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The Golden Touch

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It takes a lot more than a creative mind for an independently owned, women-operated jewelry store to stay in business for more than 13 years, especially in Austin’s ever-rising-rent district of Second Street. It takes a dose of adaptability, a handful of humility, a keen business sense, a passion for hard work and an exceptional ability to predict what the customer wants—all qualities Elizabeth Gibson graciously embodies.

By Crystal Zuzek, Photos by Dustin Meyer

When Elizabeth Gibson opened Eliza Page jewelry store on South Lamar Boulevard in 2004, women were clamoring for hoop earrings and anything with a tassel. Thirteen years later, those trends have come full circle, and the store continues to offer unique, handmade jewelry from local and Texas-based designers, in addition to work created by designers from throughout the world.

The budding entrepreneur seized the opportunity to relocate to the bourgeoning Second Street District in 2005, and opened her second location last fall at the Domain Northside.

“When I first opened, the maker movement was taking off in Austin. I recognized a market here for independently made, handcrafted jewelry,” Gibson says. “Since then, we’ve picked up a lot of local designers. That’s a special part of my business.”

Standing out among Austin’s plethora of jewelry stores is no small feat. Eliza Page jewelry’s signature modern, fashion-forward aesthetic and Gibson’s ability to adapt to trends without being too trendy have given her an edge on the competition.

“I’ve thrived here because we offer a unique product that resonates with Austinites,” Gibson says. “They want that local flavor. This market really values something that’s handmade by local artisans. It happened naturally that my brand mirrors what customers in Austin want and value.”

While Gibson’s new 400-square-foot showroom at the Domain has the look and feel of a high-end gallery, she has worked hard to foster a happy, laid-back atmosphere in which customers can get to know their sales associates while sipping champagne and trying on the latest designs.

“We work hard to maintain relationships with our customers,” she says. “When I opened the store 13 years ago, I wanted it to be different from other jewelry stores: not intimidating, approachable, not pretentious. Jewelry is fun, and I didn’t want our products to be inaccessible.”

Staying Focused

Gibson, a Dallas native, says diving into entrepreneurship “seemed natural” to her. She had been making jewelry for years, and was well-versed in learning about new businesses quickly from working with a variety of clients at an advertising agency. Still, she acknowledges the steep learning curve she faced when breaking into retail.

“Taking that leap of faith isn’t unusual for me. I can’t sit still for long, and I’m not afraid of hard work,” she says. “At first, I knew I just needed to learn the lingo in retail. I would go to business meetings and then call my friends who knew retail to figure out what everyone was talking about.”

Early on in her business-ownership journey, Gibson experimented with selling handbags, scarves and other fashion accessories but found it to be distracting.

“I learned that was a lot of effort put into outside categories that didn’t serve the brand. I had to refocus and stay focused from that point on,” she says.

Staying true to her core business values and relying on her impeccable ability to spot talented new jewelry designers make up Gibson’s recipe for retail success. Case in point: Eliza Page was one of the first jewelry stores in Austin to carry Kendra Scott jewelry. It was also among the first to sell the work of cult favorite and United Kingdom-based jewelry designer Polly Wales and Japanese designer Yoshinobu Kataoka, as well as feature Ila jewelry, designed by a Houston-based brother-and-sister duo whose collection is featured in dozens of specialty retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue.

Eliza Page launched the Austin debut of fine-jewelry collection Maja Bond last fall, and Gibson is collaborating with Maja Bond designer and Founder Jennifer Resnik on her products and on refining her line as she launches her wholesale business.

The retail jewelry industry has taken note of Gibson’s success. Eliza Page has garnered recognition from Austin Fashion Week for best jewelry store and from Lucky magazine as one of Texas’ Top 50 Stores. Gibson is a popular guest speaker at Thrive Online Academy and the Art Institute of Austin, and has been a featured designer judge at premier events, such as Art City Austin and the Smart Jewelry Trade Show’s Generation Next Designer.

