We were lucky to catch up with Nicole Hansen recently and have shared our conversation below.
Nicole, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Coming up with the idea is so exciting, but then comes the hard part – executing. Too often the media ignores the execution part and goes from idea to success, skipping over the nitty, gritty details of executing in the early days. We think that’s a disservice both to the entrepreneurs who built something amazing as well as the public who isn’t getting a realistic picture of what it takes to succeed. So, we’d really appreciate if you could open up about your execution story – how did you go from idea to execution?
In order to understand the idea you have to understand where we were at, “we” being my husband Harry and I. We actually began working together in a collaborative way in 2001 when I was approached by Sundance catalog to produce a limited run of work for their Christmas catalog. At the time I was creating modern hand raised hollow form vases, oil lamps and candleholders. Sundance was interested in my work but concluded it was too modern for their audience and suggested perhaps I could collaborate with my husband (who at the time was both a farrier and a blacksmith) to combine his hand forged ironwork with my modern Sterling silver, at which point we slapped our forehead’s said “duh” and our business Sterling and Steel was born. Fast forward to 2019 after hand building an off grid home raising two kids and Harry surviving a serious kick to the head by a horse he was working on, we’re now full time artists collaborating as a team with Sterling and Steel. We’re on the road attending fine craft and art festivals for half the year and trying create work and not quite reaching the level of success we wanted. Meanwhile, we had begun offering a day long workshop to couples to come to our home studio and make their own wedding bands under our guidance and direction. So on the way home from Texas after a four show run where the weather wreaked havoc on three of the four shows we attended, rendering it nearly a bust but for one order at the last show, we brainstormed how to take the idea of people making their own jewelry and expand it to many different options besides rings while keeping the methods and tools as simple as possible. By the time we had gotten home we had a plan and a vision for what we wanted our diy studio to look like.
As it happened while we were gone for that month a retail space had come up for rent in our small mountain town in a prime location and we decided it was a sign and jumped on it.
That was April of 2019. It took far longer than expected to get our doors open, we had to come up with a name (Riveting Experience Jewelry) a logo, interior design and signage, interior furniture in the form of workbenches, bar, displays and lighting.
As we worked the tangible logistics of getting the store open I spent a lot of time considering how we wanted the store to feel. How did we want our customer to respond when they walked in the door? We knew that if we did not get that right we would lose a high percentage due to the simple fact that for most people the idea of making their own jewelry is not a natural or comfortable thing and we needed to address that the moment they walk in our door in both our interaction and the feel and layout of the store and how we presented the instruction. We wanted a fun exciting place that you could instantly feel comfortable in.
We finally opened on September 28th 2019 after missing the entire summer tourist season. But in hindsight it was probably for the best as there was definitely a learning curve in finding our voice and how to present the idea that yes, with no experience anyone can walk into Riveting Experience and design and craft a quality piece of jewelry with the guidance of ourselves and our team.
Along the way to opening we decided Harry would build the furniture for Riveting, so much of that summer Harry spent designing and building. Meanwhile one of my best friends is a designer and she helped design the logo as well as the interior. We wanted a similar feel to an old time barber shop from the 1920s, that feeling of welcome and comfort, a place to tell stories and learn something too. We also knew we wanted to expand and scale up our idea to multiple locations so we hired a trademark attorney and set about trademarking our name and logo, yet another process we knew little about. The 2019 Christmas season was amazing considering we had only been open a little over two months. We got very excited for our future and went into 2020 with high hopes!
Well, as the entire world knows, 2020 was not a good year. Harry and I went to Tucson in February to shop the Tucson gem show in order to stock up on stones for the upcoming summer season and the news was just beginning to mention a mysterious but serious virus. We remained hopeful that it would all blow over, and the rest as they say is history. We closed Riveting in mid March and remained closed to all but single family groups by reservation only all the way to the end of June when our city council announced that the Main Street through downtown where our studio is located would be closed to vehicular traffic in order to allow the businesses to move outside. If Salida city council had not made that decision we would have had to close permanently and wait out the pandemic and hope we had the resources to open again. Thankfully we did not have to make that choice but we sadly had to let go of all our staff at that time as we did not qualify for any PPP assistance due to being too new of a business.Our landlord did qualify for mortgage assistance and he was good enough to pass that reprieve on to us. Harry and I ran the store ourselves until spring of 2021 when we began to see a candle at the end of the tunnel and desperately needed help to regain some sanity.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
Harry and I are both multi generation metalsmiths in our respective disciplines. Harry in welding/ fabrication and blacksmithing and myself being the daughter of award winning jewelers, both my parents being recognized in the jewelry world. And our son is soon to graduate college as the fourth generation metalsmith. Riveting Experience Jewelry is in many ways our way of sharing this family love of crafting and crafting with metal in particular. We introduce you to the magic of manipulating a hard plain piece of metal into a beautiful textured piece of jewelry and we promise that it will be crafted well or we will start over with you and make it so. Our goal is that every customer becomes a part of the Riveting Experience family and introduces their family and friends to the joy and satisfaction of handcrafting.
