BY SUSAN HAUSER
// Photo by Adam Bacher
The success of betsy & iya, a jewelry retail and wholesale business owned by Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich, is tarnishing Portland’s laid-back reputation. After all, isn’t Portland supposed to be the place where young people go to retire? Armed with college degrees in drama, the couple could have followed the lead of hundreds of other liberal arts majors who languish on Etsy, the sales website for all things crafty.
But here’s the difference: “We’re from Virginia,” says Cervarich. “There might be a little bit of East Coast mentality that contributes to part of our success.”
Whether it’s due to East Coast moxie or plain old perseverance, Cross, 32, and Cervarich, 31, have taken a tiny one-woman studio and grown it into an artists’ atelier, where a team of jewelry makers fashion mostly brass and silver-plate earrings, bracelets and other jewelry from Cross’ original designs. Fans of her work, which include designs inspired by Portland’s bridges, can now purchase her jewelry three ways: at the shop in Northwest Portland, from the website (betsyandiya.com) or at about 100 external retail locations across the U.S. At their shop, they also carry scores of other local lines of jewelry, clothing, soaps and gifts.
Business has doubled nearly every year since 2008, when Cross launched a design business named for her and her big sister. Sales in 2012 were just north of half a million, and on the strength of their business alone (no collateral or guarantors), Umpqua Bank recently floated them an $85,000 loan for an expansion, which will more than double their size, now a cozy 800 square feet, and allow them to add to their current seven employees.
“There’s got to be like 1% of people who use their theater degrees,” notes Cervarich. But knowing how to engage an audience has helped the couple build their customer base, just as skills they’ve learned along the way have contributed to their growth. There was Cross’ job at a bead store while she was in graduate school in California; her brief gig at a wholesale company in Portland; not to mention Cervarich’s useful skills from a job at a title insurance company.
“He’s a genius at Excel,” brags Cross. “No joke.”
It also helped that Cross, struggling to get her design business off the ground, qualified for Portland State University’s Business Outreach Program. With the help of business students, she put her dreams on paper in a business plan. By the time Cervarich joined her in 2010, she was ready to have him map out some long-range goals on spreadsheets.
“We’re constantly planning,” says Cervarich. For them, goal setting leads to brainstorming and problem solving. “Whether or not we’re writing it down, we’re constantly planning and talking. Betsy yells at me from the shower things she’s thought up.”
“That’s where I get my best ideas,” Cross says.