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Spring 2010 Crafty Business

Jules Artwear has been in the specialty retail business for more than 15 years. The secret? Enticing displays, a constantly updated product mix and a multi-pronged marketing approach.

In the specialty retail community of Muncy, PA, Jule Hanford is a familiar face. The successful cart retailer at the local Lycoming Mall has stayed with the same concept, handcrafted clay-bead jewelry, since 1994. Hanford’s business, Jules Artwear, has built a faithful following ever since.

Business start

Prior to opening the cart, Hanford worked for eight years as a buyer in the retail division of American Greetings. “I traveled to different malls and bought from vendors worldwide,” she says. “I learned about what worked and what didn’t work at the retail level.”

In 1993, when her children were young, Hanford resigned her position and moved to Pennsylvania, where she began making jewelry full-time. When she participated in a craft show at the mall, she was overwhelmed by how well her items sold. Being well acquainted with mall carts from her experience with American Greetings, Hanford realized she needed to open a cart—and she did.

While manning the cart for the long hours during the holiday season in 1994, Hanford multi-tasked by handcrafting jewelry on site. “This kept me stocked and drew people over,” she says. “It demonstrated that the jewelry was handmade and helped start conversations.”

Business venues

In addition to the cart outlet, Hanford sells Jules Artwear items at about 20 arts and crafts festivals in Pennsylvania and neighboring states throughout the year. The cart is open each year from November 1 right up to Christmas.

“I do about 50 percent of my business in those two months at the mall,” Hanford says, noting that groups of women from the craft shows make trips to the mall to seek her out. This accounts for about 10 percent of her mall sales. Hanford says being in the mall has helped broaden her audience beyond the craft-show base.

In the past, Hanford experimented with selling wholesale and through home parties. But for now, having found it to be more successful, she has decided to stay with her current strategy that includes her profitable cart.

Social marketing

To further broaden her customer base, Hanford has embraced the Internet: selling online, blogging and spreading the word through social marketing. The company’s website, which dates back to 1998, was updated and refocused last year. “Jules Artwear now has more than 500 fans on Facebook,” Hanford says, praising the site’s viral aspects. “Someone may see something they like about us on one of their friend’s pages and become a fan,” she says.

On the business’s home page, there is a prominent link to its Facebook page. Hanford says that using Facebook and high-quality color product shots, has allowed her to tell customers about new items or specials.

The Facebook page and website address are also listed on the Jules Artwear business card that is given to mall and craft show customers. “Our shows, the mall cart, website, email marketing, my blog and the Facebook page all tie together,” Hanford says.

Best sellers

Earrings are always big sellers for Jules Artwear. “I do both silver and gold wires,” Hanford says. “I don’t limit myself to one or the other, which is one of the reasons I do well.” The company also sells necklaces, bracelets and matching sets of two or three items.

Interchangeable earring styles are popular. These include ear wires that can be worn solo, or with different beads. “It keeps people coming back to add to their collection,” Hanford says.

She attributes her success to her ability to change things constantly. “The first question many people ask when they come up to the cart is, ‘What’s new?’ If the items are stale and the display is stale, customers will lose interest,” she points out.

According to Hanford, affordability is another key to her success. The price range for Jules Artwear is generally $15 to $60. Hanford also does custom work while the customer waits. “If someone sees an earring design with purple beads, but would prefer to have blue, I can make a new pair at the cart,” she says.

Mixing it up

The cart and displays have varied over the years. There has been an all-wooden cart with large wheels. A white laminate model has been complemented at various times by green skirting, suede, cork and bamboo-blind backdrops. The current RMU is a cherry wood, pagoda-style cart with tile and metal complements. The mall has been supportive throughout the years, Hanford says. “They give me the same spot every year,” she adds.

As for future growth, Hanford has entertained the idea of opening a second cart, with a different concept, adjacent to her Jules Artwear one. For now, she is focusing all her attention on the jewelry. “I love making jewelry and I love doing the marketing,” Hanford says. “It’s important that I love what I do, because they both take a lot of time.”

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Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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