By Jake Van Loon
Tampa Tribune, Fla.
Veteran entrepreneurs may advise keeping family and work life separate, but a Brandon based Jewelry start-up, Bourbon and Boweties, is making it big by mixing the two together.
Members of the family-operated company walked across the stage of the David A. Straz Center earlier this month to accept the Start-up of the Year Award from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce in its annual Small Business of the Year Awards.
Carley Ochs, founder and owner, accepted the honor with her sister Brittany Desmarais and mother, Lisa Garvey — after only three years in business.
“My dad always said life can be like a train,” Ochs said, “either get on or get run over.”
Ochs, 30, first started making her signature gold wire bracelets using semiprecious stones she brought back from a trip to Shanghai, China.
A graduate of Durant High School in Plant City and of Florida State University with a degree in textiles, Ochs is single and was a self-proclaimed professional gypsy having done everything from interior decorating to store design for the outdoor brand Salt Life.
She was encouraged by friends to show her wares to a small shop in Charleston, S.C. The store agreed to sell the bracelets and word of mouth fueled orders for the bangles ever since. The name, Bourbon and Boweties, is meant to signal traditional southern values and masculinity.
“The extra ‘e’ makes it pretty,” Ochs said.
The company is shipping 2,000 bracelets a day, 50,000 to 100,000 a month, from its distribution warehouse in Brandon — up from the 60 to 100 that Ochs could make by hand a few years ago working day and night out of her mother’s house in Valrico.
The company’s revenues are in the millions of dollars a year, Ochs said, and it carries no debt — a status many small businesses take decades to reach if they ever do get there.
Ochs has advice for other entrepreneurs looking for success: Be original, jump in with both feet, do something you love, and always listen to your gut.
“We grow on a daily basis … retailers are coming to us,” Desmarais, 31, told a visitor to the company’s headquarters at 122 Linsley Ave. in Brandon.
Bourbon and Boweties hasn’t spent a dime on marketing or advertising, relying on word of mouth in person and online.
The company has 11 full time employees and 350 independent contractors who assemble the bracelets in Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas Counties. All the bracelets are handmade, mostly by stay-at-home moms and retired teachers seeking extra income, Desmarais said.
The company’s slogan: “Proudly made by Southern Hands.”
Bourbon and Boweties wares are in high demand at local merchandisers.
“They were very deserving of that award,” said Andrew Smith of Salt Pines, a retailer located at 1619 West Snow Circle in Hyde Park Village. “It’s great to see something with that kind of strength growing out of our region.”
The affordable pricing of the bracelets — none are more than $40 — lead many women to buy one for themselves along with a half-dozen to use as gifts, Smith said.
Salt Pines has shipped the bracelets all over the country and made one special delivery to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
All Bourbon and Boweties bracelets follow a simple design of a single loop of gold holding three semiprecious stones or other decorations, such as sand dollars or shotgun shells. Each is inspected by Ochs and her team before it is sent to retailers or to customers who order online.
Despite the rapid growth, Ochs said, she is committed to keeping the company’s focus on family and community.
“Working with family will have its own separate issues, but no one will have your back like family,” she said.
She makes sure to set boundaries so that at the end of the day, work is left at work and family is family.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t disagreements.
“In here, she is the boss,” said Garvey, Ochs’ mother. “Out there, I am still momma.”
One thing the family can agree on are the causes to support.
Since the company was created, they have donated 100,000 bracelets to fundraising efforts. The company helps the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and is applying to be a sponsor of the Ronald McDonald house.
The family atmosphere of the business even makes it a comfortable place for Desmarais’ two children, Coe and Addison, who often can be found in the office after school.
Said Desmarais, “It does take a village to raise the kids.”