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A gem of a business
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Gary AllenBijoux Luck, Inc., located in Portland’s chic Pearl District, creates jewelry for women in the 18- to-38 age bracket. Its creations are on display at independent Portland boutiques such as Gold, Seaplane and Frock, but it is on the national stage that the small wholesale company is being heralded. Open the March issue of Seventeen and you’ll see a Bijoux Luck creation. A recent issue of Portland Bride and Groom shows an elegantly dressed bride wearing a Bijoux Luck necklace. The astrology section of a 2003 issue of Teen People suggests a pair of Bijoux Luck’s "boxy beaded drop" earrings for $22.The company is on a roll and co-owner Vanessa Constanti attributes some of that to what she learned at PCC. The 30-year-old Hawaii native recently completed Jackie Babicky’s first-year small business management class at PCC.Constanti said the class was an "amazing resource" in that it allowed her to share ideas and resources as well as problem-solve with other small business owners."Small business classes are just as important to learning how to start a business as piano lessons are to playing the piano," she said.The program fit well into Constanti’s schedule: 10 months of one-night-per-month classes, as well as three hours per month of one-on-one counseling to deal with issues specific to her business."It was good for a busy schedule," she said.Bijoux Luck began operations in a reclaimed Portland warehouse in January 2003. Its owners, Constanti and Kevin Hardy, started the business after being laid-off from a Portland dot.com company. Constanti was in the marketing department while Hardy worked in IT.Constanti recently graduated from the University of Hawaii with a political science degree, had begun fabricating jewelry a few years earlier. She was trying to find an outlet for her creative juices without overwhelming her sister’s apartment with the fumes from her painting. That same sister gathered up a pile of Constanti’s creations one night and ventured downtown to Portland’s First Night, a now-defunct artistic street sale, where she proceeded to sell everything Constanti had made.From there, Constanti began developing a small list of clientele. When the layoffs came, and after a bit of traveling overseas, she began researching the jewelry business. She found a niche in the "bridge" component of wholesale jewelry sales – that area between cheap costume jewelry and fine jewelry.While the company’s jewelry is designed in Portland, many of the materials used come from overseas. For example, the glass work came from the Czech Republic.Constanti packed up her creations and flew off to a large accessories show in New York in the same month the company came into existence. Her designs were well received and she signed to produce jewelry for a large retailer. "We did well in the first show," she said.The company underway, Constanti and Hardy found they needed quick lessons on how to manage a business, hire and train employees, and deal with the myriad other challenges facing small business owners.In stepped PCC’s small business management program.Babicky exposed Constanti and other students to entrepreneurial concepts that allowed them to visualize growing into a larger business, and began giving students the tools to accomplish their goals.Babicky said the typical student in her classes is a business owner who has been successful to some degree, but is looking for help to grow."They all hit that wall on figuring out how to get to that next level," Babicky said."Having an experience to see the big picture and how to get to that next level (was very valuable)," Constanti said. "That class translated into building jobs for seven more people and, hopefully, more people in the future."Constanti went as far as to say the small business management class should be a "core requirement" for anyone opening a small business."All skills are learned, either through experience or more preferably through others’ experiences," she said. She recommended the classes to anyone with a small business or those contemplating starting a business."I think its amazing what (PCC) accomplishes considering that, in my opinion, they’re underfunded," she said. "Small business people need to have resources that are usually only available to large corporations if (they) want to empower their growth."