Making art into a business
Being in business is a challenge and an opportunity all wrapped up in one great adventure. When you’re good at it, you share your expertise with others who are dipping a toe into the entrepreneurial waters. With more than thirty years of experience under her belt, Andrea Gottschalk of Unikat Fine Jewelry has grown her business and reached out to help others. She believes in working in concert with other business people and making the most of networking opportunities. She has an abundance of talent as a jewelry designer and creates a customer-friendly shopping experience as a business owner. Her insightful responses to the Q&A reveals a woman who enjoys what she does, and who remains grounded in the essentials of business ownership: making wise market decisions and operating within your means.
Andrea was born and raised in Germany. She graduated from high school in 1985 and went on a two-year world travel adventure, including an extended visit to New Mexico. She returned to Germany and attended the Goldschmiede Schule in Pforzheim. She returned to New Mexico in 1988 “for the love of it,” and started a home based jewelry business working as a sub contractor for many different retail jewelry stores in Santa Fe such as Spirit of the Earth, James Reid, Mitzi Lynn, Mahdani and many others. She made special orders and custom pieces. Andrea moved to Las Vegas, NM in 1995. “I opened Unikat Fine Jewelry in 1998 where Genesis Computers is located now. I moved across the street in 2004 to 158 Bridge St., where I had my business until September of this year.” When the opportunity came to move into a much bigger location she took it and is now operating at 160 Bridge St.
Unikat Fine Jewelry will have a Grand Opening celebration at its new location, 160 Bridge St., in conjunction with Paper Trail, 166 Bridge St. The event will be Friday and Saturday, November 11 -12.
ORP: You’ve made the move to your new location. What do you hope this will do for your customers?
Andrea: A lot more browsing room without feeling cramped in. Lots more inventory to select from. Big store windows to do window shopping, and it’s easy to find me.
ORP: What inspired you to go into business and how long have you had the store?
Andrea: I opened my first store in 1998 when Price’s Ilfeld closed their jewelry department. I was their repair jeweler for about one year and I took the business opportunity to fill that niche. I had been making jewelry since I was sixteen. I went to gold smithing school in Germany. I had always worked for other retail stores making their custom pieces. There was an important link missing for me in that I never got to have the contact with the client and never could see their joy in purchasing that piece of jewelry I had made. That was the biggest inspiration to have my own store, to have that direct connection to the client and feeling proud of what I accomplished when I would see their reactions to the finished product.
ORP: What is the single biggest challenge to being a sole-owner business and how do you address it?
Andrea: All the investments are on your own risk. All the debt you may accumulate is yours. There is no corporation that backs you up if you fail or no government that wipes your debt clean. You are solely responsible for every single decision you make and sometimes that can be very nerve racking.
ORP: What are your biggest opportunities as a business person on Bridge Street?
Andrea: The Bridge Street/Plaza area is the most well known historic area and most walked on foot by locals and tourists alike. The chance that someone will stroll by and and take a peek into your store and buy something is huge.
ORP: In addition to being a business owner, you also make jewelry and do jewelry repair. Talk about what inspires you as a business owner?
Andrea: I would have to answer that in reverse, making jewelry inspired me to become a business owner and having my own retail store. The creation of jewelry and the sales aspect of it and going more and more into designs and repairs for customers directly, taught me to have a good professional attitude with clients and subsequently has made me a good business owner. I cannot say enough how important it is to have a professional, service-oriented attitude to gain a good loyal customer base. Yes you are in business for yourself but you really work for the client and their satisfaction. If that is not understood then you better not be a business owner. Of course quality is on top of everything.
ORP: What inspires you as a jewelry maker?
Andrea: The color and shape of gemstones. They inspire the whole design and the outcome of a piece. I also love gems in their natural uncut beauty and often set them just as they are found in nature. I love combining different metals into one piece and personally I am very drawn to geometric simple shapes so a lot of my own creations have that as a component of the design.
ORP: Where do you get ideas for your jewelry designs?
Andrea: Usually when I see a gem stone that grabs me at a supplier or at gem shows, I see a whole piece of jewelry around it in my imagination. That is what I create for the most part. I really don’t sit down at the drawing table much and think a piece through from start to finish. While I create a piece the design may change in the process when I see that something works better than originally thought of. Those are usually the best pieces.
ORP: If you had a motto as a business person, what would it be?
Andrea: Know your market and don’t get in debt over your head. Don’t overspend on a huge inventory. Start slowly and built up your inventory when you can afford to invest more in it. If you create something make it top quality!
ORP: What do you like about being an entrepreneur?
Andrea: You are responsible for your own self. When something goes wrong you only have yourself to blame. If it goes right – and hopefully that’s most of the time – well, then all the credit goes to you and you feel you deserve it! It makes you an integral and meaningful part of society when you have the ability to produce something that people appreciate and cherish.
ORP: You are also active in the Las Vegas First Independent Business Alliance. Why is it important to you as a small business person to be part of an organization of this type?
Andrea: There is strength in numbers. Belonging to a business organization where everybody has the same mission, same goals, struggles and joys, you truly have a sense of belonging and you can commiserate or share the joys and successes together. You can find solutions together to common problems. Of course our top mission is our motto: Keep your money where your house is. That means to buy as much locally as you can and keep your tax dollars in town. It makes a tremendous impact on our town when the City has more tax revenue to spend. Quality of life improves for everybody by having better streets, parks, clean-up efforts, sidewalks, lighting, things for our youth and elderly to do, school improvements and the list goes on and on. People forget that all this depends largely on the revenue that comes in from tax dollars, and a huge amount is generated through our gross receipts, which is generated by shopping here locally.
ORP: Talk a little about Entrepreneurial Network and why you think it’s important.
Andrea: The Entrepreneurial Network is so important for similar reasons to why it is important to have a business organization, but with more specific multi-functions. The EN facilitator, which has been me for the past three years, functions as a one-on-one business coach where I help a start up business or expanding business in every way possible to be successful. I do that by listening to their individual needs and try to find answers to any questions they may have. This help may be through my own business experience. If I do not have the answer, I refer people to business experts in their field or to valuable programs that are being offered through the Regional Development Corporation. There is technical assistance, market research, alternative micro loans, investments through the venture acceleration fund and much more. Every business has a uniqueness to them. It is my goal to help each and every client that comes to me for help in the best way possible, and to help them succeed in their own way, to the best of their abilities. It is their own talent that they need to rely on. I help them focus on what they are good at, encourage them to build on that in their business, and remind them to not overextend themselves. If you can talk somebody out of a very bad idea and save them from a lot of trouble, then that is a success too. Every other month I have what is called the Entrepreneurial Network Forum where I invite one to three business owners to do a public presentation on their services and goods to an audience of other business owners and interested people. This is free and open to the public and is usually held at the El Fidel Hotel Wolff’s Den room. It’s a great way to promote your business and network with other like-minded people. You get updates on what is new in town and who does what, when and where. If you need any assistance with your business please call me at my store, Unikat, 425-6113. It is a completely free service and exists in four Northern New Mexico communitites: Taos, Rio Arriba, Mora and of course here in San Miguel County. It is sponsored by the RDC, Los Alamos National Laboratories and Las Vegas First Independent Business Alliance.
Photos: Sharon Vander Meer (Note: If you are interested in doing a Q&A on One Roof Publishing, please contact email@example.com.)