- Insight: Use your prior experience to inform your new ventures
How She Started: Can you tell me about your entrepreneurial journey?
Kay McDonald: Until I was about 30, I worked for some retail and wholesale companies and was a buyer for department stores. I always had the aspiration to be own boss so when I found myself at company that was making clothing in India and realized it wasn’t a good fit, I decided the timing was right. But I thought, what business can I start that incorporates my sales and merchandising skills?
I always used to buy all this fabulous jewelry when I was in New York on buying trips and bring it back. It was jewelry we couldn’t get in Phoenix. I wanted to go start buying jewelry, so I did and I launched a company called Regalia.
I had it for 20 years and it was a retail/ wholesale women's accessory business. Then I started another business with two women that I'd known for a while. It was called Thriveat55. We had all just turned to 55 and thought that there was a need in our community to bring women together to celebrate aging, and the fact that we all still had all this wisdom and talent.
When I had Regalia, I saw a need for charities to have something that was a little bit nicer than the traditional promo gifts. I used to do lots of women's events with my company, which gave me the idea for Charity Charms. I had production, sales, and philanthropy experience, so the idea for Charity Charms was a natural extension. The concept of creating custom sterling silver charms from the ICON in a charities logo was novel and created a whole new niche in the jewelry industry…..awareness and fundraising jewelry. Charity Charms was launched in 2004 and it’s still going strong.
HSS: How did you acquire your first customers for Charity Charms?
KM: I researched what charity would be an ideal fit for my new concept and chose the Arizona Humane society as the perfect fit. They had 3 icons in their logo, had a team that could execute, a cause woman were passionate about, and had many venues to use the charms. I began by reaching out to colleagues and friends to see who might know the executive director.
A close girlfriend of mine connected us, we had lunch, I presented the concept, and the rest is history. The Arizona Humane Society was our first client (we now have over 500 worldwide) The custom charms and jewelry were launched at their annual luncheon, so I got instant customers, about 1000 women, who bought from me. Then it just spread like wildfire. Charities were contacting ME…and I could barely keep up with the demand. Women all over the city were creating and collecting custom Charity Charms bracelets from their favorite causes.
HSS: How do you retain your customers?
KM: We have an e-mail list where we send emails every week with new products and concepts. I also started an interview series called the POWER OF CHARMS to tell the stories of our clients and spread the word about their cause or passion. We have interviews, podcasts, blogs, and social media. That's how we keep engaged. Our book, The POWER of CHARMS is a compilation of these stories and can be found on Amazon.
HSS: What's your growth strategy?
KM: We're actually going to be launching a new program. We've done just our charms and private label for 20 years. Now, almost every jewelry company has a charity division. This fall, we will start interviewing kindred companies that are also doing Charity Charms. By telling their stories women all over the world we are encouraging women to build total bracelets from charms, from charities, from all different companies.
HSS: What are your lessons learned so far with all of your different businesses?
KM: You have to have to believe in yourself. You have to be open to try new things. The way I do my business now is completely different from when I first started. You need to stay on top of technology. What used to take me 20 people now takes 2.
Also, you have to be ready to work 24/7 when you own your own business. There are no weekends, but there are vacations which you plan well and you know you can make your own schedule. You need to be prepared to always be on call.
HSS: Do you have any additional advice to female founded businesses?
KM: I think it's important to surround yourself with other women who own businesses. Sometimes when you start your own business, it's kind of lonely, and having a network of support is a big plus. I have several professional women's groups that I've belonged to since the beginning, and they have been a huge part of my success.
HSS: When has being a female been an advantage to you?
KM: My company is geared towards women and they are my customers. However men really love the concept for it’s blend of fashion and compassion. Men in the philanthropy industry understand the impact and uniqueness of the product and have embraced it whole heartedly. Since the concept is geared primarily for women, if I'm going into a room full of men, they expect somebody like me to be presenting it.
- Insight: Use your prior experience to inform your new ventures.
- Insight: Leverage your network.
- Insight: Ensure you have a well defined niche.
- Insight: Find a way to keep people buying. In Kay’s case it was the collectability of the charms. Charities continued to use them for volunteer recognition, donor appreciation, galas, and campaigns.
- Insight: Keep your customers informed and engaged. In Kay's case she sends emails, created an interview series, created auditory and written content, and keeps up with all of her socials.
- Insight: Enter partnerships that are mutually beneficial.
I messaged Kay and we set up a call.
I've always been passionate about women helping other women. I created this blog to tell stories of successful female-founded businesses. Hopefully, these stories will help inspire more women to found their own businesses.