Not all business requires trial and error to determine if it will work. Elizabeth Rowland used her instinct instead. When she realized her original business idea wasn’t going to work, she moved on to the next best thing, jewelry.

Her amazing story begins in Beijing. A small shopping trip turned into business inspiration. With the help of a friend, who later left the business, Elizabeth built up a website and Abella Galleries was born. She currently offers gorgeous jewelry made out of turquoise and white stone beads, all of which has been imported from China. More than a business, she hopes to help inspire other talented individuals to try their hand at entrepreneurship.

What inspired you to create Abella Galleries?

While living in dynamic and growing Shanghai, China, I came across many different opportunities for starting a business, but hadn’t taken the initiative to follow through with any of them. The idea that attracted me most was importing and selling antique Chinese furniture in the US; however, the cost was prohibitively high. Nevertheless, I remained on the outlook for other opportunities.

While shopping with a friend in Beijing, I discovered a small jewelry booth filled floor to ceiling with moderately priced beautiful turquoise beads and immediately knew that those beads would sell well in the US. The friend I was with, Silvia Stoyanova, also had entrepreneurship on her mind as she had recently started her own web design and multimedia company, www.AmikaStudio.com. Excited about the idea of taking advantage of business opportunities in China, Silvia encouraged me to start a jewelry business in the US selling these beads. Having started her own business recently, she assured me that entrepreneurship was fun and not as difficult as one would expect. That week, we decided to join forces, I as the import specialist and she as the web designer for our future business. Silvia’s positive attitude and can-do determination truly inspired me to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. Though she later decided to drop out as a partner in order to focus her energies on her own new business, she and her team at Amika Studio remain driving forces behind Abella Galleries.

As time passed, the idea of my jewelry business morphed from a website for selling jewelry online into a collaborative online forum for other jewelry designers and artists to exhibit and sell their creative works. After working for over a year and a half and expending much energy and money to develop my business, it became clear why so many artists never develop their own online sales platform for their works: It’s exhausting and expensive! I decided that my entrepreneurial experience would be so much richer if I could inspire others to become entrepreneurs and include them in the vision for my business. From that point on, my online jewelry business officially transformed into Abella Galleries, a creative online jewelry and art gallery.

How many different necklace designs/styles would you say are currently featured?

Five. Four types of turquoise necklaces: Aegean Barrel, Blue Meadow Oval, Deep Sea Oval, and Retro Round. One type of white stone necklace: Classic White Oval. Soon to come will be eight styles of colored freshwater pearl necklaces.

Did you always believe that you would end up with your own online jewelry business?

Since the age of about 8, I wanted to be a fashion designer. My dream was to open my own fashion boutique. Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I could never be a fashion designer because I wasn’t good enough at drawing. By the age of 12, my career goals had shifted toward politics and international affairs, while my dream of becoming a fashion designer slid into childhood memories. Though my educational and career pursuits remained focused on politics from that point on, I never lost my love of fashion. Who knew that one day I would be able to combine my love of international affairs and fashion by designing and importing jewelry from China?!

What previous knowledge were you able to draw on while getting started and running your business?

My knowledge of China, Chinese language, and Chinese culture clearly helped me while sourcing products and seeking out manufacturers in China. I also received guidance from a friend in Shanghai who pointed me in the right direction regarding how to find a Chinese export agent and where to find the products I wanted. The agent that I ultimately partnered with, Jack Ye of Yiwu Sunshine Ornament Co. (www.ornamentbuy.com), provided valuable knowledge of Chinese manufacturers, assembly factories, and shipping procedures. My mother granted insight into the technical and legal aspects of starting a business, as she had learned by opening her own law firm with my father. As mentioned earlier, Silvia and her team at www.AmikaStudio.com contributed essential website development expertise. Further, my good friend Rohan Gilkes, co-founder of the search engine optimization (SEO) services company www.Niife.com, supplied extremely helpful guidance on how to increase traffic to my website. Finally, my friend Diana Warner of Diana Warner Studio in New York (www.DianaWarnerStudio.com) offered valuable advice on starting a jewelry business. Aside from that, most of what I now know about starting a business came from books. I read about how to start a business, how to build a website, how to import and export, how to do business in China, and the list goes on.

How long did it take for you to build from idea to launch?

One and a half years.

What would you say was the hardest part of getting started?

Juggling the business with my other pursuits has remained the most difficult challenge in running my business. In the beginning, I was studying Mandarin Chinese while starting the business. I ended up missing more than a few classes in order to travel to factories and visit suppliers. Now the difficulty is balancing the business with my graduate school studies. Because the business remains small, I can’t afford to quit school to focus on the business. And because graduate school is so challenging, I can’t afford to skip class in order to develop the business. As a result, I have to find time to do both, and I end up extremely busy.

What have you learned about business during the process?

I don’t even know where to begin! I learned an enormous amount. Even if my business ultimately fails, it will have been worth it for the education I received in the process. I have loved learning more about Chinese culture and business practices. Doing business in China is very different from doing business in the US. The experience definitely impressed upon me the importance of cross-cultural communication skills as well as patience and determination. I also realized that when bigger goals are broken down into manageable baby-steps, anything is possible. When I look back at all that I have done, I can’t believe that I did it (from going karaoke singing with a group of male Chinese factory owners in Guangdong province to seeing the inside of some pretty terrible Chinese factories). I could talk a lot more on this question, so let me know if you want me to provide a longer response.

Do you have any goals for Abella Galleries that you’d like to reach over the next year or so?

My immediate goal is to build web visibility for my site in order to increase sales. Once I increase sales I will be able to afford to add a new line of colored pearl jewelry as well as the works of two other artists.

What is the first thing someone should do before they attempt to get into the jewelry business?

Research! Research by interviewing others in the business, by reading books, by surveying future competitors, by learning the necessary processes and procedures. When I started, I knew very little about the jewelry business, or any business for that matter. I researched for at least six months while beginning to develop my business. But it didn’t stop there. Research has been an ongoing process as new information arises and markets change.

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