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Bonnie Kelly & Teresa Walsh of Silpada Designs

Bonnie Kelly and Teresa Walsh

Bonnie Kelly and Teresa Walsh

Bonnie Kelly & Teresa Walsh officially launched Silpada Designs in 1997 - a jewelry home show company that offers handcrafted sterling silver pieces. The company's unique and beautiful designs, sold by 19,000 women across the country, doubled its sales year after year through word of mouth. Today, the company is poised to top $250 million in sales for 2007. Here is their story.

Why did you start the company and when?
We first met in 1985 when our oldest of three children started first grade. We had both signed up as room mothers and immediately became the best of friends. After chatting about how we could earn a little extra cash, we tried a few new business ideas. We had a lot of fun, but it wasn't until we each took $25 from our grocery fund and pursued our passion for Sterling Silver jewelry that we really began to love our "jobs." We started designing our own jewelry creations and hosting what we called "A Fun Ladies' Night Out Playing Dress-up with Jewelry!" Quickly, one party to led to another, and it wasn't long before hostesses and customers began telling us, "You look like you are having so much fun - we wish we could have your jobs!" After hearing this again and again, we decided we would start a company to offer other people the opportunity to build their own business while balancing family life.

Silpada Designs began officially in 1997, and we created our exclusive line of Silpada Designs Sterling Silver Jewelry and our very first Silpada Designs Catalog. Friends and customers became independent Silpada Designs Representatives, and we realized our dream of running our own business.

What were your initial goals?
We were having a lot of fun selling jewelry at in-home parties, and through this experience we met so many wonderful people who touched our lives. We loved what we were doing so much that we wanted to share it with other women. Empowering other women by building their self-esteem and creating opportunities for friendships and financial freedom was so important to us.

Describe yourself and your family. What is your background and how does it relate to your company?
silpada_woodOur background is built around having fun! Before Silpada, we were both stay-at-home moms with three children looking for a way to juggle family life while earning some extra money. Yes, we had a passion for sterling silver jewelry, but we also loved having fun and spending time with friends.

Bonnie is married to Jerry Kelly (who serves as CEO of Silpada and is a co-owner) and they have three children. Teresa is married to Tom Walsh and they have three children.

Have you ever experienced an epiphany that changed the direction of your life?
After hearing from people, again and again, that they'd like to do what we were doing, we discovered that our two-person start-up business could evolve into a fun, life-changing business opportunity for other women. This changed our lives forever.

What process did you follow to develop your jewelry? Did you source all your pieces - or create them yourselves?
We work with artisans from around the world to design original jewelry that meets Silpada's high standards. We are involved in the design of every single Silpada piece to consider the style, look, quality and weight. Each piece of Silpada jewelry is handcrafted and we use only the highest-quality silver, stones and materials. On average, each piece has been touched by six to eight artisans, each with their own expertise. This hands-on process means no two Silpada pieces are exactly alike.

How did you find these artisans initially? How do you find them now?
silpada_ringSilpada employs the most skilled artisans available for each step in the jewelry-making process. In addition to their knowledge and skills, these talented artisans must also possess a high degree of hand-eye coordination and hand dexterity. Currently, artisans in more than 10 countries around the world work to craft Silpada jewelry to its exact standards.

Quality is really important to us. Each piece of Silpada jewelry receives a quality inspection as it's shipped from its manufacturing point and is inspected again upon arrival at Silpada's distribution center. Our commitment to quality allows us to deliver each piece with confidence as evident by Silpada's lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects.

You began selling to your girlfriends. How did this help shape your product line?
We've always had an eye for style and our girlfriends seemed to love our taste in jewelry. But, we also recognized early on that jewelry is an important part of a woman's individuality and not every piece of jewelry will appeal to all women. While we certainly keep up with fashion trends and styles, Silpada jewelry is hip-classic and offers something for everyone of all price ranges and styles.

How did you come up with the home party concept? Is there a way you do it differently?
We always said we wanted to start a party plan company that threw a party we'd want to attend. That's why there are no formal presentations or rehearsed sales pitches at Silpada parties. It's all about having fun!

Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?
silpada_necklaceSilpada has always been committed to producing the highest quality products and never settling for anything less. During the initial years it was challenging to find the right artisan mix that would adhere to Silpada's higher-than-normal standards. Our unwavering devotion to producing the best possible products has enabled Silpada to offer our customers a lifetime replacement guarantee due to manufacturer's defect.

