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Exploring Life & Business with Nikki Riojas of Made in Corpus Christi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nikki Riojas.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
Made in Corpus Christi, LLC was created in January 2019 to showcase the incredible amount of talent produced by creatives in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Over the past three years, our company has partnered with over 30 local and regional independent small businesses to sell their product lines, promote their shops, and help create a community of local makers who want to expand their reach and serve our city.

Our products range from beautifully designed shirts and hats to jelly and hand-poured candles, artisan soap to hand stamped necklaces, and hundreds of other items – all created in or around the Coastal Bend. Our shop model is the first of its kind in the Coastal Bend, which sets us apart from our competition–but also allows us to work hand in hand with many of them as well.

We partner with local manufacturers and small businesses to produce our custom items, and have built relationships with community influencers to help spread the word. Collectively, we are helping build up small businesses, keep our tax dollars local, and bring pride to our community. We love this city and we’re here to plant seeds and help other small, local businesses grow.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As a new company, much of 2019 was spent vending at markets across the city to promote the business and introduce our lines to the community. We had enormous momentum heading into 2020, and were completely blindsided by the pandemic (as most small businesses were).

The day after the city had decided to close non-essential businesses, I created a website called Support Corpus Christi (www.supportcorpuschristi.com) that included a form for any local business, restaurant, and organization to upload information that would make it easy for visitors to see who was open if they were able to offer curbside services, online ordering, and other helpful details for those who wanted to support local establishments. Within one day we had over 200 form submissions, so my team and I worked until 3 am that first night to ensure everyone was included.

Knowing how important the quick transition to online sales was to maintaining business operations, I wanted to help more small businesses find a way to reach a wider audience through virtual methods at the start of the pandemic. Having built three businesses on Instagram, I created the first “Corpus Christi Shop Hop” with 11 local businesses. The 24-hour event was created to give the community a fun, safe outlet after several weeks of being indoors.

Customers could shop as they hopped from vendor to vendor on Instagram, or they could choose to “window” shop through the entire loop before deciding which business to shop for first. Purchases were then made directly through each vendor’s website. In one day, we brought in over $5000 in sales–which meant a great deal to the businesses who were unable to vend at markets and were unsure where their next sale would come from.

Over the course of the pandemic, we were closed to the public for over six weeks, and remained open only for curbside pickup for several weeks after that. Because of my background in marketing and e-commerce design, the shop had been fully functional as an online store from the beginning of the business’s launch. This made the transition from in-person to online sales a relatively smooth one, and thankfully our customer base was still able to shop and support local shops as much as possible during this time.

Though we have had a number of challenges along the way, Made in Corpus Christi has continued to grow and reach our community in new and innovative ways. This has helped us not only stay afloat but thrive during a very challenging time in the retail industry.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
In creating Made in Corpus Christi, we wanted to give a voice to the creative community, but we also wanted to give our customers–the residents and visitors of this city–a brand they can be proud of. We are not just a tourist spot for souvenirs (though we sure do love that clientele) we are a home base for those who live here every day. Those who were born and raised here, those who have left, and those who have returned. We are building pride and vibrancy in a community that has needed a little confidence, and it’s been incredible to see the growth and excitement build throughout the city in just the past couple of years.

As a brand focused on the community, we go to them for their thoughts and ideas, specifically in our social media channels, on new products and designs we are releasing. One of the most popular designs we’ve created is our “Gulf Coast Girls” artwork, designed by Corpus Christi native, Garrett Huls. We posted the original design on Instagram, asking our followers to tell us what we should make with it. We had dozens of comments including shirts, coasters, glassware, stickers, and many more. And when we released the products–many of which were created directly from that customer feedback–we saw hundreds of dollars in sales. Our customers are not just transactions–they are an integral part of our business strategy.

From the start, we created a CC VIP list that allows customers who would like first access to new product releases and restocks to be notified via email. This list has grown to over 1200 recipients and is a valuable tool for gaining new leads and cultivating past customers. Our customers are loyalists when it comes to our brand. Within the first six months of opening, we had over 100 customer-generated social media posts, wearing our merchandise, tagging the company, sharing with friends, family, and their own followers.

This is the type of earned media that most companies can only dream of–and now that number of organic social sharing has grown to over 1000. We are adamant that if a customer shares their purchase, we thank them–publicly by re-sharing their post or story, but also privately with personalized comments directly to them. This is worth our time and has helped us to establish ourselves as an engaged brand that truly pays attention to our base.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk-taking?
I think by nature, every entrepreneur has a higher risk threshold, otherwise, most of us wouldn’t be where we are today. In my personal life, I would not put myself in that category, but as a business owner and idea generator, I thrive on it. I love the feeling of introducing a new product or concept to the marketplace and seeing how it’s received. They aren’t always winners, but knowing that I’m bringing something new to our community and city is always fulfilling and feeds my soul.

For example, in 2019, I created the Corpus Christi “Shop Small Crawl” on Small Business Saturday. We chartered a tour bus, sold seats to local attendees, and had a day filled with shopping, food, drinks, and fun being taken on a tour of the city, shopping at small businesses along the way.

It was an incredible way to shop support for our small businesses, get our “Crawlers” excited about shopping local and bring a true sense of community to everyone who participated–a perfect way to kick off the holiday shopping season. (www.shopsmallcrawlcc.com).

Pricing:

  • Products range from $1.50 – $100

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Lillian Jean Photography and Kylie Justus Photography

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