When tennis elbow banished Mary Soufleris from the court, she wasn't sure what to do with her free time. After all, she used to spend five days a week serving and volleying. So, she sought out a little "retail therapy" and discovered some beautiful beaded bracelets. But instead of buying, Soulfleris decided to make her own.
She strung her first bracelets in August, 2001, and sent them to her sisters, Ann Carney and Elizabeth Cilento. They loved them so much that a month later, they joined Soufleris to start C'est Moi, located in Leesburg, Va. Over the past four years, they have sold $1.5 million worth of jewelry. In hopes of landing a spot on QVC, the three sisters pitched their wares at the network's January product search in Arlington, Va.. BusinessWeek SmallBiz contributor Rachael King spoke with Soufleris about her accidental success. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
Q: How did you decide to turn your bracelet hobby into a business?
A:I had a MasterCard bill to pay, with all the stuff I'd been buying to make the bracelets. I was up to $200 and I thought, "I'd better stop doing this! If people want this, I better stop giving it to them." So I had to start putting prices on it. Once the first home party went, that's when I invested $3,000 and bought in the best price-point I could find. And I sold out right away and started making a profit.
Q: What did your family think of the new business?
A:Ann's husband was giggling -- he has a very nice job -- and he was kind of giggling and shaking his head. We were all together at my parent's 50th wedding anniversary in New Orleans and everybody was kind of getting in it and he was shaking his head and saying, "Come on." Now he's not.
Q: What did you do before you started this business?
A:Way back before I had children, I was a sales rep for Procter & Gamble (PG ). So I'm the sales person in the company, and Ann is really good at operations, and Elizabeth is an artist. That's what's been really cool about coming together as sisters. Everybody gets to come together to do what they're good at, and doesn't have to come together to do what they're not.
Q: Are any other family members involved in the business?
A:Mother strings. And when she runs out of beads, she calls and says, "You can send more orders."
Q: What do your friends think of your business?
A:At one point, I said, "My husband, Mark, really would like a fishing boat for Christmas." And a friend said, "Like you can buy that selling those little bracelets." I didn't say anything, but I was thinking, "Yeah, I am!"
Q: Do you make your own beads?
A:Elizabeth took up glass blowing and it took her 40 hours to make the first bead. She put silver around it, strung it on a chain and sent it to my mother. It's one of my mother's treasures. Elizabeth can whip them out now and she's even gotten into silver and casting and she's become very elaborate.
Q: Do you still sell at home parties?
A:Yes. I literally fashioned it after Tupperware (TUP ) and I have never been to a Tupperware party, if you can imagine. We've never had one bad check. It's because our customers are friends of friends. Tupperware knew what they were doing.
King writes about business and technology for BusinessWeek SmallBiz and other publications
Edited by Rod Kurtz