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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 10 months ago

Bling Bling

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Carley Ochs's jewelry and lifestyle brand continues to shine, despite some potential setbacks.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Bourbon and Boweties took a big hit in 2017. Not in sales — but spirit.

The biggest loss: The 86-year-old grandmother of CEO Carley Ochs, Martha “Mimi” McGill, who became an internet celebrity and backbone of the company, died in April. The Plant City-based company was founded in Mimi's garage. Even when the company outgrew the space, Mimi played a big role in its social media campaigns.

Ochs needed a break after Mimi's death. She spent some time in Yellowstone and went fishing in Alaska.

But not even that stopped her popular jewelry and lifestyle brand from growing.

Bourbon and Boweties was featured on ABC's “Good Morning America” and “Today” on NBC several times this summer, and it won a $10,000 prize from VistaPrint as a favorite brand in Tampa. It also made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, with a 290% three-year increase in revenue and $3.3 million 2016 sales. Ochs expects the growth to continue, with a forecasted 18% growth in revenue for 2017.

The company, known for its bangle bracelets, expanded its earrings line in July and made headway with its “boho chic” necklaces. “It's something our customers have asked for for the last five years — and the response has been tremendous,” Ochs says.

It took a while for the company to go all-in on the new products and lines because Ochs has been trying to keep up with demand for the bracelets. “I finally felt like we had a hold on the bracelets from a manufacturing standpoint. We finally got our head above water,” she says. “Our stuff sells so quickly, we needed to manufacture in a timely manner in order to expand.”

The six-employee company relies on some 50 local women to make the jewelry. The women are paid for each individual item that they create.

The company seeks to increase online sales in 2018, hiring an IT company to assist with that plan. In a retail world where the shift is to online, Bourbon and Boweties is a throwback, where 80% of sales are from brick-and-mortar retailers and 20% online.

Ochs, 32, says the company is at the point where it could benefit from hiring a new CEO, a mission that goes back several months. But she isn't any closer to finding a good match, with criteria that includes expertise in jewelry, younger shoppers and e-commerce. “The search continues,” she says. “I have a lot of friends in the industry — I've expressed what we are trying to do.”

In addition to growing e-commerce, the company wants to expand to sporting events, creating special bracelets for local Tampa events, such as Gasparilla and the Pig Jig. Up next? Special bracelets for the the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning and the NBA's Orlando Magic. After that, it will target college teams, starting with the University of Florida and Florida State University.

Bourbon and Boweties will move to a new office in the historic district of downtown Plant City in February. The move wasn't made to expand the company's footprint (its the same size as the company's current office — 3,000 square feet), but rather to help the creative juices flow.

The new space is in an old building, with exposed bricks and floor-to-ceiling windows. “I'm an old soul — I wanted something that felt a little more creative,” Ochs says. “There's history in it. Creatively that's a good space for me to be in. I was always trying to make our old office pretty.”

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