From the moment you meet Randa Yezak, you are mesmerized by her infectious personality. She is strong, confident, obviously capable, yet there is such an endearing quality to her. Only 50 miles removed from her home town of Bremond, TX, Yezak made the decision to come to Texas A&M and studied Animal Science with a minor in business. That may seem like a circuitous route to where she is now, but she always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Throughout her time at A&M and over the next several years, she established a well-respected, largely followed lifestyle brand named Southern Jewlz. We recently sat down to talk with Yezak about the path that led to Southern Jewlz, her upcoming nuptials, and the shift she believes retail is making away from traditional brick and mortar stores.
MW: How did Southern Jewlz get started?
RY: I am a first-generation Aggie born and raised in Bremond, TX about 50 miles away. I actually have a degree in Animal Science. I thought the my career would be in the agriculture industry. When I was in college I started making my own jewelry, then my friends and other people started wanting to buy it. I remember having an internship the summer before I graduated college with the American Angus Association in Kansas City. That summer was the first time that people identified me by my business name rather than saying I was from Texas or even Texas A&M. I was basically creating a lifestyle brand before I truly realized what that would mean or how popular it would become.
After I graduated in 2009, I decided to turn down my graduate school offers and take a year to focus on Southern Jewlz. The goal was to be profitable, or I would go back to school. I would travel to shows and I would make a good amount of sales, but the travel expenses were so high. Then I focused on my website and rented a kiosk in the Post Oak Mall from September through December 2009. When I saw what the December sales were off a little kiosk, I knew I could make Southern Jewlz my livelihood. I stopped hand making jewelry because I couldn’t keep up with the demand. So I started going to markets and learning about being a buyer, curating for my own brand, and even started designing some products myself.
In July 2010, USA Today ran a feature on me that looked at small businesses utilizing social media. That was my cue from God to go open my very own retail doors. I started in the little Pink House (referred to as the Pink Palace) on Hwy.. 30. After a year and a half there, I had outgrown it and then moved to the Harvey Road location by The Tap. I then made the Aggie 100 in 2014 at the #11 fastest growing Aggie owned company in the nation with a compounded annual growth rate of 93% over 5 years!
MW: You mentioned that you grew up in Bremond, so it seems logical that you landed in College Station. But has there ever been a draw to try and open a retail location in another market?
RY: I loved being an Aggie and going to Texas A&M so much. So obviously when I graduated, I wanted to stay. I loved the town, I was only 50 miles away from my family, and I never thought of moving until about three years ago. I realized I was a 26-year-old young professional that was single, and I wondered how many people above the age of 22 would stick around in this town. I started thinking about expanding another storefront to Dallas or Austin, but I just love College Station too much to move. And then I met my fiancé, Grant, who was born and raised in Bryan, TX. So now I’m proud to say this is my forever home and where our roots are!
MW: You have over 100,000 followers on social media. That is quite impressive for a boutique from Bryan/College Station.
RY: I think part of it is because I was the leader of the pack in some sense. I really capitalized on what I could get out of social media before other businesses realized it was such a big thing. I caught on early on and that is what helped develop my growth. I have never paid to grow my followers. Six or seven years ago, when you followed someone on social media, you saw their content more, there was less competition, and you were more engaged. People really got to know me and my lifestyle brand. I try to keep our personality in our posts and keep it real and genuine.
MW: As we have followed you on social media, we love how it is a good mix of Southern Jewlz and Randa Yezak. It keeps the personal touch in there.
RY: What I have realized in the past year is that the constant in all of this is me. I have stepped out to the front of my brand again, just like I did in the beginning. I have successfully grown the age of my average client to 25-34. I don’t want people to think it is only for 18-21-year-olds. I am a 29-year-old female who is about to get married. I am evolving with my brand, and I think it keeps those followers, that I have had all along, interactive with me.
MW: You recently announced on SouthernJewlz.com that you would be closing down your brick and mortar location. What are some of the motivations for that decision?
RY: I think when I made the announcement that 95% of the people who read it were totally shocked. Even though Southern Jewlz is a lifestyle brand and part of my identity, it boils down to the fact that it is a business. The future of retail is online. For me to truly take Southern Jewlz to the next level, I need to focus on the online presence, the social media, the engaged marketing, capturing the attention and sales of the clients I have built and the new ones I will obtain. Sure I can hire a lot of those tasks out, but since Southern Jewlz has been founded, it has been a lifestyle brand that mirrored my style, life, and personality, so I need to stay heavily involved in every facet of the company. If I was just starting my business, I wouldn’t try to be exclusively online. It is so competitive right now, but I have built a following and now I need to engage and grow from there!
If I am being completely honest, there are a lot of boutiques opening retail doors, and they will continue to open. Stats show that retail is growing, but it’s the online sales that pulls the bulk of the weight. Lots of big corporate companies are closing down storefronts to focus online. I am a natural born leader, so I like to stay ahead of the game.
With being a full forced entrepreneur, my plate becomes full and I become stretched. There is only one me. At this exact moment of my life, I have a wonderful fiancé who I will marry in just a few short weeks. I take finding my true love, and entering the sacrament of marriage very seriously. I am powerful, successful, and independent by myself. But I am getting married and I don’t want to rush that time because time is one thing a person can never get back. I don’t want to look back and realize I couldn’t fully take in the last minute wedding planning or enjoy my honeymoon because I was too worried about what was going on at the store.
