After a Bizarre Shopping Experience, She Co-Founded Her Own Business. Five Years Later, They Opened Their 23rd Location.

After a Bizarre Shopping Experience, She Co-Founded Her Own Business. Five Years Later, They Opened Their 23rd Location.

In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Please give us the elevator pitch of your business.
I’m Anna Harman, the co-founder and CEO of Studs. We’ve reimagined ear piercing by offering consultative and expert needle piercing services, combined with a wide assortment of accessibly priced, on-trend earrings, in an experiential retail environment for our primarily Gen Z and millennial customers. This month (March), we opened our 23rd location, with more to come in 2024.

What inspired you to create this business?
In 2019 when I was 34, I was inspired by my friend who had cool ear piercings to go and get a second piercing at a premium piercing parlor. The wait was going to be a few hours and my piercing was going to be too expensive, so I left. I knew I wanted to get pierced with a needle and not a gun, and my friend (now co-founder) Lisa Bubbers came with me to get pierced at a tattoo parlor in downtown NYC. The piercing practice was healthy and safe, but I felt out of place in the environment and didn’t love the jewelry assortment. So Lisa and I began researching what options were available and found this hole in the market. The landscape for ear piercing with needles (not piercing guns) was fragmented. Customers were going to their local tattoo shop, and then once their piercings healed, they went to mass retailers to shop for earrings. The behaviors were disconnected. Our goal is to connect ear piercing, ear piercing healing, and earring shopping for an end-to-end Earscaping® experience.

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Tell us about a super challenging moment that you didn’t see coming, and how you reacted.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Studs was still very much in its infancy. The world shut down right after we opened our second location. Our business started strong, with packed stores and excited customers. Then, the pandemic slammed the brakes. We lost almost all our revenue and I faced dual challenges: adapting the business and welcoming a newborn. E-commerce, previously not a focus area, became our lifeline. Surprisingly, earrings thrived in the Zoom era. While earrings weren’t an obvious category for people to be buying when you’re sitting at home, as it turned out, you do want earrings when you’re sitting at home because you are on video all the time, and it proved to be an accessory that made you feel dressed up and human again while the rest of you might have been in sweatpants. Soon, stores reopened, and to our surprise, customers flocked back to get ear piercings at Studs Studios. The pandemic changed things, but our business emerged resilient. While challenges remain, we’re fortunate to be one of the lucky ones.

What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
I think the VC investing landscape has changed dramatically in our category of consumer retail in the last few years. In the past, investors would invest in a great founder with an incredible idea. Now investors want real conviction in the product market fit, a sound revenue and profit generating business model and your leadership and operating capabilities proven out before they invest. I think if possible, entrepreneurs should bootstrap until they have early indicators of product market fit and revenue and then go to investors with full conviction and confidence in not only the idea but the business model and market opportunity.

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What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Someone who dances with risk, not someone who gambles with it. They have a vision, they understand the potential pitfalls, and they’re willing to step outside their comfort zone to chase that vision. It’s not about recklessness, but about calculated risks and the courage and grit to see them through.

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What is something many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don’t?
Many aspiring entrepreneurs get caught up in the allure of big budgets and flashy marketing campaigns. While those can be helpful later, the truth is, that organic growth driven by word-of-mouth experiences is often the most powerful tool in your arsenal, especially when you’re starting out. Focus on creating a product or service that people love and rave about, and they’ll become your biggest advocates, spreading the word for you without a dime spent.

Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
As Kelly Clarkson sang, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That really resonates with me as an entrepreneur. Her core message about overcoming challenges is inspiring. Businesses face setbacks, criticism, and market shifts. Embracing these as learning opportunities and bouncing back demonstrates resilience, a key trait for success in building a brand and business.

Are you looking to achieve success comparable to Anna’s? Keep an eye out for her upcoming Entrepreneur+ article, where Anna shares her invaluable advice tailored to small business owners. Check back on March 26 when the story goes live.

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