Business Spotlight: Like Mother, Like Daughter
Young entrepreneur Arianna Russell follows in her mother's footsteps and is now selling American-made iPhone cases
Monday, January 06, 2014 8:05 AM
Some say they’re born to be an entrepreneur. Arianna Russell, founder and CEO of Bodacious Cases LLC, didn’t wait long to fill that role.
Arianna Russell and her 18-employee BoTeam sell iPhone cases made by Nixa-based Accurate Plastics. The manufacturer is the third contracted by Bodacious Cases after an extensive search for capable U.S. producers.
Cheri Russell, Arianna’s mother and go-to employee at Bodacious Cases, says she went into labor with Arianna while working a craft show booth. She finished the day and delivered Arianna early Saturday morning, then returned to her craft show booth with a newborn Arianna the next day.
As she grew up, Arianna helped with her parent’s wicker restoration business, as well as her mother’s antiquing publication, Cheri says.
Adopting her mother’s entrepreneurial spirit and “gift of gab,” Cheri says Arianna also inherited her veteran father’s patriotism.
Bodacious Cases, a company with a made-in-America mantra, was fittingly conceptualized on July 4, 2011.
“I don’t carry a purse or anything, so my phone is like my life in my pocket,” Arianna says, reflecting on the company’s beginnings. “And I thought I had lost it in the hot tub.”
It was a false alarm, but the scare was enough to make Arianna consider how different the scenario would have been if her cell phone had a water-resistant cover. She realized her current phone case was less than satisfactory.
“I couldn’t find everything I wanted in a single product – I could find it in about six other products,” she says.
Though she already was running her first startup, Superior Auto Detailing – launched when she was a high school junior – it was struggling amid the recession, and Arianna got to work on a business plan to develop all the features she desired in an iPhone case.
“I wanted a product that was attractive, something that people would say: ‘Oh wow! That’s excellent!’ and a company with the kind of product that people would have respect for and approve of,” Arianna says. “The word bodacious was perfect, because bodacious means excellent, admirable or attractive.”
Arianna’s ideal phone case also was customizable, durable and would hold her debit card, ID or cash – and, most importantly, was manufactured in the U.S.
Hurdles in the USA
Turning her ideas into reality wasn’t easy.
“I kept getting the door slammed in my face because I am a young female,” the 26-year-old says.
Arianna continued to call patent attorneys, small-business resource centers and potential manufacturers, even pulling all-nighters on Skype with Chinese manufacturers who were more willing to talk with her than American manufacturers.
“When I got quotes from manufacturers overseas, I was shocked at the price difference,” Arianna says. “I can get a tool made in China that’ll make the exact same parts as it would here in America for under $5,000. That same tool costs $50,000 or more here in America.
“For me, as a business owner, I could have produced 10 different tools for 10 different products and be much farther along than I am now.”
Arianna almost gave up on her search for a domestic manufacturer after visiting nearly four-dozen prospects.
“There was no doubt with the Chinese manufacturers; there was a lot of doubt with the American manufacturers,” she says. “There has to be a relationship there because I want them in for the long haul.”
Arianna connected with a manufacturer in St. Louis, and after testing hundreds of materials for water-resistance, durability and ease to slide in and out of pockets, the first Bodacious Cases were sold one year to the date after the concept began.
Since July 2012, more than 5,000 Bodacious Cases have been sold despite changing manufacturers a couple of times, with the third – and “I think final one,” Arianna says – being Nixa-based Accurate Plastics, a sister company of Diversified Plastics Corp.
The focus on a made-in-America product has brought its own attention.
“We were on ABC World News last year three times,” Arianna says, noting a fourth segment, a follow-up to the first, aired Dec. 24.
A case close to home
With a manufacturer based in Nixa and the company headquarters based on the family’s century farm in Ozark, Bodacious Cases is now nearly a Christian County-made product.
“When we first started, I had a big U.S. map that I would put a pin in to each place we shipped to,” Arianna says. “Soon, I gave up on that.”
With prices starting at $35 for its Band-It Case, Bodacious Cases generated roughly $100,000 in 2013 revenue.
The BoTeam, as Arianna calls it, grew by 13 employees in the last year to include a combination of 18 full-time and part-time staff members, from news release writers to scriptwriters and video producers for Bodacious Cases’ YouTube channel.
Arianna, who has her hands in just about every aspect of the company, hopes to get to a point where she can focus her efforts on expanding the products to include cases for other types of phones and devices.
Arianna’s drive has earned her a nomination for the 2013 Woman-owned Start Up the Year, to be announced during the Feb. 1 Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium at Drury University’s Edward Jones Center for Entrepreneurship.
The award receives about 10 nominations with a panel of independent, seasoned female entrepreneurs determining the winner based on completed questionnaires, says Kelley Still, a professor at Drury University and executive director of the school’s Edward Jones Center for Entrepreneurship.
“(Arianna’s) tenacity is a wonderful lesson for all entrepreneurs,” Still says, adding she hopes Arianna will be a presenter at future symposiums.
Preferring to learn in the field rather than at a desk, Arianna says most of her training came from her mother.
“I learned from my mom, so I learned from the best,” she says.
While the mother and daughter started life working a craft show, Cheri now accompanies her daughter to shows to help market and sell Arianna’s products rather than her own.
“We are really blessed,” Cheri says.