Selling jewelry in chic Charleston

midas_touch.top.jpgHeather Key Tiller at her shop, Filigree, in Charleston's Design District.By Sara Pepitone


(Fortune Small Business) -- Entrepreneurial spirit and parental advice don't always jibe, but sometimes mother does know best. It was Heather Key Tiller's mom, Susan Foxworth, who in 2001 noticed the FOR RENT sign on an empty store at 47 John St. as the two left a nearby French restaurant. At the time, Tiller worked as an office manager at a local jewelry store while also designing her own pieces at home and selling them on a wobbly card table at the Saturday farmers' market in downtown Charleston.

The Vanderbilt graduate also took road trips up and down the coast, selling to galleries and stores; after two years of trips she had placed her jewelry in 80 stores throughout the Southeast. "I vowed that I would figure out a way to make it a career," recalls Tiller, 38.

Indie Charleston
Small businesses thrive in this picturesque city on the South Carolina coast.

Still, Tiller was wary of taking the next step. "I almost wanted the rent to be too expensive and the lease to be too long," says the Charleston native. "But everything fell into place -- space, layout, costs, terms -- so I said, 'Damn, I guess I have to do this.'"

Business took off after she opened Filigree, her brick-and-mortar store, in 2001. She grossed more than $200,000 in each of the first two years.

Her business plan changed when her son, Whit, was born in 2003. Tiller didn't stop working, but she did trim her hours to fewer than 40 per week. Today her annual sales hover around $150,000, but Tiller is now a mother of two (daughter Eva Gray was born in 2006) and is quite content with her current work-life balance. "I'll work more when my kids are both in school," she says.

Tiller still attends national gem shows and scours local antique markets, partly for inspiration and partly to find vintage pieces that she can update. Last year she discovered a Chanel chain that has inspired an entire line of jewelry. "I use the Chanel chain in a lot of my pieces," she says. "I really love the vintage look mixed with a modern edge."

The neighborhood could be described in the same way. Since Filigree first opened, the area has evolved from a neglected, gritty quarter into the Design District -- a close-knit community of artists and entrepreneurs who run boutiques, shops and restaurants. It has become Charleston's hip shopping destination.

"I look forward to coming to work every day," Tiller says. "The owners of the salon next door are like family. We have keys to each other's stores." There have been times when Tiller has closed up and her neighbors -- seeing a window-shopper outside Filigree -- have opened the shop and turned a casual browser into a paying customer. "They'll call me when I'm at home eating dinner," Tiller says, "all excited that they made a sale."  To top of page

Questions & Answers



QHow does a florist sell more in this economy? We changed our business to designing weddings and events only, as the everyday flowers are not selling. We had to throw out too much product at the end of the week -- flowers are perishable! More
Get Answer
- The Flower Lady, Suwanee, Ga.
Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.29%4.30%
15 yr fixed3.23%3.29%
5/1 ARM3.33%3.45%
30 yr refi4.26%4.27%
15 yr refi3.20%3.26%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,880.36 -31.75 -0.19%
Nasdaq 4,462.90 20.20 0.45%
S&P 500 1,970.07 0.12 0.01%
Treasuries 2.55 0.09 3.74%
Data as of 5:24pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 15.58 0.24 1.56%
Genworth Financial I... 13.98 -2.28 -14.02%
Facebook Inc 74.68 0.97 1.31%
Pfizer Inc 29.26 -0.21 -0.71%
Apple Inc 98.15 -0.23 -0.23%
Data as of 4:04pm ET

Sections

French toast with enough saturated fat to last a week, a burger with more than three days worth of sodium and a stack of seafood with more than a day's worth of calories top this year's Xtreme Eating list. More

Goldman Sachs downgraded Walmart -- and made the case that big-box retail is quickly losing ground to the Internet. More

Restrictive immigration policies prevent talented entrepreneurs from launching businesses in the U.S. So, they're moving to Canada. More

From "grandparent scams" to fraudulent investments, schemes targeting the elderly are by far the worst, according to an annual survey from the Consumer Federation of America. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.