Finding Inspiration

Fortunately, Gibson works in an industry brimming with inspiration, from the rise of promising young artists to the emergence of beautiful new trends in jewelry materials and designs. The constant state of flux that is retail jewelry aligns nicely with Gibson’s inherent drive to change.

“I’m constantly reinventing my products and store while striving to stay focused, to stay on brand and on message, to pay attention to the numbers and to what our customers want,” she says. “I like to juggle the creative side and the business side.”

Gibson finds inspiration outside her work too. An avid traveler, she enjoys hiking, cycling and running.

“I travel quite a bit. It’s the only time I can relax and really get away. My brain thinks differently,” she confides, adding that she’s happiest when riding her bike.

Throughout the ups and downs of the retail industry, Gibson has amassed a close-knit group of fellow entrepreneurs she calls friends.

“You have to surround yourself with an amazing group,” Gibson says. “I feel like my friends have been my mentors and my inspiration. You need a tribe that supports you. Being a business owner is challenging, so you need people who will lift you up.”

Giving Back

During the past decade, Gibson has worked with dozens of Austin-area jewelers on increasing profitability and price points, and on growing, editing and fine-tuning their product mix. She recognizes the challenges artists encounter when they cross into the business realm.

“I see the talent and drive to succeed that our designers have, but they need to know the basics of business. That’s where I can help and encourage them,” she says.

When mentoring up-and-coming jewelry designers, Gibson finds many of them don’t realize all the business opportunities they can explore. For example, she suggested Austin-based jewelry designer extraordinaire Shaesby Scott, who specializes in sculptural jewelry and sells his work to retail giants like Neiman Marcus, create a bridal collection. He heeded her guidance and it paid off.

“We were seeing his jewelry sales grow among our customers. Since he created the bridal line, we’ve sent so many customers to him for custom orders,” she says. “Because I’m in a retail space, I can share that customer perspective with designers in a thoughtful and objective way.”

Women in the jewelry-design industry hold a special place in Gibson’s heart. To help them advance and develop professionally through networking, education and leadership development, she established the Austin chapter of the Women’s Jewelry Association, for which she serves as president.

Last summer, she was as a peer collaborator with Rwandan jewelry-and-accessory entrepreneur Teta Isibo, founder of Inzuki Designs. As part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, Isibo visited Austin and met with Gibson to discuss business logistics, product inspiration, workflow efficiencies and plans for business growth.

“I choose to mentor,” Gibson says. “I consider it a privilege, and I don’t take it for granted.”

With two stores in her local retail jewelry domain, Gibson is starting to turn her gaze to the road that lies ahead.

“I’m taking it one step at a time,” she says. “I have the Eliza Page bridal collection, but I want to expand into everyday jewelry: earrings, bracelets and necklaces.”

Elizabeth Gibson’s Top Five Business Lessons Learned

  1. Stay focused on your brand, core business goals and values. “It’s easy, and often tempting, to get distracted with many things. Educate and train your team, and develop your product line with your brand, goals and values in mind.”
  2. Prepare financially and strategically. “You will always need more money than you think. Keep a keen eye on your day-to-day sustainability factors, such as ensuring the lowest possible overhead, maintaining a positive cash flow and growing key performance indicators in your category.”
  3. Treat mistakes and failures as learning lessons. “There will be many mistakes, and sometimes they cost you $5,000. Business ownership is humbling and challenging as much as it is exciting and thrilling. Learning and succeeding are the result of trying and failing.”
  4. Stay positive. “You must be the best cheerleader for your brand, staff and customers. Business does not define you, yet you will define your business. Be your best self, and know that business ownership and leadership are privileges that come with great responsibility.”
  5. Ask questions, listen and learn. “Listen to those who work for you and with you. They have wonderful ideas and are the keys to your company’s success. If you don’t have a mentor, surround yourself with a tribe of like-minded friends or business colleagues you can trust to be honest and open with you. Find personal or professional networking groups that will build you up and help you grow according to your goals.”
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