We don’t just do jewelry either, you can customize a hat with one of our many designs or make a unique belt buckle using our “patent pending” belt buckle blank and add texture to custom conchos to be added to our hand cut Italian leather belts or make a custom leather cuff or wrap bracelet. All this and we have a selection of wine and craft beers to choose from as well.
We feel that the combined experience of so many generations coming together has given us the unique perspective necessary to provide an experience unlike any other that can be found at this time. We hope that as we continue to grow and add more locations we will continue to improve and provide that experience to an ever broader audience to the point that when buying jewelry you always ask the question, “ should we make it today or just buy it?
Have you ever had to pivot?
Pivots, we have so many. The most recent certainly has been pivoting from a full time artist, out on the road selling at art festivals to entrepreneur building a business with the goal of multiple locations and potentially franchising into a nationwide chain. The challenges in those two business models share some of the same things and yet at the same time are so completely different. The creativity necessary to build a brick and mortar location and design an atmosphere that is both utilitarian and welcoming has been an interesting challenge. Training our team and finding ways to communicate that convey our message to the customer in a simple yet encouraging fashion have all been a process we have had to learn as we go. However, the business aspects of where we are going are so much more complex, it is necessary for us to find the right people with the knowledge and experience we don’t have in order to successfully execute our goals..
Our timing of opening Riveting Experience has been a particular challenge. While Sterling and Steel was not a runaway success we had built it into a business that was providing for our needs. We had our work in many galleries as well as getting into some of the most prestigious art/craft shows in the country. So when we decided to pivot and start “Riveting” our goal was to phase out “Sterling and Steel” over six months to a year and then solely focus on building “Riveting”. As we all know, the pandemic had other plans.
We had hired and trained a good team of people and we were very excited about 2020. When the first shutdowns occurred and we discovered that as a new business with less than a years worth of records we did not qualify for any PPP for our staff we realized that we were not going to be able to provide them with any kind of regular schedule as everything was completely unpredictable. Harry and I chose to run “Riveting Experience” on limited hours after things began to open up as well as continue to produce work for “Sterling and Steel” for the three remaining galleries that carry our work. This is still where we are at, running the two businesses. Things are getting better, we started hiring a new team in the spring of 21 and now going into 2022 they are doing an amazing job and that is freeing us up to focus on expanding to a second location, but we spent all day yesterday working in our “Sterling and Steel” studio to finish producing work to be shipped to a gallery in Maine. “Riveting” is holding its own and paying the staff but we continue to work “Sterling and Steel” to provide for our own needs.
Up to this point we have chosen to bootstrap our way due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. My mom provided us with financial assistance to get “Riveting” open and has continued to help us through the tightest spots, we could not have done it without her. As we move forward we will need to begin the process of fundraising for the next phase and yet again we will enter an unknown realm.
I think the most important thing in pivoting is to just do it. There is never a perfect time or perfect place that is going to guarantee your success, but not doing it will always guarantee your failure. We have so much to learn going forward, the business side of building our dream is both daunting and thrilling and Harry and I both sometimes wonder how it is all going to get done, but one day at a time one step in front of another we seem to be getting there, it’s quite exciting!
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
From the beginning we started out with the intention to provide an experience for our customer that was based on respect, kindness, patience and attention to detail. We know that it is a big ask to have someone with little to no experience sit down at our bench and trust us to guide them through the process to make a piece of jewelry that they will actually love to wear. Creativity and art come with expectations in our culture that somehow you’re either good at it or you’re not, and if you’re not considered good at it you just don’t do it. At “Riveting Experience” we love it when someone comes in our door and says “ oh, I couldn’t do this, I’m just not creative”. Our response is “ let us help you find your creativity”, because we believe that everyone is creative in their own way. When you read our reviews online they almost all reflect our core values of respect, patience and quality work and that shows us that we are succeeding.