Portland Business Journal -- Oct 31, 2014
Malia Spencer - Staff Reporter - Portland Business Journal
The Pitch: How one Portland jewelry maker is standing out in the bling biz
Katy Kippen has been making jewelry for about as long as she can remember.
She started as a child working with her grandfather, a stone cutter and rock collector in Montana who cut everything from agate to petrified wood into jewelry and belt buckles. She sold her own handmade jewelry out of her high school locker. At 16 she took her first metal smithing class.
Jewelry making has always been a part of her life and now it's her livelihood. She took a slight detour following college at the University of Montana, where she studied business. She and a then-business partner opened a pair of upscale boutiques with the intent of opening multiple locations and then franchising.
That business didn't pan out, but Kippens's years as a retail buyer for the boutiques offered her unparalleled market research.
"I got the perspective of what every other line in the niche I wanted to be in was doing, what they are selling and what are they selling for," she said. "I wasn't planning it at the time, but I knew I could make something better than what they were doing."
At retail show after retail show she kept seeing the same void in the market: well designed, multi-functional jewelry. So in 2009, she started Portland-based Grayling Jewelry. First the business was strictly wholesale but by 2010 she opened a small store front in the Olympic Mills Commerce Center. The business quickly outgrew the space and the store moved to the Hollywood District.
The product: Grayling makes versatile, handmade jewelery in Portland designed to make a statement. Kippen said she strives to make pieces that are not only striking but are travel friendly and fit customer needs, including lightweight products and jewelry for people with skin sensitivity.
How it makes money: Revenue comes from three sources — wholesale to retailers; wholesale direct-to-customers online; direct to customers through the brand's flagship store on N.E. Sandy Boulevard.
Size of market: Grayling has a strong following in Portland and Seattle. It also has wholesales accounts with dozens of boutiques across the country, particularly in Atlanta and Chicago. The Grayling wholesale division will move into the international market within the next 48 months, Kippen said.
Competition: The jewelry market is competitive and jewelry designers are plentiful. "By focusing on the needs of our customer first, Grayling has created a loyal following," Kippen said. The company faces indirect competition from websites such as Bauble Bar, subscription box MyntBox, or home-based party models such as Stella & Dot.
Competitive advantage: Kippen said Grayling is uniquely positioned between high-end jewelry brands such as Tiffany & Co that offer high-karat metals and precious gemstones and those that compete on price and are often imported from India or China. She has designed pieces to be worn in multiple ways and layered. Since she is hand making the jewelry, she can also use more exotic materials than the mass-produced competition. Kippen can also make custom pieces and can consult on items.
Advisers: Andrew Adeboi, former senior vice president of the international group at Wells; Kami Gray, wardrobe and prop stylist; Colleen Wright, Response Interactive Digital Marketing; John Rink, gold and platinum jeweler; and Becki Singer, copywriter and marketing strategist.
Investors: Grayling is family owned and has been bootstrapped from the beginning. Kippen started the business with $500.
Capital raised: After three years in business she opened a line of credit with Umpqua Bank.
Tags: Portland Jewelry Designer, Jewelry Stores Portland Oregon, Jewelry Portland Oregon
-Malia Spencer @PDXBizMalia
Content courtesy, Portland Business Journal