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VOL. 131 | NO. 126 | Friday, June 24, 2016

Pesce: ‘You’ve Already Heard the Worst’

LEANNE KLEINMANN | Special to The Daily News

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What kind of gift do you give to the friends and family who have prayed for your sick baby daughter long enough to see her get well, grow up and go to high school?

In Cheryl Pesce’s case, the answer was also the beginning of her successful jewelry design business, which now fills an airy studio space Downtown with chunks of crystal and agate, freshwater pearls, leather hides, and gold, bronze and silver chains. Pesce, 56, who sells directly to customers from her website cherylpesce.com, is in the running for a FedEx Small Business Grant and has submitted a necklace design to Anthropologie.

In April, she also introduced a line of home fragrances, soap and body products called MayWater, named for the special spring rainwater her Arkansas grandmother used as a hair rinse. Pesce has begun designing baby clothes, too – and is thinking about a bigger studio.

Things weren’t always this sunny. When Pesce was 6 1/2 months pregnant, her daughter Avery was born so premature that the doctors at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital gave her no hope of survival. Avery pulled through, though, and Pesce learned the business lesson of her life: She knew the worst that could happen, so she didn’t worry about what was to come.

That lesson drives her relentless work ethic and optimism.

Jewelry designer Cheryl Pesce learned the business lesson of her life when her daughter was born prematurely. It also changed her outlook on life: “I don’t live the what-ifs and if-onlys.”

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“If someday somebody says no, if somebody says your stuff is crap, you don’t know what you’re doing, you can skip out of there,” she said, “because you’ve already heard the worst thing you could possibly hear.”

Back to the gifts for those steadfast friends: They turned out to be necklaces made from antique keys that Pesce and her daughter collected from around the world, and they were a huge hit. Pesce took them to a local boutique in Jackson, Tenn., where they sold out.

“That’s when I knew,” she said, that her sense of style and her knack for mixing classic and cutting-edge was bankable. She also knew she wanted to make jewelry that the “cool moms” in the school carpool line would wear, especially if they were former successful pharmaceutical sales representatives and divorced doctors’ wives who stayed home with their kids, as Pesce was.

“That was my whole goal: Not to be put in a corner, like (my) time had come and gone,” she said. “I wanted to be a producer.”

Did you have a business plan when you started out? Do you have one now?
“I don’t have a five-year plan, I don’t want a five-year plan. I think they bog you down, because every day I make something different and new. If I had a five-year plan, I might make the same thing over and over, and worry about how it’s selling. I don’t want to do that.

“I resisted making this into a business, because I thought then it wouldn’t be fun. I feared that I couldn’t be creative.”

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started your business?
“You know, I don’t live that way. I don’t live the what-ifs and if-onlys. I feel like my life has unfolded exactly the way it’s supposed to. Maybe that’s what I wish I had known: That my life was unfolding exactly the way it was supposed to. I probably wouldn’t have been as angst-y.”

What makes you anxious about the next steps in your business?
“I don’t really get anxious and worried. When people ask me how to overcome anxiety, I tell them to take a minute and think about the worst thing you’ve ever heard. Write it down. It’s going to be painful. When you’re feel anxious and doubtful, look at that.

“For me, it was when my daughter was sick. I thank God for the arc of my story, because if I hadn’t had that, I’d still be gnashing my teeth, thinking I’m in control of something I was never in control of.”

What’s your next goal?
“I want to go global. I really think that what I’m doing now is equal to anything out there. My amazing customers travel the world and send me pictures. … They tell me, ‘I was in this shop and they kept asking me where I got my necklace.’ I know that my things deserve to be global.

“My other goal is not to go broke doing this, since I don’t have another 50 years to build a nest egg!”


Leanne Kleinmann, a longtime journalist and founder of Leanne Kleinmann Communications, is a first-time entrepreneur herself. Send your questions and suggestions to lkleinmann@aktagroup.com.

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