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Owners of Jody Coyote Bask in the Success of Jewelry Sales.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard The sweet smell of opportunity led young entrepreneurs Chris Cunning and Peter Day to buy Jody Coyote, a Eugene-based jewelry manufacturer, 1 1/2 years ago.

Since then, the local work force and sales have more than doubled, leading the business partners to say that there may be even more opportunity there than they initially imagined.

"We'll grow 75 percent to 100 percent this year," Day said.

Jody Coyote is adding necklaces and bracelets to its jewelry collection - moving beyond its mainstay earrings. The company also soon may start selling other products, such as handbags, as part of the Jody Coyote line, said Day and Cunning, principals of Leader Creek Partners, a private equity firm.

A big driver behind Jody Coyote's growth is the strong entry of gift shops, such as Carlton Cards and Hallmark, into jewelry sales.

Jody Coyote counts those major chains, as well as Made in Oregon, among its extensive network of retailers throughout the United States and Canada.

"We've gone from 1,200 stores carrying our product to 3,500 to 4,000,' Day said.

Jody Coyote also sells its products, which retail for $8 to $25, to independently owned boutiques and department stores, such as Macy's.

While Cunning and Day are staying tightly focused on building the Jody Coyote brand for now, they're itching to tap the potential of the distribution network they've built.

"We're putting together this vehicle that can take other products to market," Day said.

That could involve distribution partnerships, or acquisition of other firms down the line, he said.

These are exciting times for a company that has traveled many financial peaks and valleys during its 32-year history. Seven years ago, it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

Privately held Jody Coyote doesn't disclose financial figures but, under the previous owner, the company reported sales of $4.1 million in fiscal 2003, and sales have grown since then, according to the current owners.

"We're very busy," said Shawn Fontain, jewelry design manager, who has worked at the company for more than 20 years.

Her first job was putting earrings on display cards.

"It's good to have this upbeat feeling," she said.

"People are buying our products; they like our products. I've been through the (company's) trials and tribulations, and it's a whole different atmosphere now." Jody Coyote now has 150 employees in Eugene and 150 field sales representatives, who are independent contractors. That's up from 65 employees and 12 sales representatives when Leader Creek Partners bought the company.

Of the 150 Eugene employees, about 110 work in production, shipping or packaging, and 40 work in design, sales, information technology and administration.

The company now is hiring in all departments. Pay for entry-level jobs starts at minimum wage, but all employees are eligible for medical and dental insurance. Jody Coyote pays 100 percent of the premium to cover employees.

The benefit was already in place when Leader Creek Partners bought the company, Cunning said. "Second to labor and materials, it's our next biggest expense, but it's important," he said.

The company's rapid growth also creates many opportunities for promotion, Cunning said.

"I'm a big proponent of raising people up from the line," operations manager Spence Simmons said. "All of the production supervisors come up from the floor." Jody Coyote is one of the last significant jewelry designers that still manufactures in the United States, Cunning said.

Ninety-five percent to 98 percent of Jody Coyote's jewelry is produced in Eugene, he said. The remainder is made at a facility in Bali that was set up by one of Jody Coyote's founders.

Bali has skilled silversmiths who work on Jody Coyote's chandelier-style earrings - a design that the company wanted to offer but couldn't at a competitive price point if it was made in Eugene, Cunning said.

He said the plan is to continue producing the bulk of the jewelry in Eugene.

To that end, the company is training employees in lean manufacturing. The program, popularized by Toyota and Motorola, attempts to eliminate wasted steps and materials from the production process.

Jody Coyote was one of 10 local employers that applied for, and received, special federal training grants. Jody Coyote received $53,500.

If the company begins offering new products that are outside Jody Coyote's area of expertise, it will outsource that work, Day said.

Design and sales of those products will continue to be based out of Eugene, however, Cunning said.

U.S.-based production does offer some advantages, despite higher labor costs compared with Asia or Latin America.

Jody Coyote's products are more distinctive that those mass-produced in Asia, Day said. And the company can respond more quickly than competitors to market demand, Cunning said, quickly boosting production of a popular design, or terminating production of an unpopular one.

Although a lot has changed at Jody Coyote in the past 1 1/2 years, much has stayed the same, Cunning said.

"We've taken what was a fantastic product and marketing plan and expanded it," he said. "Designs haven't changed fundamentally. We've just figured out how to sell more." CAPTION(S):

Maria Estrada of Jody Coyote uses a blowtorch to apply paint to metal for earrings so that it will dry faster.

Owners of Jody Coyote Bask in the Success of Jewelry Sales. 1

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