Small Business Highlight: Janey Bee Jems
Janey Bee Jems is owned by Brooke Ballard, who makes beautiful handmade jewelry to sell on her website and in markets in and around Memphis. Her jewelry includes necklaces and earrings. I had the pleasure of being able to sit down with her one morning at City and State, a wonderful coffee bar and retail shop located on Broad Ave.
With our coffees in hand, we began to talk about when and how she kicked off her business. In May of 2015, Brooke started making jewelry for herself. The first piece she made was a necklace. “They weren’t cute at first,” she told me, laughing. Like most things, practice makes perfect. She told me that it took about two months for her to get good at putting together necklaces. The first products she did were tassel necklaces and she sold them on Etsy. By December 2015, she signed with her first retailer for a wholesale order. Within the next 6 months, she signed with 30 other retailers for wholesale orders. Retailers loved her pieces so much because she was only making one-of-a-kind necklaces. In 2017, Brooke started her own website. She sold mostly through this new website and less through wholesale orders. She also started focusing on local markets and trunk shows, which she still does today.
Since she started out making necklaces, I asked her if that was still her favorite kind of jewelry to make. She said, “As far as my favorites, my favorites would be statement necklaces and stacks.” If you don’t know what ‘stacks’ are, it's a group of necklaces that are different, but still cohesive and vary in length. She says that she tries to stick to what the customer wants, but those are definitely her favorite ones to make. She went on to talk about how her business ebbs and flows, like most businesses. For example, Brooke told me about when the ath-leisure trend was really big a few years ago, which was not good for her statement pieces. Ath-leisure is a minimalistic style and her jewelry didn’t fit into that category. So she has to check in with her customer base and make sure that she is making jewelry that they will buy and it’s not always about making something that she loves. Even some of the pieces that Brooke has on her website she wouldn’t wear. She is very good about understanding where her audience's interests lie and leaning into them. This is what made her such a good sales woman and led her to become a teacher.
Brooke is a Fashion Professor at The University of Memphis. In 2018, Brooke relayed to her department head that she was interested in teaching, so Brooke worked under her until she started teaching solo in the Spring semester of 2020. Brooke’s knowledge translated well to the classroom full of aspiring small business owners. She also helped with internships for students in her courses because of the connections she has in the Memphis area. The biggest role that she takes with her students is guiding them through the process of figuring out what they love. This helps them know what niche they fit into within the beginning stages of their businesses. Brooke told me that this is her passion and a huge creative outlet. Since she has so much experience in the industry, she feels like it would be a disservice to the other small businesses in the area not to lend a helping hand.
Brooke has been the Artistic Director of The Scout Guide since January 2021. The Scout Guide is a website dedicated to supporting small businesses in the Memphis area, similar to what we are trying to do with this blog series. I asked Brooke what she does in her role as an artistic director. “I have a friend who worked for them and then she left. I met with the owner and editor, Stephanie Stephens, and she wanted me to come on and style photoshoots.” Within her duties at The Scout Guide, she helps businesses with their brands, giving them any help they need creatively. For example, she shoots ads for companies and works with them on what is the best way to position their product. Brooke loves how she gets to work with local businesses and give them the tools to sell themselves, but also putting her own little flair in every shoot she does.
The last question was what she loves about being a small business in Memphis. “I love the community… I naturally like to think of it as a little family. I support so many small businesses and I think it’s important to support small businesses. We’re all friends and we support each other.” Brooke loves to take time out of the busy market day to visit her maker friends and see how they are doing or what they’ve been working. “It’s like your own little tribe of people who understand what you are going through.” She went on to tell me about how when you work for yourself, your creativity has more room to wander and grow, but it can also be hard to build boundaries, when to clock in for the day and when to clock out. “But at the root of it, I get to do what I love.”
I have to thank Brooke for taking time out of her day from her busy schedule to speak with me and having such a great conversation. Brooke is such a sweet person, so please don’t hesitate to check out Janey Bee Jems. You can find her on social media @janeybeejems and on her personal account, @_bballard. Her website is www.janeybeejems.com and you can find her work at The Scout Guide website: www.memphis.thescoutguide.com. And if you want to read about more Memphis small businesses, check out our previous Small Business Highlight blogs on our website: www.theprofitlink.com and find us on social media: @theprofitlink.