SAN CARLOS, Ariz.— Beaded Edge Supply celebrated a grand re-opening over the weekend after expanding into a new building six years after opening their doors to the public. What started as simply helping others turned a dream into a storefront reality.
Tribal member Samantha Hunter has been beading for 21 years and that was the subtle start of her business. Others admired the beads she used in her beadwork and would ask where she purchased her beads. Unable to fully answer their questions, simply because she picked them up randomly at different stores or on trips, an idea was placed in her head.
At first, she would simply help others by picking up their requests while she was out but knowing her beads came from a variety of places, her dream of owning a store was starting to come into fruition, seeing the need to have all of the different types of beads under one roof.
Hunter sought a small business loan with the Relending Program and in May 2015 Beaded Edge Supply was born. In the beginning, Hunter relied heavily on social media to establish a clientele and her grassroots marketing paid early dividends as Beaded Edge Supply became popular online within a couple of months.
While Beaded Edge Supply made a splash with Native bead artists from all over, the local business was lacking and Hunter quickly adapted her business model to cater to locals.
“We started to carry other things that we knew people would like such as fabric and buckskin,” said Hunter. “I never really thought we would do that but when we did, local people started spreading word of mouth that we had those items.”
‘Leap of faith’
Small businesses can be challenging but in 2017, Hunter took a giant leap of faith after being encouraged by her husband and quit her full-time job to fully dedicate herself to the store.
“I was afraid to let my job go because I know jobs (on the reservation) are not easy to come by,” said Hunter. “I ended up quitting and took a leap of faith. Once I did that, I felt I was happier and able to do what I like and make sure my customers were happy.”
By quitting her job and being able to dedicate her time to the store, Hunter was able to meet her customers’ needs, especially in shipping times. She streamlined orders and was able to fulfill them the same day that they were placed. The fast shipping times were a selling point to customers and would-be customers.
Her online orders come from as far as Canadian Reserves as well as local tribal communities. Well-known beaders order from Beaded Edge Supply and Hunter says a lot of the artists will tag them on Instagram when they finish their pieces.
Despite a strong Native American following, Beaded Edge Supply also has non-Native clientele and has shipped to places like Japan, Australia, Mexico, Turkey, Belgium, Chile, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Kenya, Italy, the UK and even New Zealand.
“A lot of places don’t carry everything all in one store,” said Hunter. “Some things we carry you can’t find in other stores. A lot of our crystals are custom made … a lot of people like the sparkle and the pow-wow look and a lot of people use them so I wanted to start carrying custom made ones.”
“I didn’t intend to have a lot of what we offer,” said Hunter. “I never thought about buckskin and fabric, I was worried about the beads. Once we started carrying everything, the space really shrunk.”
Hunter was on the fence about a bigger space but her husband continued to encourage her and eventually convinced her that a bigger space was needed. He contacted all the necessary labor to start laying the concrete foundation and start the project of a new building.
At the grand re-opening, there were customers from Whiteriver, Cibecue, Camp Verde, Fort McDowell, the Phoenix area and locally from San Carlos and Bylas.
“It’s nice to see community members support a local business,” said Hunter. “I didn’t expect a whole lot, I didn’t expect to be a popular business … I’ve been able to meet a lot of people and everyone is so nice.”
She has even had a customer from Canada visit her store. The customer is married to a Hopi member and during a visit to her in-laws on the Hopi Reservation, the customer made a roughly four-hour drive to Beverly Hills, San Carlos to see Beaded Edge Supply in person.
Covid-19 quickly took over the headlines in 2020 and businesses suffered from shutdowns as the economy slowly fell into a recession, but Beaded Edge Supply withstood an unprecedented time in modern U.S. history.
Much like big retailers JoAnn, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, Beaded Edge Supply saw a rise in orders as Americans were forced to stay home. Hunter said the coronavirus pandemic helped grow her business.
“It opened up the eyes of the community and you saw people learning to sew and bead because we were all at home,” said Hunter. “It was so nice to see.”
‘Next up, next generation’
As new artists took up beading and sewing due to the pandemic, Hunter saw the next steps in Beaded Edge Supply’s future.
“With a lot of the older artisans passing away, we are the next generation to teach the younger ones,” said Hunter.
Beaded Edge Supply plans to use the old building as a classroom space. A talented artist in her own right, Hunter wants to pass on her gift because it’s not about her recognition. Her artisan skills are for the people whom she helps and she wants her store to emulate the same aspects that are important to her.
“I have a responsibility to help others and pass the torch on,” said Hunter. “(The store) is for the community, this is what I envisioned for them and not have to travel far and be able to pass savings along to them.”
In the long term, Hunter plans to continue to expand the store’s offerings. She wants to expand her inventory to include enamelware, something that is popular for Sunrise dances and something customers ask for.
‘Still at work’
Hunter has the utmost gratitude to her husband Eddie Hunter, who has been her main support through the six-year process. As her personal handyman, he does everything for Samantha and is always there to encourage his wife.
“I would still be doing my 9-to-5 job,” said Samantha, if it was not for her husband’s encouragement.
No businesswoman would be successful without support around her and Samantha knows that without the amazing team of Erica Welsh, Mirah Alexander, Tanisha Stanley and Faylynn Tewawina that Beaded Edge Supply would not be so well-respected and popular. The team is the face of the store, helping customers, gathering orders and ensuring a smooth workflow and checkout process.
Lastly, Samantha acknowledges the Relending Program who has been extremely supportive of her business venture and is thankful that they are willing to help community members who have a dream of starting a small business.
Beaded Edge Supply is still at work to ensure they meet the needs of their customers and the community for years to come.