Alyssa Jones, owner of Alyssa and Anna Fine Jewelry in Appleton and Oshkosh, never had that "a ha" moment when she decided to start a business. Growing up, she learned the craft of creating jewelry while spending hours in her dad's studio and never considered a different career.
Her dad, Thieu Nguyen, fled the Vietnam War and immigrated from Saigon to America in 1976 when he was 14 years old. He grew up to become a master goldsmith and inventor of a jeweler's bench tool that is sold throughout the country. Watching her dad, Jones learned how to craft jewelry as she and her sister, Savannah, carved waxes and sketched designs.
"As long as I can remember, all I've ever wanted to do is create," Jones said. "I've never not worked for myself so I don't know what it's like to work for someone else. I like to be in control of things and don't want someone to tell me what to do. My favorite thing is to work on the brand and make it more individualized."
Everything she creates is made with that philosophy. Unlike most jewelry stores that sell products manufactured elsewhere, all of her pieces are handcrafted. Jones says the term is "bespoke jewelry," which means that all of her pieces are made to order. That might include restyling a current piece or creating something entirely new.
Although she may have inherited her creative flair, Jones took steps after high school graduation to learn more about the business. While working part-time in a jewelry store office, she began doing freelance work. Because CAD design is important to the process, she attended school to learn how to do CAD drawings that can be reproduced to resin on a 3D printer and then cast.
"That's what I did for a year and a half as a freelance designer," Jones said. "Then, spur of the moment, at 20 years old and with no business plan, I decided to open a store."
She took the small amount of money she had saved and looked for an inexpensive space to lease in Oshkosh. The first location (she since has moved to a nicer space) was not ideal, but it didn't stop her from making a big impact.
The name, Alyssa and Anna Fine Jewelry, combines her name with her sister's nickname, Anna, to honor the many hours they spent together in her dad's studio as youngsters. But Anna did not follow a similar career path.
Jones quipped: "She has no interest in jewelry besides wearing it. She is a mechanical engineer."
Now, Jones works with her partner, Zach. She meets with customers and designs, and Zach takes care of the operational side of the business. Her dad joined her five years ago and is in charge of production. It has been quite a journey, one that has not included the planning most business advisers would recommend.
"I mostly work on a whim. I know it's not the best way to run a business; I'm not extremely structured," Jones said. "I will think of something I want to do like opening a second store and work toward that and save the money so I won't have to take out a loan."
She has learned that people are drawn to good work, and that, along with an aggressive social media presence (she has 9,000 followers on Instagram), has resulted in success.
"We are our own brand, and I think we might be the only jewelry store in Wisconsin who can say that," she said. "That's why we are special. Everything is made to order in our studio. It has always been my end goal to design my own pieces and have an intimate experience with the clients I'm creating them for."
Most of her clients put in an inquiry through the website (www.alyssaanna.com), and there is an exchange of photos, discussion of metals and gems, and drawings. When complete, photos of the unique pieces are shared on social media, and the word has spread.
As a result, word of mouth recommendations have resulted in phenomenal growth in the past eight years of operation. Even though she isn't a big planner, her goal is to perform better each year. And she has done that, even in a pandemic.
She said: "It is kind of weird that this is our best year. Having people at home meant they were looking for nice things when they were at home and taking a break. It was a blessing in disguise."
Jones also looks at the opportunities she and her family have had as a blessing.
"In America, we have the freedom to dream, and to work towards that dream and those goals," Jones said. "My grandpa, who is my mom's dad, decided to move to America to give his daughters more opportunity. In many countries, a 20-year-old woman would not have had the chances I've had."
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.