What was the biggest learning curve in terms of developing your product or growing the business?
Silpada has experienced unprecedented growth in the last 10 years. One of our biggest learning curves happened at the end of 2001 when Silpada's growth in retail sales jumped from $1 million to $3 million. We didn't offer online ordering at the time and there were two-hour waits to get through to our two customer service representatives. We were taking home orders to process and helping fulfill orders. We quickly realized we had to put an infrastructure in place to support what we saw as some dramatic growth in the coming years. From that point, Silpada has taken a proactive business approach to stay ahead of the growth.

Marketing:
How did you grow your base of sales reps and the home party concept? How did you get the word out?
Silpada grew through word-of-mouth marketing for the first nine years. In 1997 we were a basement-born company with only 14 Silpada representatives, and now there are more than 19,000 representatives across the country.

In 2006, Silpada launched its first national branding campaign with national public relations and advertising efforts. Our branding efforts are geared toward creating greater awareness.

How long did it take to get your product from idea to market (conception to product launch)?
silpada_dangle2We work about 12 months in advance of the launch of our summer and spring catalogs.

How have you managed to juggle the roles of business owner and mom? What - if anything - falls by the wayside (laundry, work-out, travel, etc.)?
Our approach has always been to get it done instead of worrying about it. We prioritize our tasks and aren't afraid to ask for help if necessary.

What kind of support system do you have in place personally and professionally?
We have a wonderful support system in our families, each other, friends, representatives and dedicated employees who we can always count on.

What is your company's current financial picture and what are your projections?
In 1997, Silpada Designs was a basement-born business with only three employees. Today, there are about 300 employees. Silpada has experienced an average of 100 percent growth each of its 10 years in business and exceeded $190 million in retail sales in 2006. Silpada anticipates it will exceed $225 million in retail sales in 2007. To have achieved this level of sales with nearly 19,000 representatives is unprecedented in the party plan industry. Silpada is still small based on industry standards with huge growth potential.

Do you think it was mostly word-of-mouth that facilitated such rapid growth those first ten years? How did you keep up with the growth - was it ever overwhelming and if so, how did you handle it?
silpada_dangle1During the first nine years in business, Silpada simply grew organically by word-of-mouth. From day one we have been focused on building a solid infrastructure, developing the highest quality jewelry and supporting our representatives and customers in the best way possible - and this continues to be our primary focus.

Silpada has always been committed to being the best at what it does, it strives to produce the best products possible and provide the best opportunities for its representatives. This underlying philosophy has fueled the phenomenal growth and laid a solid foundation for Silpada's bright future.

What has been your greatest success or "high point" in the process?
We are inspired on a daily basis when we hear emotional stories from Silpada representatives about how Silpada has changed their lives. It is our greatest success to share the Silpada business opportunity with other women and hear how it has impacted their lives. It gives us chills.

What is your vision for moving forward?
Silpada is still a relatively small company, and we intend to keep growing. Our focus is supporting that growth and supporting our representatives. We want to be top-of-mind when it comes to sterling silver jewelry. The end result is the positive effect the company has on so many women's lives. Silpada is about empowering women with a wonderful business opportunity and friendships. Silpada is the best of everything, and that's what we really try to focus on. It's more than jewelry, it's more than a job. It's a lifestyle.

Support:
Who has been your biggest source of inspiration? What keeps you going?
silpada_braceletWe are inspired on a daily basis by the emotional stories from representatives about how owning their own Silpada business and having control of their own income has had a positive impact on their families.

We frequently hear stories from women whose husbands have lost their jobs. Time and time again we hear, 'I stepped up my Silpada business and we never missed a beat.'

The touching stories extend beyond the financial benefits of the representatives' businesses. One representative came up to us with tears in her eyes and said, 'you don't realize what this has done for my life. It has made me a better mom, a better wife and a better friend.' The increased self-esteem that stems from looking and feeling better about themselves and achieving personal and business goals is another positive result we see in our representatives.

What advice would you offer other moms developing their products/ideas?
There are a number of preliminary steps you should take before diving into a new business venture. It's important to do something you're good at and make sure there is a need for your product or service by testing the market. For six years prior to starting Silpada, we pursued our passion by helping women reinvent their wardrobes and hosting home jewelry parties.

