A.A.S. in Veterinary Medical Technology
A chronic doodler, Danielle Kritz started making her own jewelry as a creative outlet.
The then-veterinary technician got her start with beading before taking the leap into metalsmith techniques, like hand stamping. And what began as creative exploration led to River Valley Jewelry, Danielle's custom jewelry line on Etsy.
Featuring a minimalist aesthetic, Danielle's designs are custom creations that allow her to connect with her customers' unique stories. Danielle's creations are now worn by movie stars, country singers and thousands of happy customers around the world. Despite her hard work, it's a success story that sometimes even surprises Danielle. "Knowing that I'm building a successful business based on products I design and make with my own two hands, that people LOVE, just blows my mind."
You have to believe in your dream.
How did you get into jewelry design, and at what point did you decide to start your own Etsy store?
I started a few years back because I needed a creative outlet. I'm a huge fan of fashion and design and was forever doodling ideas on paper. Since I'm not the best seamstress, beading won out. Shortly after, I became brave enough to start studying and learning metalsmith techniques, including hand stamping. It was love at first hammer strike.
What types of things do you do in your job on a daily basis, and what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Things that I absolutely have to do daily are answer emails from clients, and I'm usually in contact with one or more of my core suppliers. I write a production schedule each morning of what I have to make that day, so that takes a chunk of my time. Then, in the evenings, I usually print shipping labels, package and ship, all while answering emails and convos and keeping my Etsy shop running smoothly. (The Internet never sleeps!) And if time allows, I'll design a new piece. I have a special box with components I've picked out, but haven't worked with yet. I'm like a kid at Christmas when I get a solid few hours to just design. I love it.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Knowing that I'm building a successful business based on products I design and make with my own two hands, that people love, just blows my mind. I love hearing back from clients after they've received their piece. I got feedback in my Etsy shop tonight that said, "There are no words to describe how special this bracelet is." I know the words that I stamped on this client's cuff, and they may not be meaningful to me, but they meant the world to her. To be a part of that is just such a blessing.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
Ugh. The paperwork/financial aspect of running your own small business is the pits! I never stress about design plans or production schedules, and I think it's just because I love it that much.
What did you do in your previous career?
I was a registered veterinary technician for 12 years before I was able to do River Valley Designs full-time. I'm a great technician and will maintain my professional license so I can continue to volunteer my skills with non-profits.
Last year, I went on a trip with an amazing non-profit called Animal Balance that completely changed the shape of my heart. I didn't want to feel like I was selling my tech skills anymore; I just wanted to give them to those who needed it. Animal Balance conducts high-volume spay/neuter clinics in remote areas of the world where the stray pet population is threatening the local ecosystem. I went to the North Coast of the Dominican Rebublic in April of 2011 for a huge spay/neuter campaign. Above all, the goal is to provide good medicine for these critters, but to sterilize as many as we can during our visit.
We set up MASH-style clinics, usually without running water or light, wherever needed, often operating in the grass under a shaded tree. The goal was to get the stray dog population under control, because developers are starting to move in to these pristine areas and want to build. They view the beach dogs -- who are just about the sweetest, kindest dogs you'd ever meet -- as a nuisance to their resort visitors. So lots of dogs are being found poisoned; even ones that we've spayed/neutered and vaccinated. They just want to get rid of them. And these dogs are dying horrible, excruciating deaths due to the poison they use, so we're working as fast as we can to get this as under control as possible.
My heart is dedicated to volunteering to help correct this situation. Any extra time and funds I have to do so, I do and will continue to help as much as possible.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Absolutely. This has been one of my biggest challenges so far. Balancing work time and family time can lead to a lot of what I call "mommy guilt". I have a 5-year-old son, and when I'm overwhelmed with orders, I'm not able to spend as much time with him as I normally do. A no-fail tactic to create balance that has worked for me is to set aside a couple of hours in the day where I am not, under any circumstances, allowed to do anything work-related. That time is for my son, and I'll play, do and watch whatever he wants. That's his time. That usually takes care of the "mommy guilt".
What are some of the rules you live by?
Treat every customer with the same grace and respect that I would've shown my Meemaw. My grandmother (Meemaw) passed away last year and she was the epitome of a lady. It was easy to love her and I always felt good about the way that I loved her. I know I can't duplicate that with a client, but Meemaw taught me that grace, respect, calm voices and genuine smiles were pretty much all it takes to keep things peaceful in an otherwise stressful situation. Problems get solved insanely faster when I use "the Meemaw method."
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful as a jewelry designer?
I think it's so important to stay on top of trends and eventually learn to predict what will be hot next season by considering previous season's trends. And of course, setting trends is always good.
Patience! As a hand stamper, patience is imperative. Each letter is lined up by hand and hammered into the metal, one by one. And once the impression is made, there's no "fixing" it if you mess up. So if you're stamping a sterling silver cuff that costs $75+ and you stamp a letter upside down or space letters too far, it can get pretty frustrating and expensive!
What advice do you have for women who aspire to open their own Etsy store and make a business out of it?
Learn everything you can about running an online business before you start. Have your ducks in a row first, and you'll find that you'll take off quicker than a lot of other new sellers. Etsy has grown into a hugely competitive marketplace for handmade goods -- especially in the jewelry category -- so you've really got to have a product that will stand out and grab attention.
Find your niche! There's a whole science to online marketing called SEO, or search engine optimization. It's so important to study and learn how to optimize tags and titles so you aren't buried under the thousands of other sellers.
Be patient and realize that slapping up a mediocre picture of your beaded bracelet on Etsy will not get you to the point where you can make a business out of it. Etsy is super unique in that lots of hobbyists sell there just to support their hobby and that's awesome. But, if you want to make it your livelihood, you have to treat every aspect of it as professionally as possible. That takes lots of time, planning, investment, learning, trial and error … I could go on and on.
Bottom line, you'll see a return from your Etsy shop that's directly proportional to what you put in. Listing and waiting will get you nowhere. You have to market yourself all over the net, by word of mouth, social media, etc. It's easily an 80-hour-per-week job for me, but I love it and that's what matters most.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Five years from now, I see myself in my own building. Not a storefront, but my own building with a huge studio workspace. I can see having maybe one other full-time employee and two part-time employees that I would delegate shipping, packaging and inventory to. I would be able to spend more time designing and creating. I see it as clear as day.
And two years ago, I saw where I am today as clear as day, so I know I'll get there. You have to believe in your dream without fail. No buts. You have to believe it.