DREAM CATCHER: AMY RODBELL
Amy Rodbell is the founder and creative director of jewelry and monogram accessories brand Swell Caroline. Her past experience as a stylist at Ralph Lauren inspired her to create a lifestyle brand that would motivate customers to dress in a more “swell” fashion. Her line was designed to appeal to women with a colorful sense of style who could use pieces to pull together their look elegantly but affordably. The Atlanta-based business began as a home-based online jewelry shop but quickly grew to be sold in over 200 boutiques nationally and is now regarded as a go-to brand for costume jewelry that is both classic and prep-fabulous.
The three words that best describe me are… Independent, competitive, and loyal.
How did your former career prepare you for running your own business? Quite honestly, nothing can truly prepare you for running your own business. That said, my last job working for an entrepreneurial real estate company definitely helped me hone in on my strategy. My former employer had his company set up so that his residential real estate brokerage business covered his overhead and gave him the capital and flexibility to develop large scale residential communities and office buildings. In my case, I have our company set up so that our online retail business has been our recurring revenue driver and gives me the resources to design and launch our private label wholesale collections. Designing is what I love and have a passion for but manufacturing goods is capital-intensive on the front end. Our online retail shop has been our recurring revenue source to help launch the dream!
What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome before launching your business? I launched Swell Caroline five months after the birth of my second child, when my first child was just under two years old. Finding enough time to work between feedings and the sleep deprivation that comes with raising children was and continues to be my biggest struggle. I wish I had launched this business before I had a family and when I had endless time on my hands to invest in crafting our company perfectly.
How long were you in business before you started to see real growth? What do you attribute that to? It was about six months before I saw real growth. I launched Swell Caroline before social media was “pay to play” and that helped tremendously. The cost to acquire customers was next to nothing and I am so thankful that window of opportunity was there. At the time, we were one of the first online retailers to launch the super trending acrylic monogram necklaces created by my friend Kelly Shatat of Moon & Lola. When we posted them to our Facebook page, people went nuts over them. From there, we started focusing on expanding our email list. We now have a customer list of over 45,000 loyal shoppers.
How did you fund your dream? I originally funded Swell Caroline with $5,000 from my savings account and occasionally asked my husband for additional rounds of funding.
Describe a day in your life. How do you organize your day to best optimize your time? Are there any organizational tools you can’t live without? I wake up at 6:45am to the Constellation ring tone on my iPhone (unless one of my kids decided to change it to the Mario Kart theme). From there, I feed the kids and I’m out the door by 7:30. I drive the kids to school and am either at my home office or our studio by 8:30. My most productive time is in the morning, after a cup of Starbucks coffee, and that is when I write. Writing has become such a huge part of this job. Caffeine is the organizational tool I cannot live without. I am not joking.
Lately I’m inspired by… The changing weather. In Georgia, we have true seasons and the beginning of Fall is my favorite. The weather is just cool enough and the Maple trees start to turn colors. Our home is very cozy and we start to use the fireplace at night. I think more clearly and have more focus during this time of year.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be… A stay-at-home mom. I adore what I do, but if I could not be an entrepreneur, I would be very happy staying at home with my two children. I am so thankful that I am able pursue a creative career but still be the room mom, drive carpool and make all of the baseball games. I am a creative at heart and love making art projects, doing science experiments, playing in the woods in our back yard, and cooking dinner. Until I had children, I held positions where I worked 10+ hours a day and on the weekends. I have been there, done that, and learned so much – but I do not wish to go back!
A teacher or boss who influenced me is… Frank Quattro, my first boss after business school would always say, “Information+Process=Value.” Never underestimate the value that you add when you process information available to you. We are inundated with endless amounts of information, statistics, facts, etc. When you actually take time to process information relevant to what you do and put your expertise to work, you begin to truly create value for your customer. Don’t just give your customers facts and figures; look at it from your own unique perspective and add value by communicating a clear picture of what you see and why.
Five years from now I see myself and my company… Being acquired by a larger brand. I love Swell Caroline but I know I only want to take it so far (as noted above, I don’t want to go back to 12-hour workdays). I am hopeful that a larger brand would see value in the unique positioning of our brand and our incredible customers and would also have the resources to take the brand to new heights.