If you were to make a map of Robert Vayner's personal journey to becoming a successful businessman, it would be dotted with precious minerals. On it, you would see a diamond bracelet in Austria, a gold ring in Italy, an engraved silver watch in New York and numerous necklaces in Thailand. Many of the jewels are likely now resting inside an heirloom box and waiting to be passed down from parent to child.
Truth be told, many things we get in life are passed down to us in some way. Vayner, now the 31 year old president of FashionPenny.com and a shining example of the American dream being realized on the Internet, has always understood this and then some.
"It all starts with my grandfather handing down the trade to my father in Eastern Europe," Vayner explained. "In those days, if you needed a clasp for earrings, you did not order it through a findings catalog. It was made specifically for that pair of earrings. And the same was true for all kinds of jewelry."
His father loved making jewelry, but struggled to find his footing in the Austrian marketplace. Making ends meet was often a daily struggle for the Vayners before Dad found a good jewel crafting job in Milan. Things started to turn around for the family.
Dad saved up enough money to move his family to Brooklyn, NY, when Robert was still a child, eventually settling down in Philadelphia, PA. He opened a successful shop downtown on Jeweler's Row, in the Center City neighborhood.
The Vayners began to value the two greatest privileges that Americans often consider to be their birth rite: education and upward mobility. Robert excelled well enough in high school to be admitted into the prestigious Pennsylvania University.
But even while finishing up his Computer Science degree, he knew that going into the jewelry business was just a matter of time. As plain as there is an ocean between Milan and Brooklyn, there is a certain type of craftwork in his blood.
"During my freshman year, I gained valuable experience working for Dad," Vayner said. "Eventually, I was working during the day and taking courses at night. In that time, creating jewelry became my hobby. This hobby evolved into something I fell in love with, and it did not take long during my time at the university to realize that my education was going to be combined with my hobby. Since then, everything has gone as planned."
In 1996, Varney began his entrepreneurial career by selling jewelry on eBay and "any other online distribution I could get my hands on. The plans for FashionPenny.com were beginning to unfold."
At one time, he was selling as many as 20,000 pieces per month via those freelance friendly online channels. And before he knew it, a couple of years later, he was manufacturing his own designs through an exporter out of Thailand.
But like all good things, success with the website did not come easy. Varney went through several redesigns and initially launched the business as a retail entity. Participating in the three tiers of product distribution, it did not take long before he recognized that maximizing his artisan skills and technical education would mean going into manufacturing and wholesaling.
In 2001, he and wife, Helen, opened up a minimal, two person operation in Langhorne, PA. Thousands upon thousands of jewelry pieces later, they were able to hire six fulltime employees and open up their own manufacturing center in Thailand.
"Manufacturing was definitely what I needed to do," Varney said. "It has allowed me to serve many eBayers who went on to become power sellers, and are still selling my line of jewelry. Many of those types of businesses are finding me through search and WholesaleCentral.com, which has been particularly great for me."
Only Best Sellers
When it comes to maintaining a line of top quality products, Varney has a system that allows him to stay ahead of the competition. Every four months, he reviews the sales sheets and separates the big winners from everything else. And to be clear: that means everything else.
"We only remanufacture the best sellers," he said. "To those best sellers, we add more designs that we feel will do extremely well. If they perform, we remanufacture those. We do not just choose our new personal favorites or go with our gut. We research market trends for the new jewelry designs. The best sellers, or classics as I like to call them, are produced in big numbers, while the newer items we choose are manufactured on a lower run because we want to test them a little bit before truly committing to them."
As his past suggests, Varney adapts to new circumstances extremely well. For instance, from working at his father's side, he remembers when gold jewelry was all the rage in the 1980s and 90s, and buying serious carats for one's wife was not only considered a gift, but also an investment.
Now the marketplace has been changed by the influencers of Reality TV shows and the blogoshere. It seems that everyone wants to be a star these days, but only a few can actually afford to be. So diamonds and platinum gold are out, and sterling silver and cubic zirconium (CZ) have become the minerals of choice for the jewelry buying American public.
"The exposure to the celebrity way of life has created what we now call 'celebrity inspired jewelry,'" Varney said. "People started taking to sterling silver, in particular, since it provided a way to acquire the same look as the costlier stuff."
All in all, there are nearly 3,000 different jewelry products at www.fashionpenny.com, where you can find sterling silver products from $3 to $25, while his genuine gold selection runs from $25 to $100. To be clear, there are a huge variety of price points available at the site. In addition to the popular sterling silver and CZ items, the company also offers yellow gold jewelry in variations of 10, 14, and 18 carats. Lab made diamonds, a variety of necklaces and sterling silver tennis bracelets are also available on the website.
"It is impossible to tell the lab made diamonds from real diamonds unless you have a tester," Varney added. "I think an important aspect is that we are the manufacturer and seller, so there is no middle man involved to jack up the prices. We honor a best price guarantee or your money back. And in order to show appreciation on repeat business, every costumer always gets a five percent discount on his or her next order, no matter how small it is."
Integrity Meets Hard Work
Outside of jewelry making, two important things that are passed down from one generation of Vayners to the next are authenticity and work ethic. In terms of the latter, lesser businessman might have been satisfied with the manufacturing and distribution model that Robert has built over the last five years.
But instead, he has decided to capitalize on the momentum by offering his smartly constructed system to startup web entrepreneurs in the form of a drop shipping service. eBayers take notice: the return on investment for Vayner's products is outstanding.
"The profit margins run between 100 and 200 percent," he said. "Remember that we have a specific formula for staying current; our products are not saturated in the marketplace because of the four month process we go through. Our name, FashionPenny.com, represents the moneymaking experience we have had. In this fashion niche, we can take your pennies and turn them into dollars. I would not say that if I did not believe it. Establishing trust with our partners is a huge key to our success."
To establish mutual trust, Varney offers fantastic customer service, packaging, and of course, products, as well as being able to procure payment options like credit cards, COD and Pay Pal. He also has the following superb benefits for buyers such as flea marketers, eBayers, mall kiosks, mom and pops, etc.: only $100 minimum for mix or match orders; shipping to buyer's address within 24 hours; and three day, insured delivery. FashionPenny.com emphasizes integrity in Internet marketing.
"We are hearing relentless numbers of complaint stories from our new customers," Varney explained. "They are coming to us from other vendors that are misrepresenting product, making it look high quality when the opposite is true. With all the scams online today, our number one goal is to provide a very safe, comfortable environment. Of course, buyers are not stupid, and they separate the bad sellers from the good ones in a hurry. If you do them wrong, they will work with someone else in the future."
Oh yes, the future. Like his education and life in the U.S., the future is another thing that Varney is not taking for granted. Rather, he is taking advantage of it by putting up building block after building block.
This month, he is premiering jewelry based on lines for counter displays, display boxes, supply items, beads, ring-finger sizers, etc. He also plans to launch categories for handbags, sunglasses, hair care and costume oriented jewelry.
If the past is any indicator, his latest market plays will probably be winners, too. After all, just like his grandfather and father before him, Robert is a family man with a plan. Where will the plan take him next? You get the feeling that, somehow, some way, he will find himself even closer to home.
"My greatest hope when I started this business was so I could eventually pass it on to my son," Varney said. "It is important to me to keep our family tradition alive."
For more information, contact:
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Langhorne, PA 19047
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