LeiLei Secor applied to restaurants and stores for a summer job when she was 16, and got no response — except for one grocery store, which rejected her.
That’s when she decided to start her own business.
Now, three years later, that idea has earned her well over $1o0,000 in pure profit — even as she juggles sales and marketing, shipping and production with her classes at the University of Virginia.
When no one responded to her job applications in her small town in upstate New York, she wondered if she could sell the beaded macrame bracelets she sometimes knotted in her spare time.
She tried them on Etsy and, nothing. No sales.
So she researched the market — what kind of jewelry were people buying online? — and gauged what she could do. She found an online tutorial on making wire jewelry, twisted some up with her fingers and some basic tools, priced things based on similar pieces she saw, and waited. Not for long.
“The first week I didn’t sell anything,” Secor said, “but when I shifted to wire jewelry I got my first sale, and ever since then I’ve received sales daily.
“Now I’ve sold more than 12,000 pieces to people in 40 different countries.”
It’s not that her products are so unique, she said. “I think that the thing that distinguishes mine is the way they’re marketed. That has a huge impact… the pictures and descriptions, and tag it so it shows up in the first few search results.”
She takes photos with good lighting against a plain background. “I ask myself, would this catch my eye in a sea of 40 or 50 other listings? What is the buyer going to look for?”
She has her own Web site now, as well as selling through Etsy. The wire rings are spare and simple, and she uses stones as well in some necklaces and earrings.
In her junior year of high school, she used some of her profit to buy a car, a 2013 Buick Verano. “It was really fun looking at cars,” she said. “I was really excited.”
Now she’s using the money to pay for college. That was her decision, she said.
“I’m really thankful, because U-Va. out-of-state [tuition] is obviously very expensive. This made it possible for me to go somewhere that I really want to be.”
She usually spends four or five hours a week on it, planning her time based on the number of orders to be fulfilled, dropping off shipments at the post office on her way to class. Around the holidays, she needs to spend twice as much time at it as demand surges for gifts.
It’s usually not a problem, she said. “This is my hobby, it is relaxing.” As long as the orders aren’t piling up while she writes papers.
“During finals I wasn’t looking forward to fulfilling 100 orders the night before my last final,” she said.
“On the other hand, it forces me to step away from schoolwork and focus on something else.”
She still had time to work on the campus newspaper’s advertising staff last year, and take part in a student-run hedge fun.
She plans to keep selling jewelry as long as people keep buying it.
She also changed her career goals. She’ll apply to U-Va.’s McIntire School of Commerce next semester, instead of majoring in engineering, as she had thought she might do before college. She plans to stay in business.