my development as an entrepreneur. Tweet this! We were taught to believe that we could do anything.
The promotion of girl power and the pointed development of confidence at an early age prepared us to be able to move a mountain if that’s what we wanted to do. I guess I just believed that I could accomplish anything if I worked hard enough and moved forward thoughtfully with considerable preparation. You have to have a lot of confidence in your abilities and a sheer will to do whatever it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.
What’s a mistake you overcame?
After I opened my Nashville and Atlanta stores I opened a store in Los Angeles in a neighborhood that I used to live in. It was in a new development and I got in on the ground floor. It was not a great location for a business like mine, and I was blinded by the desire to be back in Los Angeles and the advantages one gets when you are one of the first tenants in. The mistake was that I was a relatively new business and one of the first businesses in an area not particularly known for foot traffic. Luckily my landlord was incredibly understanding and worked with me to change the terms of my deal, and it ended up being an 18-month pop-up. I learned not to be the first one in and to only be in an area that is well established or has excellent foot traffic. I could have made it work over the long term but it was too far away from home base for it to be convenient for me to really dig in.
What picture is on your phone’s home screen?
My 3 children.
What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
I love seeing the principal of, “If you build it, they will come” in action. I enjoy the challenge of running and growing a business. Being in the position to provide job opportunities with something I have founded is immensely satisfying. I am very satisfied to be able to employee wonderful women and men and create a great place to work where everyone feels challenged, creative, and fulfilled. I love talking to other entrepreneurs. They are always excited about what they are doing and it’s an immediate bond. Like having the same hobby in theory, but in practice it’s something totally different although the same principals apply. I find that fascinating.
What about your business matters most deeply to you?
There are many things that matter to me, but one that stands out to me is our customer service philosophy. We will do anything it takes to make a customer happy. We value our customer’s feelings. One of my personal core values is kindness and empathy. If you operate from that genuine place of respect, courtesy, and understanding you can’t help but deliver the best customer service you possible can.
What would you say is your “entrepreneurial superpower?”
Probably my ability to work until I literally drop! Not sure that’s great, but it feels like a superpower to be so driven and passionate. I think I am also good at making decisions quickly and decisively. I have also developed the skill of being able to pretty much roll with whatever happens and to not be thwarted by any adversity— perceived or real. There’s always a solution—always. It’s like math in that you sometimes have to spend a long time solving an equation and there are several different routes, but you always get the same answer.
Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now?
Now and forever, I admire Tony Hseih of Zappos.
He has put what he has learned into practice. Everything about Zappos—from its culture, to how it empowers employees, to their extraordinary customer service—is right on. He makes a huge business seem small and personable. Every interaction I have had with their business is positive. It’s all about the customer experience and fulfilling a customer’s needs. They play a long game. That’s what I’ve always been about. That’s the only game in town in my mind. Tweet this! From the minute I visited the Zappos website, I knew that I had to learn more about whoever was behind the business. His belief that “customer service shouldn’t be a department, it should be the whole company” really hit home with me. I think we could be besties.
What’s the best and the worst thing about being an entrepreneur, as a woman?
The best thing is our natural ability to multitask. The worst thing is that we also usually have a lot of other family responsibilities, so we can get very depleted trying to do it all. Women are taskmasters and we find it difficult not to finish something to completion.
Do you think male entrepreneurs are “different” from female entrepreneurs?
I think most male entrepreneurs are able to move about the planet more easily. That seems to be changing with each passing day. Men in general can let things go, whereas women hold on to things.
What the best advice you ever got, and from whom?
From my old boss Quincy Jones: “If a task is once begun, never leave it ’til it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.” I think about that every time I do anything. I also believe that “integrity is what happens when no one is watching.” That’s something I try to emulate every day.
How can people keep up with and contact you?
On Instagram: @judithbright and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JudithBrightJewelry