Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness: Creative entrepreneur accessorizes jewelry with business

My friend, Laura Cococcia of Laura Reviews, did a terrific interview with an entrepreneur who proves that you can keep a day job while starting your own successful business. Johanna Ferguson began Rilee and Lo, an on-line jewelry retailer after noticing that she couldn't find one place on-line to buy interesting, unique jewelry by individual designers at a reasonable price. She found a way to do what all successful start-ups do - turn a pain in the market into an opportunity.

This interview by Laura really inspired me to think about my life, and my work, in a very hopeful, positive way despite the downturn of the economy. I'm so pleased to have her as a guest blogger today! She is the author of “Laura Reviews,” a blog forum that features unique book reviews and article commentary as well as original author interviews. Cococcia is a freelance writer for various publications and a contributing author to Hungry Chicago (2009) and One to One B2B. She works full-time for Google, Inc. in its Chicago office and can be reached at

Johanna Ferguson was frustrated.

A consummate jewelry aficionado, Ferguson often found she’d have to go to multiple stores and Web sites to find the right jewelry pieces and designers to suit her styles. It took extra time and effort to simply do something she loved.

In August 2008, Ferguson solved her own problem. She launched “Rilee and Lo,” a one-stop shop that features jewelry from famous and emerging designers.

Ferguson explains the simple philosophy behind Rilee and Lo. “Jewelry can be worn whenever, with whatever, and can update your look and mood in a second,” she says. “We believe jewelry is the centerpiece of an outfit and should never be an afterthought.”

Ferguson also tends to be swayed by her mood when selecting pieces – hence, the birth of the Rilee and Lo personalities. Rilee represents the rocker glam persona, veering toward an edgy, urban, modern and funky style. Lo's look is more feminine, bohemian, organic and chic. When she selects lines and pieces, Ferguson considers both Rilee’s and Lo's style preferences.
I recently interviewed Ferguson to get a behind-the-scenes look at the entrepreneurial efforts behind Rilee and Lo, discussing what it takes to successfully launch a business that aligns so closely with one’s passions.

Laura Cococcia: You launched Rilee and Lo in late August 2008. How quickly has your customer base grown?

Johanna Ferguson: My customer base grows every month, which is so exciting to watch. I wanted Rilee and Lo to grow naturally, so it was a healthy, steady growth, which I could keep up with. I think the varied product mix and brands had a lot to do with Rilee and Lo’s growth; got the right brands in at the right time.

Laura Cococcia: What specific things have you done to get the Rilee and Lo word out to the marketplace?

Johanna Ferguson: My marketing efforts started small, which was intentional. I work full-time, so I needed to learn as my business was growing. Customer service is a huge part of the Rilee and Lo business and something we strive to be the best at, so again, we wanted to keep up with the growth.

In August, I sent emails to friends and family and launched a small Google AdWords campaign. In September, I included Yahoo! Ads in the mix and in October, I started formal email communications to my subscriber list. The holiday sales kept us busy; I focused on creating promotions that were relevant and fresh throughout the season.

I now work with a public relations manager and she's done an amazing job landing press on fashion blogs, the Martha Stewart show, Kids Choice Awards and Glamour. She’s also helped grow the awareness of Rilee and Lo through Twitter.

Laura Cococcia: How is Rilee and Lo different from other Web sites that feature and sell designer accessories?

Johanna Ferguson. Rilee and Lo’s differentiates itself by offering a wide range of reasonably-priced, versatile and quality jewelry. Also, we focus both on established designers (Robert Lee Morris, CC SKYE, Maya Brenner, Adina Reyter) and new designers (Aviary, Iris Guy, and Fiona Paxton) to personify both Rilee’s and Lo’s styles.

Rilee and Lo will always be about accessories - we hope to add scarves and headbands soon - but there is a lot of jewelry we need to add before that time comes.

Laura Cococcia: Can you give us a sneak peek of where we'll see Rilee and Lo featured in the near future?

Johanna Ferguson: The July cover of Glamour will feature Sandra Bullock wearing two Fallon pieces provided by Rilee and Lo. In fact, Bullock liked the Fallon bracelet so much and wanted to have it, so we sent it to her afterwards as a gift and she wore it to the Kids Choice Awards in late March.

I love to see others in jewelry from Rilee and Lo. It's reassuring that people understand our Web site, like it, shop there, and want to see us bring more fantastic jewelry designers into the mix.
Laura Cococcia: What advice can you give other entrepreneurs looking to launch their own business, based on what they’re passionate about?

Johanna Ferguson: You learn so much doing this! There are some days when I'm so excited and others when I find it challenging, especially when you discover new competition. Of course, my goal is to grow Rilee and Lo into a national brand at some point in the future, but until then, it’s all about being patient and doing the work.

Finding new jewelry is something I love, and now it's an integral, necessary part of my life and business. I can't walk into a department store, boutique or museum without going straight to the jewelry. It's a slight obsession, but it’s also my job.

My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs: try, make a plan, execute it, be patient, and be ready to work on it every day.

Many thanks to Ferguson (and of course Laura!) for sharing her fresh entrepreneurial insights and experience. Rilee and Lo can be seen at Ferguson can be contacted at


Linda said...

Great post and thanks for the tip! Personally, I have an affinity for scarves and would love to watch this site as scarves and other accessories come to the site.
So delighted to see the connection, Christa!

Christa said...

The connection is all because of you, Linda! I am so glad that I could post Laura's interview. She is a terrific writer!

Linda said...

As are you, my friend, as are you. : )