A few other guiding principles we live by:

  • Most likely if you're really passionate about something and willing to put work into it you will be successful.
  • Stay open and flexible for what is around the corner.
  • Don't be afraid to try something once.
  • Discover your strengths and then follow your passion and dreams.
  • Remember, passion and fun are contagious.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
From basement beginnings to now, we've always known life can be as big as you dream. Every day, we are inspired by the individual stories this business creates...the women who have solely supported their families, the women who have found new friends, the women who have experienced their self-confidence soar, the list goes on. Each of their success stories proves that when you are surrounded by people who believe in you and support you, you realize there are no limits to what you can achieve.


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10 Responses »

  1. I've recently hosted my first Silpada Jewellry party and have now received my products. I do love them all! And, will be attending another party in the near future. I do have one concern that I'm hoping you will take into serious consideration: 7 items arriving in 7 gift boxes and plastic! I think your company could save money and their environmental footprint by placing orders in 1 or 2 gift boxes. It seems an awful waste to me to break down these boxes and recycle them, but I will. Many will simply throw them in the garbage. I do appreciate the small storage bags as they assist with storage and keeping matching items together and would be perfectly happy if that is the only packing material received. Thank you and here's to looking forward to a possible changes.

  2. Teresa,
    It has been a while since I have seen you and I think we are still neighbors. My girlfriend and I have just started our company. I have watched your business grow and what you have become from a small town Cushing girl. We are at the beginning stages of our company. We have written two children's books about my daughter Grace. The books will be out in August. I just have some questions I would like to ask you about starting this business or should we become a non for profit organization. We are doing a book signing on August 13 in Cushing and will have other launching celebrations here in Leawood in September. I would love to have the chance to meet for a coffee or glass of wine to pick your brain on where our company is going. We are getting great responses by the media and press.
    Thanks for your time. We are hoping to head to the lake with Kenny and Kama later this summer.

    You can contact me through this or my cell
    913-991-8990
    Thanks
    Bonnie (Caudle) Reber

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  4. I am very happy for both Bonnie and Teresa I know Teresa from childhood this success story could not have happened to a more deserving and wonderful person.

    Now for the both of you "on to bigger and better things"

    Love ya.

  5. Jane Walsh Weber,

    These posts are not in the order that they were written so I want anyone reading this to understand they should read the dates and times they were actually posted. I'm a concerned potential customer who sees this as a disaster in customer relations that I could've been subjected to myself had I purchased some of your jewelry. Let me say first of all that the quality of your jewelry is impressive and the designs are quite nice. That being said, let me speak to the heart of my post which is to say that customer service in this day and age is horrible if it even exists at all in some businesses. When I get bad customer service I don't do return business with them, either for a very long time or never again. Sometimes you have to put up with bad customer service if the product is something you can't get anywhere else. In your case there are other businesses that produce quality pieces like your's and they have great customer service. The difference with Silpada is that it's all in one place as opposed to going to many different businesses. I really really appreciate great customer support and this has earned my trust. That trust equates to much return business over the time span of many years.

    Now..........the customer says she has proof that she sent the watch to Heather and it was returned to her twice. Heather contacted you in March as opposed to the customer who says she first returned it to Heather in January. You said that you told Heather to send it to you but you never got it. You even say that Heather failed to hold up her end of the contract! Obviously you believe that Heather lied to the customer. When you discovered that Heather didn't tell the truth you should've taken her out of the equation. Instead you "tell" the customer to ask Heather to tell the truth. Somehow Heather will tell the truth and you will be off the hook. You "state" to the customer in your post here that she or Heather should return the watch to you. You mention the 60 day return policy and that you worked out a deal with Silpada to work this out. You should've been more businesslike and "asked" the customer to send it to you directly and given her the address to do so. She gave you her phone number on this public site so that you could call her and get this straightened out. She's clearly motivated in getting the jewelry she wants and returning the jewelry she didn't want. She was well aware of the 60 day return policy. For all of these problems Heather should be forbidden from having any more Silpada parties, selling your jewelry or whatever she was given authority to do by Silpada. Whatever you do you never insult the customer by telling them to go to the party giver to ask or tell them to tell the truth. You apologise for the actions of those representing the company to the customer and you jump to giving good customer service. That means that the customer, after waiting from January to at least July should get the piece of jewelry she wanted at no cost to her. On top of that you should probably allow her to keep the watch. If she wants only to return the watch to you and pay for the other jewelry she wanted insist that the company wants to show their appreciation for her business and their apoligies for this screwup by eating the cost themselves. This is how this should be handled. This woman wears your jewelry...........which advertises it to the public. People will ask her where she got it because they so admire it. Let me ask you what you think her reply would be if you give her the piece she wanted to buy for free because of all the trouble she went through in getting it or how she might reply to this person if she had to send the watch back and pay for the other jewelry she wanted. Cleary, if you "give" her the piece she wants at no cost to her she will tell potential admirers and customers of your jewelry of her trials and tribulations or.......at what such great customer service she got. It's your choice. I'd personally love to know what Silpada's policy and proceedure are for dealing with things like this. If there is none I'd like to know that so I can stay clear of your company and warn others to do the same. You have to take responsibility for your response to this customer and see that telling her to go back to Heather to ask her to tell the truth was clearly wrong of you in a business sense. You never tell the customer you don't know the answer to their question. You tell them you will find out and get right back to them as soon as possible. Then, you do it! The customer has to rely on customer service from any business to be able to make complaints about that their merchandise, to return it and even to help them receive what they purchased. The customer can't do that if the business refuses or just dosen't care to help them do this.

