Gift shop dreams
Verona gift shop owner thrives on humble goals.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Jerina Julius, owner of JNJCraftworks, an artisan gift shop in Verona, isn’t a serial entrepreneur worried about impressing investors or selling out five years from now. She simply wants to do the right thing.
Julius, 37, hails from India. After earning an MBA there, she worked in the loan department of a bank and later in human resources before moving to Madison in 2006 to join her husband, an IT professional.
For a while she recruited IT professionals in Fitchburg until a jaw (TMJ) condition forced her to seek a job that wouldn’t require so much talking. One day her husband suggested she start her own business in something she truly was passionate about — crafting.
Julius earned an MBA in India but knew little about starting and running a small business in the United States. Not to be deterred, she spent the next 18 months traveling to craft malls, craft shows, meeting with crafters, and doling out business cards. She visited with shop owners in adjoining areas and met with representatives of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). In a strategic move, she found a job as a cashier at a local Walgreens to gain retail experience, as well.
With her family’s support, JNJCraftworks opened on Sept. 12, 2016.
Throughout her travels, Julius discovered a pool of seasoned artisans — seniors and retirees — whose artwork, she says, “pulled her in.” Why seniors?
“You can be a doctor or a lawyer, but when you grow older, your children or family members leave and sometimes there’s little left to help you feel important,” Julius explains. “It’s very important to feel needed, and I’ve noticed many seniors don’t have that. People sometimes just need a place to sell their artwork,” she adds, “or they may not be able to shop anymore or don’t know or care about selling online or on Etsy, but they are very talented artists.”
She’s seen first hand how older artists can be reinvigorated with pride knowing their craftsmanship is appreciated once again, and that’s what feeds her soul.
Currently, JNJCraftworks works with 80 artists, mostly seniors and retirees. Stay-at-home moms and nurses have also risen to the occasion as the supplier network broadens.
Inside, the handmade gifts suit people of all ages. There are greeting cards, t-shirts, jewelry, wooden bowls and peppermills, laser-cut wood wall art, and Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers items. Merchandise also includes glasswork, candles, locally crafted bath and skin-care products, paintings (either framed or on canvas), and gifts for religious occasions.
The artists determine the retail prices, which typically sell for between $20 and $150, with some as high as $350. They retain 55 percent of the sale price and up to 70 percent for higher-end work.
Some people may question the rationale of starting a retail store as more and more shoppers move online, but Julius remains unfazed. “I don’t shop online!” she laughs. “I’m old school. I do this for people like me!”
Early on, one of the most important pieces of business advice Julius received came from SCORE: Do your own thing and don’t worry what others are doing.
“In the beginning, I was comparing myself against others and became overwhelmed,” she admits. “It really slowed me down. Now I’m thinking only about my goals and what I want.”
Her plan is working. Julius no longer has to travel the craft-show circuit to find artists. Now they’re finding her.
While she hopes the store will make a profit this year, money is not the reason Julius does what she does. She believes in community and knows her family supports her, including an 11-year-old daughter who showcases the store’s products on its Facebook page.
“I am successful,” Julius declares. “I didn’t start my store to get rich. It’s about the mind. I wanted to do something that makes me happy, but what will make me really happy is running a nonprofit in the future. I love nonprofits. That truly is my dream.” No doubt she’ll accomplish that goal one day, too.
1051 N. Edge Trail, Verona, WI 53593
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