Startup Story: Jewelry & Mementos for the Horse Person in You

Little Indigo Arts products
Little Indigo Arts is a small business offering handmade horsehair items, thanks to Indigo.
Little Indigo Arts is a small business offering handmade horsehair items, thanks to Indigo.

Karen Donley-Hayes of Garrettsville, Ohio has been a lifelong, self-proclaimed “horse person.” One horse in particular – Indigo, her horse of 19 years – even inspired Donley-Hayes to become a business owner. In June of 2015, Donley-Hayes formally established Little Indigo Arts, LLC. The small business specializes in jewelry and mementos made from braided horsehair and unique stones. Donley-Hayes operates Little Indigo Arts out of her home office, selling her handmade items online and at state fairs and trade shows.

“Right now, my inventory mostly consists of jewelry made out of braided horsehair, which is where Indigo comes in because she’s the donor. It was a surprisingly steep learning curve. I’m fascinated by the artistry of eclectic jewelry makers. When I put together my pieces, no two are alike. I didn’t want to put ‘jewelry’ in the title of my business because I want to expand. Making my items by hand gives me a personal connection to my work,” she explains.

Donley-Hayes was inspired to start up a small business of her own while attending a writing conference in the Bahamas in October 2014. While there, she discovered a kiosk on the island containing wire-wrapped sea glass, each item one-of-a-kind.

“I’m an artist and come from a family of artists. I liked the idea of repurposing. Recently, we experienced a flood and lost everything. Our basement contained these old crystals, and even though they were wrecked, I couldn’t stand the thought of throwing them out. Then it occurred to me to give them new life and turn them into something artful. It was hard for me to put a hammer to those crystals! But it has been really wonderful to take these little personal treasures that were wrecked in the flood and be able to make them beautiful again,” she says of the origins of the business.

Donley-Hayes thinks Little Indigo Arts will be a hit because there is already a niche market carved out for it. Most of the attention the business receives will be from the horse people who she describes as a “crazy and committed” bunch — and the unique, personalized quality of each individual piece will make good potential for customized memorial pieces for horses that have passed on. Catering to this demographic is her core focus and what she thinks will bring her success in the long run.

It is the creative outlet that small business ownership offers that Donley-Hayes finds the most rewarding.

“When we think of artists, we think of someone sitting there painting and drawing, but designing and coming up with something that looks interesting and has a unique appeal is also an art form.”

In fact, the creative process turned out to be a bit more difficult than she had originally anticipated.

“The learning curve surprised me. The finished product feels almost like nylon when it’s tightly braided. I think it holds up pretty well, but like any natural product, you need to be careful not to snag it. It has been an interesting and fun process. We find interesting and pretty rocks and stones on the ground and find ways to incorporate them into the designs as well, and they’re all found locally,” she shares.

Although she operates her business independently, she’s still in the habit of saying “we” instead of “me” when discussing her business because the inspiration from her horse and the support of her family make it feel like a team effort.

Donley-Hayes hopes that positive word-of-mouth will be her biggest marketing component to drum up interest in the business. She aims to provide great customer service by working with her customers in order to ensure that they’re getting exactly what they want. She also has plans to advertise her business in local equine publications and pass out business cards at craft shows. To find out more about Little Indigo Arts, visit www.kdhayes.com/lia or check out her store on Etsy.

Little Indigo Arts logoCompeting With Other Handmade Jewelry Makers

Despite having a core demographic in place, competition is inevitable for any small business in the startup stages of success.

“From the horsehair standpoint, there are more little companies out there than I realized. Obviously, there are plenty of people who design their own jewelry. What I want to bring to all of it – from the braided horsehair aspect – is a focus on the wants of the individual clients, and work back and forth on customs. I want them to be satisfied and be able to get something they can wear, use, and love at a reasonable price,” she explains.

Challenges of Small Business Ownership

Among the many challenges that crop up in the startup stages of small business ownership, Donley-Hayes agrees that fear of failure is perhaps the most daunting one.

“I’m my own worst critic. I don’t want to pour my heart and soul into something and not have it work out. I was doing this before I made it into a business, so I don’t want to do something solely for the sake of making money. I’d ask myself, ‘Am I really going to jump in and do this?’ It’s like wanting to go to the school dance and not knowing if anyone is going to ask you.”

Tips for Aspiring Small Business Owners

For those looking to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, Donley-Hayes suggests putting together a business plan — and look into all the legalities required of small business owners before formally establishing the company.

“Ask yourself, ‘Do I want to ramp the business up quickly or slowly? Do I want to do this as a side business?’ It’s easy to talk about it and dream about it, but it’s a whole other thing to go out and do it. Any business person should have a healthy respect for the fear involved,” she advises.

Experience as a 1-800Accountant Client

Karen Donley-Hayes of Little Indigo Arts, LLC is a satisfied client of 1-800Accountant.

“I watched the webinar and was impressed with that, and I was impressed by my conversations with my account manager. It really gave me confidence because I knew I had people supporting me, and I knew I didn’t have to worry about the tax stuff. I feel like I’m in good hands, and I feel like they’ve gotten to know about me and my little business. They’re also dealing with the other factors that are included into my tax picture – big and small – like my husband’s income. I’m a skeptical and dubious person, but I’m comfortable with this component that I’m not skilled in. It’s been a positive experience from the get-go,” she enthuses.

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog post were provided by Little Indigo Arts, LLC and are used with permission.

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