Three Huntington University students reflect on their startups and how they got to where they are today.
By Kelsey Priestley, Contributor
“Starting quarantine, it was definitely an advantage to have something to do other than sit around in your house and like do something you enjoy with your friends,” said sophomore Hailey Mchenry, an elementary and special education major, and co-owner of Sweet Threads, Co. “And it was an advantage to have a little extra income in a time where there was nothing to do, like nothing going on.”
Sweet Threads is a handmade jewelry business that Mchenry co-founded with HU sophomore psychology major Gretchen Lewton and Indiana Wesleyan sophomore graphic design major Kylee Bontrager. Items that their company sells include tassel earrings, leather earrings, necklaces, and necklace attachments. Their business venture began on April 24, pre-finals week. A group of their friends had made thread earrings last year for fun. Lewton came up with the idea to make it into a business and asked her friends to join her.
“There wasn’t really rhyme or reason. It was just the middle of quarantine, and she was, like, I wanna start this, and we said okay, and we did it,” said Mchenry.
This group of old high school friends aren’t the only students from HU starting their own jewelry business. McKenna LeBlanc is a senior history education major who started her polymer clay earring business, LucyEarringCo, over J-term.
“I was looking for something to do like most college students during J-term,” said LeBlanc. “You get so bored, and I was, like, I could always use more jewelry, and I don’t want to spend, you know, like, the $25 for a pair of clay earrings. So, I just started making them, and my first couple months were extremely rough, but I got better and better and started selling them.”
When starting her business, she had seen clay earrings on her explore page on Instagram, pop-up shops, and her Etsy account. Knowing she could make them herself, LeBlanc decided to give it a try. She began by watching Youtube videos to learn the process and to discover what worked for her.
a.b.co is another unique jewelry business started by Ani Weitzel, a junior computer science major at HU. Products she sells include hand made necklaces, rings, anklets, bracelets and other items, all made out of beads and nylon.
“One time I used safety pins and made, like, a little thing for (a customer’s) backpack and put beads on it and just kind of, like, arts and crafts a little bit but make it cute,” said Weitzel. “Like, children’s art but make it fashion basically.”
In the summer of 2019, Weitzel worked as a camp counselor where her journey of making jewelry began. One of her campers made her a necklace out of nylon and beads. She asked her camper where she got the materials, which was places like Walmart, Michael’s, and Hobby Lobby.
“I made one for me and to justify buying it, because it came to, like, about 20 bucks, which really isn’t that bad but, like, when you’re a college student you won’t want to spend money,” said Weitzel. “So to justify it, I told my friend Trinity, I was, like, ‘If I sell five of these for, like, three bucks, then I’ll make the money back and then I won’t have to feel guilty about buying stuff to make it for me.”
Thanks to online marketing and selling, these business owners were able to continue selling their products during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it did come with some difficulties when it came to getting materials.
“A lot of the places that I buy my clay and my different materials from were actually like out of them for weeks on end, and so I didn’t have that much material, and I actually ran out of a lot of my clay,” said LeBlanc. “So people would like purchase them, and I would be, like, this is way on backorder because I can’t get them.”
Sweet Threads ran into similar issues if they attempted to order materials online. Weitzel had problems with purchasing her materials with the different opening and closing times of certain stores. Places like Hobby Lobby and Walmart would close at eight in the evening, but Weitzel worked second shift at her job, which meant she would have to get up extra early to get materials.
Online selling and word of mouth has been their businesses primary way of selling their products. All three use Instagram and word of mouth. Sweet Thread’s also uses Facebook along with Instagram to reach both their younger and older audience. LucyEarringsCo uses an online shop called Etsy, sells at local farmer’s markets over the summer months, and sells at two different boutiques.
In a Forbes article, 5 Reasons Why College Is The Best Time to Start A Business, Sergei and Vadim Revzin write, “Many successful startups started selling to fellow students first, before expanding to a broader audience. Household names like Facebook, Snapchat, and Tinder all started off by building a simple piece of technology and asking friends and students in fraternities and sororities to be their early adopters, helping them popularize their apps.”
Sweet Threads, LucyEarringsCo, and a.b.co all have a similar process. When these businesses sell to students on campus, other students see the customers wearing their products. It gives them an opportunity to talk to others about how much they love their purchase.
“I’ve sent to Alabama, Michigan, Florida, and Ohio,” said Weitzel. “So, like, because people from Huntington (University) are, like, from all over, when they post about it, people from their hometown will see it.”
Whether these HU students decide to continue their businesses after college or not, the experience they all learned will stay with them in their future.
“Supplemental income, work schedule flexibility, and profit from making good business decisions are all benefits,” said Zehr, Ph.D, acting director of the MBA program and assistant professor of business at HU, in an email interview. “However, I think the greatest benefit is to learn business experientially. It’s one thing to study business, but it’s a totally different dimension to do business and overcome the challenges and difficulties associated with it.”
Despite the challenges that come with owning a small business, the reward seems to outweigh them all. Mchenry, LeBlanc and Weitzel all describe that reward as getting to do what you love, making a little extra income, and having fun doing it.
“I would say just go ahead and do it,” said Weitzel, when asked what advice she would give to a student who is thinking about starting their own small business. “There’s nothing really stopping you. I’ve always tried to tell myself, like, what would I regret more, not doing it, or doing it? I could have let the fear of ‘Oh, my mom is going to be mad I just spent 20 dollars to make a necklace.’ But then I never would have, like, gotten to know that this is something I like and something that can be semi-successful. So, I would definitely say, like, if you even have a hint of desire to do something, just go ahead and do it. And do it with everything you have.”