January 29, 2015

SBDC helps jewelry firm find new markets

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- When LouAnn Elwell couldn’t find a particular pair of earrings she was looking for, her solution was to start her own business. 

Now the owner of Southpass Beads in Cobden, Elwell has found the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale instrumental to the launch and growth of her business. Elwell, who worked for nearly 30 years in SIU’s School of Art and Design, began working in the jewelry business in 2002 and opened her in-home store in 2010. 

“I think it sort of fuels my own fire, because I really love doing this,” Elwell said. “I always enjoy seeing either jewelry I’ve made on other people or seeing other people being successful making jewelry using supplies that they purchased from my shop.” 

A full-service shop selling beads, chains, charms, cords and other jewelry components as well as Elwell’s hand-made jewelry, the store features colorful bead and jewelry displays and a wandering cat. Elwell utilizes the online retail platform, Etsy, as well as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and her own blog to market her products. 

Information that Elwell received at a SBDC workshop in 2002 assisted in launching the business, and she returned for help creating her website and expanding her markets through social media. She receives orders from around the country and internationally through Etsy. Elwell said the site is a great business tool, but that it can also be challenging because of the international competition. 

“Over the years, I’ve developed a large supplier list and I’m pretty good at finding deals, so I think my prices are very competitive,” Elwell said. She also travels to other shops, collecting ideas and feedback to help her make her business the best it can be. 

Elwell maintains the in-home business with the help of her husband. She plans to create a jewelry workshop classroom in her kitchen in the future.  The location is a great asset but also creates challenges. For instance, she only has on-street parking, but hopes to create a designated parking area in the future. 

Regardless, she’s found operating a home business to be a great choice and advises others to consider it as an option. She said another thing she learned is to always carry business cards and be prepared to “talk shop” no matter where she is. Elwell said it isn’t unusual for her to discuss jewelry and her business in settings including grocery stores or restaurants. 

“They can see I enjoy it and I do care what they think about the shop,” Elwell said. “I’m always open for suggestions.” 

Elwell is also quick to consult with the experts at the SBDC any time she needs information or advice. 

The Illinois Small Business Development Center/International Trade Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

For more information about the SBDC or the numerous services it provides to new and growing businesses, contact Robyn Laur Russell at rrussell@biz.siu.edu or 618/536-2424.