Jackie Ford Designs
By Susan Shinn
Walking into Jackie Ford’s bead room in her Salisbury home is a jaw-dropping experience.
A peg board covers one wall. Hundreds or maybe thousands (millions?) of strands of beads await Jackie’s creative touch. Work tables covered with green topiary print hold all her tools at the ready. If you look closely, you can see a few beads scattered on the berber carpet.
Jackie rarely vacuums her bead room or the dining room ó where she’s known to go and spread out when others are helping. She’d suck up some of her inventory if she did.
What started as a fun, part-time project has turned into an intense, full-time career. Jackie Ford Designs is her livelihood to support her family of four.
“I just involve everybody,” Jackie, 40, says of her business. Her kids help string once in a while. Her mother is coming down this weekend to work with her. Her husband Wayne, 45, keeps the books.
“He’s very computer savvy and I’m not,” Jackie says.
Their home’s former toy room has evolved into the bead room over the years.
“Occasionally, we can eat on the dining room table,” says Jackie, although she’s cleaned it up for visitors.
Wayne sticks his head through the doorway.
“We have a dining room table?” he asks, deadpan.
The couple moved to Salisbury from Atlanta nine years ago. Wayne took a job at GE. Jackie had worked in sales until their son and daughter were born. Cameron is 10 and Catherine is 8.
After the children came along, Jackie decided to be a stay-at-home mom.
“After about a year, I started dabbling in making those wine charms which were hot at the time,” she says. “Then I started making jewelry and it just took off.
“I really just intended to do it part-time, but my husband became sick and was unable to work.
“So I stepped it up for obvious reasons.”
Wayne ó who has a head for numbers ó remembers the exact date he stopped working: March 23, 2001.
“That was what jumpstarted the business,” Jackie says. “It changed into a full-time career.”
Jackie started out giving trunk shows at Hair Associates.
Now, she does about 18 festivals and shows a year, all the way from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta.
Locally, she just appeared as a vendor at Fashions for A Cause. On May 17-18, she’ll be at a show at Birkshire Village, and in the fall, she’ll do a show for Leslie Cataldo, who lives in Spencer.
That’s about the only time you can catch her in town.
Most of these shows are either a day long or run for a couple of days.
“I’ve really had to narrow it down to the shows where it’s worth my while,” she says. “Every year, my sales have grown by at least 10 percent.”
Because she tends to return to the same shows, Jackie has “a ton of repeat customers.”
Her largest show of the year is the Southern Christmas Show in Charlotte, a 12-day event that translates into 12-hour days for Jackie.
That show alone, Wayne points out, accounts for 30 percent of her annual sales.
Jackie says she makes jewelry “all the time.”
“I’m glad I enjoy it, because it is very time consuming.”
The part she likes best is the actual design. If you look around her bead room ó and her dining room ó you’ll see strands of beads draped over the edge of storage bins.
The reason they’re like that is because Jackie is waiting for design inspiration.
“I’m putting it together, but it hasn’t quite hit me yet,” she says.
Although designing and making jewelry is a year-round job for Jackie, her busiest time is spring through late fall.
She’ll use the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas to complete any special orders.
“Usually by Thanksgiving, people have started shopping for Christmas,” she says. “They’ve been holding onto that business card and I’ll get the calls that say, ‘Can I have it by Christmas?’ I’m of course happy to have that problem.”
Jackie is also happy to do custom work during shows.
“I never sit down at the shows,” she says. “There’s no need to take a chair. I’m able to multitask at the shows very well. I’ll work long hours at the shows, then I’ll come home and pass out and rest for a couple of days.”Jackie usually takes a family member or customer along to help.
But, she says, “I’m the only one who knows all the inventory.”
Jackie strives to have a huge inventory available for shows.
“We’ll do mad jewelry-making sessions and make 100 pieces in two days,” she says.
Her mom comes in from Clarksville, Va., ó Wayne and Jackie are Virginia natives ó or her aunt will come up from Rock Hill, S.C.
Sometimes a couple of kids from the neighborhood come in to help.
“I couldn’t make it all,” Jackie says. “I start and finish every piece. I have a hand in every piece and design every piece.”
Jackie goes to bead shows and gem shows to buy her inventory.
“I have quite a standing inventory,” she admits. “I just buy what I like.”
What she likes at the moment, besides gemstones, is coral and Swarovski crystal and blown glass and freshwater pearls and much more.
“You can tell she likes to shop,” Wayne says.
“You do need the latest thing,” Jackie says.
The current overall trend is chunky ó the more chunky, the better.
Customers Delores Thomas and her daughter Julie Whicker can’t get enough of Jackie’s jewelry.
“It’s versatile, it’s colorful, it’s so varied with all the beautiful stones,” Delores says. “You can coordinate your outfits so well. It’s definitely above your costume jewelry.
“I get more compliments about her jewelry than any other jewelry I buy,” Julie says.
Wayne allows that the word “driven” is a fair description of his wife.
“It was a lot of pressure early on,” Jackie says. “It took a lot of time for the business to get established, and to pay the bills. Now, the pressure is getting the orders done and getting ready for shows.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to have a lot of inventory.”
Other components of the business take time away from jewelry making ó like filling out applications for shows.
“It can take a couple of days to get everything you need to send out an application,” Jackie says.
That’s why January and February are busy months for her, too, just involving the task of applying for shows.
Jackie had enough of an incentive for her business to succeed.
“At first, I was afraid we would lose everything we had,” she says. “But I knew we would make it. It always seemed to work out.”
When Jackie is away at shows, Wayne holds down the fort and takes care of the children.
“I don’t know what I would do without him to watch the kids,” she says.
“It’s always hard for a man to stay home,” says Wayne, who teaches computer classes at Sacred Heart, the kids’ school. “I was a five-hour-a-night sleeper and just driven. I’ve always been super active.”
Even though it wasn’t in her plans, Jackie has become a successful businesswoman.
“I never would have done this if not for the circumstances,” she says. “I don’t know if it would have grown like it has grown. I love the fact that my customers get excited about jewelry. In a way, it has really been a good thing.
“Sometimes we work best under pressure.”
For more information about Jackie Ford Designs, call 704-636-4438 or visit www.jackieford.com.
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