Jessica Russell started making jewelry professionally 14 years ago, but had been making it on her own for much longer.
“I wanted to be self-employed. I had always made jewelry since I was a little kid, and it always sold well, so I decided to make a line of jewelry and just see how it went,” Jessica said. “We moved up here and were working out of our basement and we decided to open a shop.”
That shop, Tumbleweed Bead Co. at 105 Palouse St. in Wenatchee has an eco-friendly business model with a focus on customer service. Its retail space, including a store that opened on Front Street in Leavenworth, is called Tumbleweed Shop & Studio.
Creating jewelry out of raw materials had always called to Jessica.
“I love the artistic process of it,” Jessica said. “The jewelry I make is really simple and so I love the process of just starting with raw wire and hammering it and shaping it and forming it into something that you can wear.”
Jessica’s husband, Tyler Russell, is also passionate about the business and creating jewelry.
“It started with just me doing sales, manufacturing, accounting, everything,” Jessica said. “Tyler joined me when we moved up to Wenatchee, so that was great. Now we have a sales manager that handles all the sales for us, we have people manufacturing, we have a lot of help now.”
Most of the items sold at Tumbleweed are handmade by either Jessica or by other employees.
“If I were to sit down and really work at it, I could produce hundreds of pieces a day,” Jessica said. “It depends on what we’re making. We have three to four people up in our studio making jewelry all the time.”
The employees who help Jessica create all of the jewelry that Tumbleweed offers share her passion for creating.
Shelby Dronen has worked at Tumbleweed for four years.
“I started out doing just promise rings, and now I’ve moved on to making a full-time job working on all kinds of different things, and creating new ideas, and I’ve learned a ton,” Dronen said.
Dronen appreciates the opportunities she has to make her own ideas a reality.
“I have a little freedom to experiment and try new things,” Dronen said. “We’re pretty busy most of the time, but it’s really rewarding when I do a custom job and to see someone really enjoy it.”
Providing jobs for local people is an element of entrepreneurship that is important to the Russells.
“Employing people is important to me,” Tyler said. “Knowing that we’re adding to people’s livelihoods and we’re able to provide a place for people to work. We’re always looking to add employees as the business grows, and that feels good.”
The Russells try to develop relationships not only with their employees, but their customers, as well.
“Both of us grew up in the service industry,” Tyler said. “I think Jessica and I both honed our human-relation skills there and that has paid a lot of dividends in this business. Every time someone walks in the door, we try to make them feel welcome. We really try to take care of our clients.”
To help create positive experiences for all of their customers, they allow their employees to exercise more control when dealing with a customer.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to make the customer right,” Jessica said. “We try to really empower employees to make whatever decisions they need to make in order to do that. They don’t feel the need to question things, as long as the customer leaves happy… We’re not handing jewelry out, but we do more than the average business.”
Since the employees have above average decision-making capacity, the Russells try to emphasize their values.
“We’ve been lucky with people who have come to us looking for employment,” Tyler said. “We try to tell them how important this business is to us, and how they’re part of the team and part of the family.”
Tumbleweed also offers knitted goods, just one example of things they sell that go well beyond jewelry.
“We try to buy from smaller companies, local companies if we can,” Jessica said. “I feel like it helps our local economy and I want people to get paid for what they do, and this is a way for me to support that.”
Tumbleweed’s wholesale line helped to build brand recognition before the store was launched, helping the businesses get started, Jessica said.
“There was a shop on the corner called Studio 10 that sold a lot of our earrings,” Jessica said. “So people knew about us before we got started.”
Tumbleweed sees women ages 18-80 coming through the store, and lots of men shopping for gifts.
“We have things as low as $5, but things that go up to a few hundred dollars,” Jessica said. “We have a price for everyone.”
Tumbleweed has been recognized by the Downtown Association, winning Best New Business the first year they opened, as well as winning Best of Downtown three years in a row. North Central Washington Tech Alliance awarded Tumbleweed as Entrepreneur of the Year, and Washington Recyclers Association gave them the title of Recycler of the Year.
“We see a little surge in business after the awards,” Jessica said. “I think it helps us just be more relevant and more recognizable in the community.”
“We’ve taken a small business approach,” Tyler said. “Word-of-mouth is the best way to quantify your returns. The awards are wonderful for brand-building. You’re reaching a key demographic, people that attend those award shows are people who are the prominent pillars of our community.”
While Tumbleweed has been recognized by the community and experienced success, the journey was not without its challenges.
“During the recession, the price of silver and gold was skyrocketing,” Jessica said. “I had to change the metals that I used and the materials I used to work with. Instead of just using sterling silver and gold, I started using brass and plated metals to help keep the price point down.”
To keep costs low, the Russells used items from second-hand stores, free items on Craigslist, and donations of furniture items from friends to provide the tables, shelves, and other furniture items in their business.
“It’s a really cool feeling to repurpose things,” Tyler said. “It’s socially responsibly and economically feasible. I think that keeps us sustainable.”
Another element that allowed Tumbleweed to become successful is the business community of downtown Wenatchee, Tyler said.
“I feel like there has been a community effort to get people down here,” Tyler said. “There isn’t a competitive feel, we like more businesses. We don’t want to be the only reason people want to come downtown. We want people to go to six different stores.”
The community of businesses helps all parties involved by creating a network of resources and outlets for word-of-mouth promotion.
“If someone comes to Collins Fashions looking for something that we have, they send people over here all the time,” Jessica said. “We tell people who are looking for something that we don’t have to head to Collins. The more people who are downtown spending money, that helps us all.”