SFMade Connects Manufacturers like Frolick Jewelry to Peers and Partners
Small business owner Adrienne Wiley has learned a lot from peers at larger manufacturing companies and has taught them a thing or two as well.
How does an independent jeweler break through to consumers and grow her business? It helps to be “scrappy and resourceful,” as Adrienne Wiley, founder and owner of Frolick Jewelry, describes herself. And it also helps to have a community of manufacturers rooting for your success.
A jewelry maker since her teenage years, Wiley launched Frolick in 2004, while also holding down a job at a Fortune 500 company. She was hoping to rekindle her love of making things and fill a void she saw in the jewelry market.
“At that time, I was like a lone ranger,” said Wiley. “People were either doing $500 art pieces or fashion jewelry. There wasn’t much in the middle, and people didn’t know what layering was. I started to create affordable, fun, easy-to-wear, layering jewelry—something that would last, but it didn’t cost a fortune.”
Much of her first year in business was spent traveling around the country, participating in shopping events, and searching for premiere retail locations that would carry the Frolick line. She started attending a lot of trade shows, and after securing a healthy number of wholesale orders from companies across the country, opened a studio space in the Inner Richmond.
In 2009 her jewelry was featured on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, which led to a lot of attention and demand and allowed her to convert her Inner Sunset studio into a retail store, called Covet.
Today, her jewelry, which she and her two employees make by hand, can be found in more than 900 boutiques worldwide.
Wiley’s involvement with SFMade began through selling her jewelry at SFMade’s annual Holiday Fairs, which helped build her brand with journalists and bloggers while marketing Frolick’s products to new customers. She also took advantage of SFMade’s workshops and gained access to expert advisers, who connected her with wholesale vendors that have become long-time business partners.
“I don’t have a background as an entrepreneur,” said Wiley. “I didn’t have funding—I just bootstrapped my business and figured it out.”
Figure it out she did. She not only found success with her wholesale jewelry business and retail operation, she literally wrote the book, Adventures in Wholesale: Navigating Your Way to Sales Success, on how to build a wholesale business.
“People don’t know how to market their items, approach stores, or exhibit at trade shows, so I wanted to help emerging designers navigate what they’ll encounter while building a wholesale business,” she said.
After the book’s publication, SFMade’s Chief Program Officer, Janet Lees, asked Wiley to lead a class titled “Building a Winning Wholesale Business” so she could share advice and insights with other San Francisco makers.
Wiley’s network broadened and deepened after she was invited to join SFMade’s Manufacturer Accelerator Program, which offers a select group of high-growth manufacturers access to peer-to-peer learning events, annual business health checks, and expert guidance as needed to develop and grow their companies.
“As a small manufacturer, it was really nice to be connected with larger brands,” she said. “It’s been a huge benefit because it feels like you have a network of people who always know what you’re going through. It makes you feel like you’re not alone.”
“Adrienne punches well above her weight in the group,” said Lees. “She is extremely savvy, and she really knows how to sell. She’s super high energy too.”
The relationships she formed with SFMade and other San Francisco manufacturers proved crucial when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“When something comes up, like PPP funding, I can reach out to Pierre and get information that would have taken forever to get from my bank,” she said. “It’s great, because working closely with SFMade, I have a direct line.”
Wiley’s entrepreneurial spirit is helping her get through the tough times brought on the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s focusing her considerable energy on strengthening Frolick’s online presence and refreshing the in-person customer experience at Covet, where she carries her jewelry along with products made by friends she’s met through SFMade.
She’s also ramping up her “private label” service, which manufactures custom jewelry and charms for fashion designers and others who want to develop their own jewelry bands.
“I realized my knowledge is really helpful for people just starting out,” said Wiley. “The private label business has been really good in this pandemic. Inquiries are through the roof!”