Everything is still up and running. The online store is still going. I am still shipping. But any new brand exposure or product launches aren’t going to happen until April 1. I will still do pop up shops (with a strong emphasis during game day season) at my old location as The Mule Barn is taking over that space. Nancy Gilmore, the owner, has been one of my business mentors since before I started this business. We have a wonderful and faith based relationship and I know she will speak highly to customers who continue to come into that location and ask about me.
I feel like it is a fresh new start for my life. I have worked really hard to get where I am and I have this platform I can stand on now. I have learned so much about retail and now I feel like I am entering a brand new chapter with a fresh start.
MW: Can you give us a snapshot of what people can expect from Southern Jewlz with this transition?
RY: This is a wonderful and exciting time for both me and the fans and customers of Southern Jewlz! I don’t want people to feel as though the brand is minimizing. I am still moving 100mph. The ultimate goal is to be our own version of something comparable to a lulus.com or an asos.com. What comes next for us are the steps to get us there. I don’t want to take the personality out of it, but I want Southern Jewlz to be a nationwide and household brand, rather than just a College Station boutique. I love having my roots here and will be forever grateful to the customers that have allowed the company to grow as well as the community support I have received over the years. Also, in the next few months there will be some exciting things happening with my personal name.
MW: You are getting married in less than 3 weeks! What has that process been like? Are you ready?
RY: I am so excited to marry Grant. I feel like it is a fresh new start for my life. I have worked really hard to get where I am and I have this platform I can stand on now. I have learned so much about retail and now I feel like I am entering a brand new chapter with a fresh start.
MW: Are you nervous for the wedding?
RY: We are having a small intimate wedding. We are planning to start the morning with just the two of us and our preacher for a Bible study before anything starts that day. Before the hair and makeup. I think that day will be very emotional. We just want to focus on our faith and our new life together.
The theme for the wedding is classic fairytale meets victorian valentine. I feel like it represents timeless love leading right up to Valentine’s Day. We want everyone there to just focus on love.
MW: What is next after the wedding and honeymoon?
RY: I am jumping headfirst into a new project. RandaCarrabba.com is going to be a chance for me to talk more about my experiences. I can share with people what it took to plan a bachelorette party and the process to pick out a wedding band. My clientele is getting married and helping to plan weddings.
MW: It sounds like RandaCarrabba.com is you stepping out from behind the Southern Jewlz brand and having your own platform to discuss what you enjoy on a more personal level. Fashion is obviously a huge part of that, but not the only part.
RY: Absolutely. It will be fashion, lifestyle, wedding planning, house decorating, workout regiments, it really will cover a lot of different areas. I think this will be a more mature Randa. It will be more glam and luxurious. That is where I want to future of my personal brand to go.
MW: So, this has been a crazy ride. If someone gave you the opportunity to go back over the last 6 or 7 years to change something or do something differently, what would it be?
RY: Not a thing.
MW: We love it!
RY: Ok, maybe I would have learned to use an under-eye wrinkle cream at 22 instead of 29. But that is the only change in my life I would make. Every struggle, every victory or defeat, every challenge or wrong turn has led me to who I am today. Southern Jewlz is a big thing. But who I am is a much bigger thing. The reality and education I have behind me is not something I would change.
MW: What would you say to a young female that has the vision or dream to start their own clothing line, or open a retail store? What advice would you give them?
RY: Jump in and get going. Where the world is now, you have a platform that you can build on for free. You can start a blog for free. You can be on instagram for free. You can brand yourself so easily and get the word out there. If you want to do it, don’t wait until the time is right. The time will never be right. You will never have enough money or free time. So, do it now. But if this is what you really want to do, you have to eat, sleep, breathe and believe it for it to truly happen.
MW: Who are some of the people that have impacted you the most as a person and a business owner?
RY: One would be Nancy Gilmore with the MuleBarn. She is taking over my space on Harvey. She introduced me to the Prayer of Jabez. She has always encouraged me that if you do right and you pray right God has got it. I don’t have to worry so much. And I see her lead her business like that.
Another would be Wendy Brown. She has so much life and personality. There is nothing that can’t be done. Break any rule. Call anybody. Make a personal connection to make something happen that other people would be waiting in line to do the standard procedure. Wendy just bypasses all of that and knocks it out.
Lorinda Van Newkirk was the owner of Gypsy Soul. They closed a year and a half ago. Even through that transition she has been such a powerhouse. She is doing consulting and radio work. She has always been so raw and real with me.
I would also say Emily Heath. Having a friend that understands what goes into running a business. Packaging, branding, details, events. I just think there are a lot of relationships I have had for a long time and cultivated that have really benefitted me.
MW: Ok, at a glance, where do you see yourself in 2 years?
RY: Happily married. SouthernJewlz.com being well on its way to being a household name. To really get my consulting off the ground. I would love to be like a “Tabitha Takes Over” but in more of a small business, retail, boutique way. I have lived it and learned it.