By Douglas Karlson
With her hand-stamped metal jewelry, Laurel Ryan is making her mark in the highly competitive jewelry world. The founder of Nautically Northern, Ryan, 26, has also made a strong impression in the business world. She was recently named one of Cape & Plymouth Business Magazine’s 40 Under 40 business leaders.
A native of the South Shore and a regular visitor to Cape Cod, her initial idea was to start a t-shirt company, but such a business required more capital than she could afford. A t-shirt business also would have required someone else to help with the designs and printing. Ryan wanted to start a business she could do on her own so she purchased a metal stamp set and began making hand-stamped bracelets. Initially her items were just for friends and family. The response was so positive she decided to expand distribution.
“They’re hand-stamped so no two are ever the same,” she says.
That’s one of the keys to the company’s success. Whether custom made or from one of Ryan’s curated collections, the jewelry connects at a very personal level. Writes Ryan: “Our items are designed to help bring a little piece of someone’s journey to the surface where they can see it, feel it, and share it with others.”
The jewelry is made of brass, aluminum or sterling silver. Some necklaces and bracelets are also available in 16 karat white or yellow gold plated. Short, hand-stamped messages are tactile and meaningful, often denoting the date of an important event, the name or initials of a loved one, or the latitude and longitude of a special place.
To launch Nautically Northern in 2016, Ryan tapped into social media, then created a website.
“Instagram and Facebook have been instrumental in building my business,” says Ryan, who majored in business management at Bridgewater State University, with a concentration in marketing. She minored in PR, accounting and finance.
Cold calling in person is not her forte, so to launch her wholesale business, she e-mailed stores and received a good response, signing on with 25 shops in the first summer. She also attended wholesale shows, starting with the New England Made Show in Portland, Maine.
“That was huge for the business,” she remembers.
The wholesale clients are able to pick and choose items from her collections that will work best in their regions or customize their own.
Her jewelry is now available in nearly 80 stores from Maine to Virginia Beach to Minnesota. Ryan attends about a half dozen wholesale shows per year, from New York City to Florida. Sixty percent of her business is wholesale, 40 percent is retail. Much of the retail is via direct sales at different events.
Customers may also purchase directly from the website, www.nauticallynorthern.com. There’s an option to customize your own bracelet, which is very popular. The company’s tagline is “Jewelry Handmade for You.”
Over the past three years she estimates she’s made more than 5,000 pieces. Recently, sales have skyrocketed. She’s now selling more than 1,000 pieces every four months.
“It’s taken off into something I never expected it to,” says Ryan.
While there’s plenty of demand, keeping up with orders is a challenge.
“My biggest struggle is being the only employee.”
That’s especially since it’s not her full-time job. Ryan works at T3 Expo in Lakeville, where she does corporate event planning. (She credits T3 Expo’s CFO, Chris Valentine, as a valuable mentor.)
She estimates she spends about 30 hours a week – on her business. Most weekends through November she’s at shows, putting in 10-hour days.
Ryan says her father, who owned a dry-cleaning business, is her number-one supporter, and comes to every show. “He instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in me at a young age.” When she feels overwhelmed, he tells her, “you got this.”
Her advice for other young entrepreneurs? “Don’t give up. It’s going to be tough, but keep your head down, work hard and don’t give up.”
It’s worth it, she says. “I’ve had so many amazing things happen because of Nautically Northern.” Often that’s because her jewelry is so personal.
“I’ve had people cry in my booth when they see their piece for the first time. It’s amazing that something I’m making means so much to them, that someone who is making jewelry at their kitchen table can have that kind of impact.”