Brandy McNair has had a passion for jewelry making since she was 10 years old. In 2008, she combined her creative and business skills to create Bella Vita Jewelry in Little Rock.
“I went to college and got a degree in interior design,” McNair said. “After my first real job as an executive assistant, I realized I didn’t care for the office life. After that, I got my beads out and started Bella Vita. It means ‘beautiful life’ in Italian and is a tribute to my mom’s side of the family. I also believe that life is a lot better if you live with good design and pay attention to detail. Beautiful design leads to beautiful lives.”
McNair and her three employees make about 95 percent of the jewelry sold in the store on site. The rest is handmade or fair trade jewelry created by female entrepreneurs.
As an entrepreneur on the lookout for best business practices, she’s been working with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), based at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, since 2016.
“In the beginning, they mentored me with social media and marketing strategies and finances,” McNair said. “It’s always nice to bounce ideas on what is going on in my business with other people. Right now, every small business needs mentoring and business assistance. I’ve been emailing with my business consultant regularly to discuss what grants to apply for. I’ve also taken advantage of watching all the free webinars the ASBTDC has been putting out.”
McNair has been working with Patricia Long, a business consultant at ASBTDC, since last year, when she was making plans to move her business to a bigger location.
“When I first began working with Brandy, Bella Vita Jewelry was a thriving business, and she was interested in moving to a new, larger space,” Long said. “Concerned about the risk to her current business operation considering the move and taking on additional expenses, she and I worked on some financial projections to see what would happen to her cash flow given the new expenses. As a result, Brandy did move and her new space is amazing due to her dedication, talent, and business acumen.”
In the wake of the pandemic, the ASBTDC also helped McNair apply for federal assistance available to small businesses.
“Recently, Brandy and I worked together to navigate the various economic injury loan programs including the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program as well as a number of COVID-related grant opportunities to small businesses who have been impacted by the outbreak,” Long said. “I provided information on these programs to include the criteria for eligibility, the process of applying, and their individual features.”
Bella Vita closed in mid-March but reopened in the middle of May. While her storefront was closed, McNair found innovative ways to adapt her business in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak. She connected with her audience through expanded social media posts. She began offering virtual shopping events and deliveries.
“We are known for our charm bracelets,” McNair said. “People love to come to the store to pick out charms. How do I offer this service during a pandemic? We created an online calendar, and our customers could pick out their favorite charms via Zoom or Facetime. We would assemble the bracelets and ship them out. I never would have thought of that if the pandemic never happened. We have a pretty widespread customer base with people who live out of town. Now, virtual shopping is something we will do from now on along with curbside pickup.”
In the upper right photo, Bella Vita Jewelry owner Brandy McNair makes jewelry for her business.