Custom rhinestone biz earns $350k in sales.
By Chuck Green
Cindy Locke once had a wedding-related business, where she sold accessories for weddings. Along the way, she happened upon some bridesmaids and maids of honors for whom she did rhinestone work—but they were iron on, long before those became popular, she explained. That gave her a certain idea: “I ironed them on totes for the bridesmaid, maids of honors and the mother of the bride. It took about 15 minutes; they weren’t the way they are now, where you can just press them on, fast and easy.”
Maybe not, but her creation “sold like crazy.” At that point, Locke, owner of Zaza Collections, which specializes in custom rhinestone apparel and accessories, wholesale and retail, started to order different designs, which all sold as well. “Not a lot of people were doing custom rhinestone work at the time, and China wasn’t all over the Internet doing them.” Emboldened, consequently, she decided to go all in and lease a machine, which would have cost $50,000. “I was planning to buy more machines to handle custom rhinestone work but then decided to be more conservative.” She said she was lucky that she held off, because that’s when the depression hit. At that point, not surprisingly, said Locke, a number of stores reacted accordingly, some cutting their stores in half. “Not a lot of them were buying anymore.” That’s why Locke firmly believes herself that running a “lean, mean business is huge.”
Early on, she landed some big contracts by calling corporate offices and asking if they had anyone in charge of vendors. “I was put in touch with someone and asked if they had someone they used for rhinestones and was asked to send some samples, which got the whole thing started,” said Locke, who added that, while “I’m not really that big of a sales person, I can be when I need to be,” for her custom rhinestone venture.
Custom Rhinestone Accounts
Eventually, she landed a large custom rhinestone account with an embroidery chain, which, at the time, had 400 stores worldwide, “so we became their rhinestone vendor, and then we got another vendor that was inside Walmart who had about 50 stores.” That’s when Locke purchased another machine, outright. “All the brides want the custom rhinestone bling.”
At that point, both machines were paid off, said Locke, who’s aiming for $350,000 in sales with her custom rhinestone business this year.
Locke’s determination in her custom rhinestone venture also paid off, given that she was one of the first companies in the U.S. to offer rhinestone car decals. She creates custom rhinestone car decals for schools, sports teams, cheer teams, organizations and businesses. Locke explained that a customer emails her company their logo or words they want for the decal and one of her designers creates it. “From there, we turn it into custom rhinestonebling for their car, laptop, phone or anything they want to stick it to,” she explained.
Locke added that generating customers is easy because “we’re still one of few that can do custom rhinestone car decals.” She also receives considerable exposure from Google Adwords, Facebook and her custom rhinestone retail site. It’s a clever niche.
To help accommodate her custom rhinestone business, Locke said she had to revise her business plan. “The whole focus of the business changed. I did a lot of research online of what was out there and what I thought people would want. Then I got all the rhinestones and all the supplies and went from there.” She admitted that while it was difficult to revise the plan, it was well worth it. “Business plans are a challenge in the first place. Then having to revise it was pretty much like creating a new one from scratch. It was a different business model on a much larger scale than the first one. Although it was tedious and took a lot of time that I really didn’t have, it was necessary to be sure we went in the direction of success,” said Locke.
She tapped into capital from her wedding business to help finance her second initiative, Locke said.
Hiring quality employees is key to success. “It’s a detailed-oriented business.” Locke said she has no time to do sales because she’s so busy accommodating customers who come to her. “Our name just gets out there.” Nor does she have time to network. “I should make the time, but I’m too busy. Maybe I need to hire someone else.”
“I have a beautiful seven-year-old daughter, Carina and a two-year-old son, Joshua. Along with my little ones, I have a very supportive husband, Nick, who also runs his own very successful company (Madiba, Inc.), which was named one of Orange County’s fastest-growing companies of 2008.” Visit www.zazacollections.com/ to learn more.