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November 12, 2018
On the record

Maker of nautical-chart jewelry mulls bigger footprint in weddings, corporate gifts

Photo / Jim Neuger
Photo / Jim Neuger
Charlotte Guptill, founder of CHART Metalworks, got an early boost in 2009 when Sea Bags President and COO Beth Shissler offered studio space at Sea Bags. In 2015, Sea Bags acquired the jewelry company.

Charlotte Guptill is a self-taught jewelry designer — and former mortgage loan officer — who founded CHART Metalworks in 2008. Her Portland startup, acquired by Sea Bags in 2015, makes hand-cast nautical chart jewelry and accessories it sells mostly to wholesale customers as well as online and retail.

On the eve of CHART Metalworks' 10-year anniversary this month and before heading to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Guptill sat down with Mainebiz.

Mainebiz: What inspired the idea for your business?

Charlotte Guptill: I grew up in Hampden sailing in Penobscot Bay and always had a lot of nautical things and charts in my house. One day I said, 'I wonder what that chart would look like in my jewelry,' and went to work on making that happen. It was my love of being on the water that inspired that, and the charts themselves, because they are a critical piece of information to a sailor but they're also aesthetically beautiful to look at. You don't have to understand what all those numbers mean to appreciate the beauty of a chart.

MB: How did you get it off the ground?

CG: In November 2008 I opened a small shop inside a hair salon on the corner of Congress and High streets, and then I had a studio at Running With Scissors. I would go in and sell all day and design with people, and then I'd go to my studio at night and I'd make the pieces. Soon after that I met Beth [Shissler, president and chief operating officer of Sea Bags LLC], who invited me to open my studio at Sea Bags and sell my products at the store. That was in 2009. I also went to a wholesale show with Sea Bags and had some success there.

MB: What's something you've learned from Beth?

CG: In the very beginning the best advice she gave me was as a new business, rather than put all my money into an advertisement, hire someone who does PR. That proved to be very successful because within a couple of months, my PR lady that I chose landed me a full-page feature in Coastal Living magazine. The moment that hit the stands, I went from three orders a week online to 90, and that did not stop for months.

MB: Where are your customers?

CG: We have a little over 500 active accounts across the U.S. and part of the Caribbean, even some in Canada. They're typically higher-end gift shops, and our price point is between $40 and $60. One of the things I wanted to do when I created CHART Metalworks was I wanted to bring it to as many people as I could and make it an affordable product.

MB: Is protecting your intellectual property a concern?

CG: Art can be a complicated thing to protect. My goal is traction. I want to be one step ahead of my competition at all times, and I don't worry about what's going on around me. We make a superior product — I know that. We're just going to continue to offer new and interesting products on a regular basis, and I don't worry about it. I don't have time.

MB: What's next for CHART Metalworks?

CG: We're looking to focus on branding and the stories — less about product and more about the important piece of what the product is, which is the map. It's connected to your identity — who you are, what you have to say, and connecting with others. We're just starting to plan next year and figure out what shows we're going to and products we're potentially going to launch. It's exciting.

MB: Any new market segments you're considering?

CG: We are looking to do a little bit more on the wedding side. We are the perfect gift not only for the wedding party, but if you're going to a wedding as a gift for the bride and groom, or for the parents. We're also looking to drive our corporate gifts business.

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