BY: Tricia Ross Two military spouse entrepreneurs are defying odds to prove a solid business venture can have staying power, even as others struggle to overcome the pandemic’s impact on small businesses.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 20% of small businesses fail within the first year and only 50% make it to five years. By the decade mark, only 1/3 of businesses are able to sustain business operations. What does it take to make it 10 years?
The co-founders of R. Riveter, Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse, found the secret sauce to achieve just that. In 2011, the pair of military wives found themselves searching for meaningful employment that they could take to whatever duty station military orders sent them. They knew they wanted to create not just an opportunity for themselves but other military spouses. The journey began as a two woman, small business operation in the attic of Cruse's home, with some leather, canvas, and a commercial sewing machine. The small business has now grown into a multi-million dollar company that employs military spouses around the country, with "every stitch sewn into an R. Riveter handbag provides a paycheck to a military family. "
Bradley and Cruse's business model has never been about the bags, but more about the mission: to decrease the jobless rate among military spouses by allowing employees to work from anywhere.
Truly American Made
During a Fox News feature a few years ago, Bradley made the statement, "We had a vision of a decentralized manufacturing network; now we are this national network of military spouses.
The beautiful thing about this manufacturing model is that it's completely made in America. " This vision continues to rings true with every R. Riveter bag.
Each R. Riveter bag is created from pieces made by "remote riveters" who are scattered around the U.S. The pieces are individually cut, sewn, and stamped at home by the individual maker and then mailed to the company's headquarters in Southern Pines, North Carolina. There, the pieces are assembled into finely-crafted handbags. Since all of the pieces are made by individuals all over the country, no two handbags are alike and each one has a unique story.
Bags are then sold online and in R. Riveter's flagship store.
Named after Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon of World War II representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during the war, R. Riveter adopted a company motto that reflects the connection between the iconic Rosie and the bond of military spouses.
We asked the duo about their fondest memory from the past 10 years of the R. Riveter journey, and they both agree that it came from a national television experience. In 2016, Bradley and Cruse appeared on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank. ” They made their pitch and landed three offers, which led to them accepting the offer from billionaire investor Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
The Pandemic’s Impact on R. Riveter
Since the early ideas of starting the company, the business model has always been portable. Thanks to an already strong e-commerce sales platform, and existing remote working team, R. Riveter was able to maintain operations throughout the pandemic. The slow down created by COVID-19 allowed the company to reexamine its supply chain, processes, and selling channels, then improve each area. This is why American manufacturing matters.
Spotting an R. Riveter Bag
Bradley talked about what it is like when she spots an R. Riveter bag in an unexpected place.
"Every time I see a bag in ‘the wild, ’ there is the phase of me where I just scope out the bag. They (the customers) are probably thinking I am going to steal their purse, but once we all get on the same page, we talk about the bag, and there is always a story; always a personal story, " she explained. Among the stories she hears, often includes that the bag was a gift or it is made to remind them of something or someone.
U S E C O D E : S H O P R O S I E
"We are going to keep doing what we're doing, because what we are doing is working and that will get us to the next level" said Cruse.
This May, on Military Spouse Appreciation Day, R. Riveter is launching a grant program to help fellow military spouse entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. Two recipients will be awarded an inaugural "Riveter Grant" after pitching their businesses through a "Shark Tankstyle" format — via video due to both COVID-19 and the nature of military spouses being stationed all over the country and world — as a nod to R. Riveter's big break.
To learn more about R. Riveter products and the upcoming grant applications, visit www.rriveter.com