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published on March 2, 2017 - 4:11 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
Like most college students, Fresno State seniors Natalie Fugere and her husband Josh Martin have endured many long nights. Not all, however, have been devoted to last-minute study sessions. Instead, the couple has spent most hours outside the classroom immersed in their young business, The Painted Press.

 

The Painted Press, a company that designs and creates handmade personalized jewelry dishes, was started by accident in Fresno State. In November 2014, Fugere lost her job as a nanny and come Christmastime found herself searching for reasonable gifts to give to her friends. When she didn’t find what she was searching for, Fugere opted to make her own jewelry dishes.

Armed with a $10 bill and short stack of coupons, she bought clay, stamps and other materials she thought she would need for the project. Lo and behold in Fresno State, her friends not only loved their handmade gifts, she also sold the few extras she made, earning enough to finance her next batch.

While Fugere was able to sell a few more after setting up an Etsy account, she never dreamed her new hobby would turn into a full-fledged business. But that’s exactly what happened a year later, in November 2015, when the national Huffington Post website discovered the jewelry dishes and named them the top personalized gift for the holiday season.

“All of a sudden my phone just would not stop dinging with Etsy orders,” Fugere said.

After finding the Huffington Post article online, Fugere knew she wouldn’t be able to fill all the orders piling up using the oven in her parent’s kitchen, so her soon-to-be father-in-law stepped in, offering the office space The Painted Press now uses near campus at Ashlan and Cedar avenues in Fresno. She moved her one-woman operation to the new location Thanksgiving Day, and it quickly became a two-person business when Martin quit his retail job to help his fiancé. Despite the surge of success, the couple assumed it would be temporary.

“I quit my job right away because the orders were coming in so frequently, and there was absolutely no way to keep up with them,” Martin said. “At the time, I thought maybe this would be something where I help her through the season and when it died down, it could go back to being her hobby, but it just stayed consistent. It tidal waved and then just stayed at that height and it’s still growing.”

While the business-to-consumer portion of the business has maintained itself since the recognition in the Huffington Post, Fugere said it’s business-to-business wholesale sales that have created enough momentum to keep The Painted Press afloat year round. While Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and wedding season are the busiest for the business, wholesale orders come in at various times.

Altogether, sales have been substantial enough to provide a living for the couple and their employees. Fugere wouldn’t provide an exact dollar amount, but said the business earned six figures from November 2015 to November 2016.

Before starting the business, Fugere admits she didn’t know how wholesale sales worked, but she made it work after being approached by a large independent jeweler in the south that wanted to order 30 from her Etsy shop. The request, Fugere said, came in just before she planned to close the shop.

“The owner of business contacted me after she got the samples and wanted to reorder more, and they’ve reordered thousands since,” Fugere said. “That was really the first validating moment. This store really wanted the jewelry dishes so I started thinking that maybe more people would want them so I kept up with it.”

Now, The Painted Press works with several retailers, most notably Los Angeles-based Tacori.

“The biggest thing that happened in 2016 was Tacori found us,” Fugere said. “I honestly had never heard of Tacori, and when they ordered they initially wanted 250 dishes made by the following week and I said no. Then they said ‘no, you don’t understand, we really want your dishes’ and I said no three times before finally saying yes. Then I got the e-mail with all the names they wanted on the dishes and these names sounded familiar — they were celebrities. They wanted the dishes for a celebrity event.

Each celebrity at the event got a dish with their name on it!”

Tacori placed a second order a few weeks later to give out to clients at a trade show in Las Vegas, and those dishes were so well received by the retailers Tacori came back and asked to partner with The Painted Press.

While Tacori is the business’s largest partner, The Painted Press also partners with other jewelers and boutique stores throughout the nation. Locally, The Painted Press jewelry dishes are available at Root General Store in Fresno, Three Graces in Fresno, Enjoy, Embellish and Restore in Visalia, and The Foundry Collective in Clovis. The dishes range in price from $10 to $20 each, depending on the design.

Personalized dishes can also be ordered online at thepaintedpress.com.

Fugere handcrafts each jewelry dish. She molds and stamps the dishes with names or characters before they go into an oven to harden, or her sister, Creative Director Annie Fugere, will paint a design post baking. Another designer assists in painting the stamped dishes. Meanwhile, Martin, a business accounting major, takes care of the financial and business aspects of the business. Another individual has been contracted to help with the website, social media and marketing.

From the outside, Martin said it looks like the duo have it all planned out, but he said the jewelry dishes have just taken off without much marketing on their part.

“Without knowing the backstory, you would think this was carefully planned and that this was a really successful execution of a well-thought financial plan, but it was just a hobby start-up that worked out really well,” Martin said.

And though the Fresno State couple never dreamed they would own their own business, they say now that they do they wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“The work follows you wherever you go because it’s your business. If there is a something that has to get done, you stay up all night until it’s done, but the payoff is great,” Martin said. “Although you have to work on stuff when it is necessary, you can also set aside time for yourself to go on a trip. We just went to Paris in January. It’s definitely worth it.”

“There is so much creative liberty,” Fugere added. “If there is a day that isn’t feeling right, my sister and I will come in and create new designs or we go stamp shopping, which most people don’t get to call work. We go to different stores and see if they have any cute stamps we want to use. It’s the coolest experience.”


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