It truly was an honor to sit down with Catherine Phillips for an interview. A client of mine, I also consider Catherine to be a dear friend. She is the first to lend an ear, help someone out in need, and always has a dash of wicked humor mixed in with her incredible advice. It doesn’t shock me that this boss babe has created such a loyal tribe in our town. Nomad is a Boulder landmark renown for community, learning, support and good fun. There rarely isn’t a day that I walk inside the shop to see it bustling with activities, story telling, craftsmanship and camaraderie. You are sure to leave a bit lighter, more uplifted, and perhaps laughing to yourself over some absurdity you just overheard.
You’ve been the proprietor of Nomad Bead Merchants for over 10 years, opening Adorned (it’s sister shop) in the last few. What were you doing before you became a small business owner? How did that prepare you for this experience?
Short version: I was corporate accountant for 20 years.
Long version: I graduated with a history degree and worked as a secretary. Sick of getting paid a small salary I applied to grad schools and managed to get into the Business School at Yale. After I finished business school I got a job at Price Waterhouse Coopers as a small business consultant. It was great training as my role was to help small businesses manage their money and develop financial strategy. Tactics that serve me well today.
What motivated you to become a bead shop and gift store owner? Why this particular product offering (rather than something else)?
My mother had an art degree. While I wasn’t interested in painting, I was always crafty and loved jewelry. When I was still an accountant I loved buying hand-crafted pieces.
And after I moved to Colorado my new job afforded me more time to explore crafts and I learned how to make my own jewelry. I had been buying beads from Jake for about 4-5 years and I heard through the grapevine that Jake’s mom was ready to leave the business and he was looking for a new partner. I reached out to him and the rest is history! Since we started working together eleven years ago we’ve managed to quadruple the business.
What is your favorite part of being a business owner? Your least favorite part?
My favorite thing is creating an atmosphere, community and an enjoyable work space. I also enjoy the autonomy. I love being able to create my own schedule and be my own boss.
My least favorite part is knowing that it all depends on you. It’s a lot of responsibility for a group of people, not just myself.
What challenges have you faced over the past year? How have you tackled them?
Our biggest challenge in the last couple of years is the hit to retail in general. To put it in perspective there were about 25 bead shops when we started in the Denver area and now there are about three to four. While the competition has diminished so has the market itself. People are changing the ways they buy and so much has moved online. We’ve started to put our product up on the web and it’s been very successful so far, given our online inventory is limited. We’re excited to step it up in the new year as we’ll have staff on hand devoted to online inventory and sales only. I’m excited to see what that brings
What was your biggest “win” in 2019? How did you celebrate?
Making myself take a vacation! Truly, this is a feat given our rigorous schedule. I went to Switzerland with my family. Remarkably, I did not open my computer and really gave myself the opportunity to rest and recharge. I think the hardest thing to do as a business owner is to make quality time for yourself and it was really exciting that I made this a priority this year.
What advice do you have for a novice beader or jewelry designer? What is the best way to get started?
You just have to start. You have to make things. You have to understand that failure is part of the process. So many novices get frustrated in the beginning, but the key to success is to be patient with yourself. It’s easy to bead , however it’s difficult to compose a design. Beautiful work only comes with practice. Take classes, watch you-tube videos, get together with friends, work on a piece in the store. We offer beading basic classes on Saturday mornings to help you get started. It’s up to you to keep going.
You’ve owned Nomad Bead Merchants for some time now. Why did you decide to open Adorned?
Over the years we’ve created a very loyal and active community. I wanted to create a venue for our designers to sell their product. Those of us who are driven to make stuff are prolific with our work. You need to make money to buy more supplies. This shop was a way to support all of our incredible artists who purchase supplies at Nomad. Currently we have over 40 local artists in the store. We also carry hand-made and hand-crafted wares that have nothing to do with jewelry: candles, hand-made linens, scarves, bags and notecards. I love supporting our local community and I encourage you to do the same! Please consider shopping small this holiday season!
Tell me about your business partners. As I understand, it’s a family affair.
Jake is my business partner of over eleven years. He is like family to me. We definitely have our differences, but it’s been a really wonderful partnership overall.
My daughter, Margot, left a software company and started working with us about nine years ago. I consider her to be one of our most important teachers as she is always demonstrating new techniques. She is also our go-to technology expert and keeps our systems up and running. She has an encyclopedic memory, she troubleshoots, she writes beautifully. She’s been an incredibly valuable addition…and not just saying that because she is my daughter.
My sister Beth is our face of customer service. She has such a positive attitude and people love working with her. She goes out of her way to make people feel supported.
My husband Dave often helps out with re-stocking the shop, especially after gem show. In the new year, he’ll be helping us with our e-commerce site. I’m excited to have his expertise and to expand our business.
Favorite gemstone at the moment? Do you believe in its metaphysical properties? Why or why not?
I have mixed feelings about the metaphysical properties. While I don’t think they are always accurate, I do think there is something magical about gemstones. They give people hope, peace and joy.
Right now I’m fairly obsessed with some ruby pebble necklaces from an Indian bead partner. They are absolutely magnificent. They are these smooth river rocks of translucent reddish-pink with great texture. I also adore the periwinkle color of Tanzanite.
What has been your favorite part of working with me? Your least favorite part?
Really it’s been about education. You have opened up a whole spectrum of knowledge that is easy to overlook when you’re knee deep in your business. You’ve helped me explore the different ways in how people look at things, merchandising techniques, sales strategies…none of which I knew much about before. A new perspective that is useful to me and I appreciate your extensive knowledge of jewelry in general based on your background.
Least favorite part…I can’t afford for you to do everything. I think that’s every business owner’s dilemma. We always know we could be doing more but unfortunately there are only so many hours in the day and we have to be conscious of cash flow.
Would you recommend Bubblegum and Duct Tape to other business owners? What can they expect?
I would definitely recommend you to other business owners! Although, they need to realize they will have to work a lot harder than they thought they would. You bring to light so many other aspects of the business that I wasn’t even thinking about! However, having that new perspective is crucial. It’s so helpful to have an outsider look at your business from a marketing lens and guide you on how to create a strategic plan. I think every business owner has their strengths and their weaknesses. For example, I’m excellent with numbers. It’s so important to bring in the right people to help you learn and grow.