    I'd love to talk with Silpada about other aspects of how they market their jewelry. There are areas where they are missing key things that would really add to the value of their products. The more a wearer of your jewelry values the pieces the more they will cherish them, wear them and the more they will buy. The more Silpada pieces are seen in public the more they will be bought by others.

    Whenever a product is seen out in the public, that's "free" advertising. If the wearer gives a good report of the company it came from the company makes money from this free advertising. If they give a bad report of the company........well you know the rest. Word of mouth advertising is very valuable if it is good. If it's bad it can wreck a company. Many businesses have failed or flourished by word of mouth advertising. The reputation of every business travels. How far it travels depends soley upon the quality of it's customer service.

    Jane, I want Silpada to do well as I believe they are selling jewelry that represents the very best in design and quality. Admidst all the awful looking jewelry seen in the world today it's refreshing to see that someone is bringing back tasteful design and quality to everyday jewelry.

    Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from Silpada soon.

    Patricia Roe

    • Hi Patricia,
      Thank you for all your advice. Indeed I did call my customer, have picked up the jewelry and it is being exchanged. I hope you continue to enjoy SILPADA, indeed it is stunning jewelry. All the best to you
      Jane

  6. It was good to hear from you Jane. The watch was returned to me twice after trying to get it replaced since January. That is the order that was in my husband's (Gary) name. I still have the watch in the second returned package. I would love to deal with you and just get the necklace in place of the watch. I also gave my credit card # to use for the small difference in price. Please give me a call at 352-267-1217 during the weekday and I would be happy to work this out directly with you. Or give me your # and I will call you, OK?

  7. I ordered two things before Christmas. My husband got hold of the party giver and ordered some Christmas presents for me. The first part of January I had to return the earrings I ordered and the watch my husband gifted me. I enclosed additional money and re-ordered a bracelet and necklace in place of the earrings and watch. My bracelet was sent to me but the watch was returned instead of the new necklace to replace it. I got with the party giver who in turn had to contact Jane Walsh-Weber to return the watch for the necklace once again. The watch was sent to me again. Jane had taken 5 months to help me with this return. I keep getting a note saying that I only have 60 days to do this. As you can see from the beginning of this explanation I did take care of this in January from December order. I am not happy with Jane Walsh-Weber's customer service at all. I would love to get the necklace I wanted to replace the watch gift and still order many more things but I cannot do business with company's that give poor customer service. Is there anything you can do for me to replace the watch because Jane failed to do so in the time required?

    • Dear Lynette,
      How unfortunate that the truth was not ever told and somehow you have bashed me. Heather Edwards contacted me in MARCH, I have proof of this, to return your jewelry because she failed to hold up her end of the contract. When she sent me the jewelry to be returned I did and made a special deal with Silpada to return your jewerly, because it was clearly afater the 60 return policy, which they were happy to do. The return of the watch was more complicated because it was under your husbands name. However, when Heather contacted me again I simply told her to send the watch back to me and I would take care of this situation. I have never received the watch. I am still happy to assist you in getting the necklace that you want, but I can not do it if Heather or you do not send me the watch back. It is a shame that this has to be posted on a website when a simple phone call to me would have rectified the problem. Again I am happy to help you exchange the jewelry. Again I did not fail..you should ask Heather to tell the truth.

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