In February, things were looking really good for local jeweler Janice Park. The small business owner was planning an expansion of her business, The Pink Reef, as luxury hotel chains and several big-name stores were looking into carrying her colorful, hand-painted pieces.
“But it’s amazing how in an instant things can change,” says Park, in reference to the global pandemic that took the world by surprise come March. Just like that, Park—along with hundreds of other small businesses in the region and beyond—had to take a step back and find a way to move forward.
Despite the challenges, Park has persevered, continuing to hand-make dozens of jewelry pieces for bridal parties and esteemed clients from her lake house in Michigan and also showcase her brand in new ways, all while taking care of her newborn baby and her two other children. Here, Park dives into the details.
Talk to us about the initial steps you took when the pandemic first started to transition your business into this new normal.
I had some pretty major events happen in my life around the time the first cases of COVID-19 started cropping up in the DC area. I was getting ready to give birth to my third child and moving my studio temporarily to our lake house in Northern Michigan, while we build our forever home in Northern Virginia. I think with the virus being unchartered territory for so many of us small business owners, the first few months we were all very reactive. I remember a month before the pandemic hit, I had luxury hotel chains and a line of stores bursting to carry the line. I remember telling my husband, “I think I’m going to have to expand and quickly”—but it’s amazing how in an instant things can change. At first I just accepted that wholesale would be a bit slower and started focusing my efforts online and how I could help.
I started working with lots of bloggers who do an incredible job of spreading the spirit of the brand—not just showcasing a beautiful product but everything that goes into creating The Pink Reef statements too. I think the virus has taught us to rely less on mass-produced goods made overseas and to instead support locally made, quality products that reflect hard work, passion and beautiful designs that are often dreamed up late at night.
How were you able to get involved in local community efforts during the pandemic?
I was so grateful to the staff at Inova Fairfax Hospital, that I did a flash sale where I donated half of profits to the site’s COVID-19 fund. A few weeks later, I donated some more sales to help with relief funds and the Salvation Army in the Carolinas. While it is understandable many have felt like they have lost themselves a bit in all of this, I have never felt more clarity. My husband and I have spent late nights talking at the lake, wanting to refocus every aspect of our lives in helping others where we can and loving our kids.
What has changed about your business strategy over the course of the past four months?
I think like many people, we’ve just had to pivot. I’m a big believer in learning valuable lessons from those who have succeeded in major ways. One thing that has been invaluable to big jewelry companies is an affiliate program where customers can become reps and brand ambassadors. There’s a lot of brilliant folks who have created easy-to-use apps to aid in this. I’m excited each time I get an email about someone wanting to be a Pink Reef rep. Anyone that loves the brand simply takes five minutes to sign up to be a rep on our website, then copies their individual portal link into their social media profiles and brands themselves as a “The Pink Reef rep.” In return, they earn 15% on any sales they make.
In the past, I’ve been a bit hesitant to do trunk shows because they do take tremendous time and effort. But again, to create forward momentum, I am starting to expand trunks. I think they are a win-win for our brand, as well as for brick-and-mortar stores that may need a helping hand right now. Instagram has also really become such a powerful selling tool and virtual trunks ensure that sales can be made safely and in a fun way.
You’ve been making a lot of bridesmaids gifts through the pandemic. What has that process been like for you?
I absolutely love being a part of weddings. Every time a bride reaches out, it’s such an honor that they love the brand enough to have it be a part of one of the most special days of their lives. With so many COVID-19-era brides, I understand how stressful things can be, so we try to make an extra effort in beautifully wrapping bridesmaids’ gift with copious amounts of our signature black, grosgrain ribbon and personalize each box with every bridesmaid’s name. Most brides have been sticking with classics for their bridesmaids: small, white, hand-painted florals or simple gold florals. I’ve been so impressed by my brides. Almost all of them have taken massive disappointments in stride, whether it’s postponing their wedding or throwing it all out the door and just having a Zoom wedding.
You mentioned that business is projected to double in sales by the end of the year despite the pandemic. How have you been able to achieve this and grow in the past few months?
I am very fortunate that I have a very loyal customer base in the DC area. We have former The Pink Reef brides who really have become friends. Customers are constantly tagging us in their stories or in social media posts and that translates to sales. Our collection has a wide array of styles that makes the brand very collectable and it’s not uncommon to have customers who buy 10 to 20 pairs for themselves in a short period of time. We also recently did the wedding of a bride who threw caution to the wind and just did a Zoom wedding. Her wedding pics were gorgeous and her dress designer, Calla Blanche, featured our earrings on her Instagram. The company has over 60,000 followers and this translated into wedding boutiques wanting to carry our line.
I also continue to stress the importance of good customer service. Whether it’s from my sales team members or myself, I want every customer to be given the best experience possible. Oftentimes late at night or at 4 a.m., I am interacting with a customer on Instagram, talking styles or thanking them for their support.
What’s next for The Pink Reef?
I think the key to prospering during a recession is continuing to grow in new ways that customers are excited about. I am currently looking to find either a developer or app that will allow my customers to design their own dream statement earrings using 3D renderings. I’ll let you know when it happens!
I also have some unique designs coming out that include chinoiserie elements that have a pop of neon to them. It sounds a bit crazy, but honestly if there were ever a year to let my designs go without a safety net, this is the year! I think in the past, people would advise against doing more summer colors at a time when stores are gearing up for fall and the big holiday season. But I am excited about it and I have customers waiting for these styles to come out before using their gift cards, so I know there will be some who will fall in love with something different.
Some other big plans that I am excited about are designing the wedding earrings for Lora Benoit who will be marrying Walker Bush this winter in Texas. I’m doing something very Texas for her (that’s all I can say). It really is an honor to be a tiny part of Lora’s wedding, and she will be a wonderful addition to president Bush’s family.
For more conversations with local makers, subscribe to our weekly newsletters.