How a Nurse and her sister-in-law turned a child’s gift into an enterprise
As third-grade art projects go, it really wasn’t bad at all.
In 2003, Lisa Harrington was a pediatric nurse at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with a young family of her own. One day, Lisa’s then-9-year-old daughter made her mom a beaded necklace. “So I would think of her while I was at work,” Lisa explains.
Touched by the child’s gesture, Lisa took the necklace to work, but realized her neck was already a bit crowded due to her employee ID badge. So she decided to combine the two, clipping the ID badge to her daughter’s creation rather than the standard shoelace-style lanyards used by most healthcare professionals.
The necklace became an instant hit among Lisa’s coworkers.
15 years later, the necklaces, known as “Boojee Beads” are the cornerstone of Lisa’s own multimillion dollar business. This is the story of how one nurse turned a child’s art project into a growing empire.
When Lisa’s coworkers noticed the new necklace holding her ID badge, they naturally began clamoring for one of their own. Nine-year-old Katie, Lisa’s daughter, was all too happy to oblige. Over time, the girl was able to build a cottage business all her own, selling these beaded necklaces that began as a simple show of love to her mother, but grew into a gift with great practical use and fashion potential for a healthcare professional.
“You have to wear the ID badge,” said Lisa. “Teachers, nurses… it’s critical for security. But when you’re in a customer-facing position, it’s important to have something that’s a little piece of yourself.”
But for Lisa, it was also a chance to teach young Katie some skills—specifically, tracking what she spent for supplies, how much she was making selling the necklaces, and setting goals for herself. “For Katie, it was about having enough money to buy us all Christmas gifts,” Lisa recalled.
That Christmas, Lisa couldn’t wait to share the good fortune and cute idea with her visiting relatives, including her sister-in-law, Kimberly Martinez.
Kimberly was herself a mother of three, and a former Fortune 50 executive who’d been recently downsized after the fallout from the events of 9/11. “She was looking for something different than just going back into the corporate space,” Lisa remembered, “and she loved the idea for the business.”
Kimberly literally took a Christmas card envelope and started drawing up a potential business plan. She followed this up with research into market size, share, and pricing. There was just one step left—convincing Lisa.
“Remember, I’m a nurse,” Lisa laughed. “I was very happy being a nurse—good career path, good education. This came out of nowhere.
“So at first I went along, not really sure where things were heading. I had a creative side—I could design some jewelry. But at the time, (Kimberly) was handling all the business aspects.”
Even Kimberly’s primary area of expertise was insurance. Together, the two sisters-in-law learned the product development business, which is when Lisa realized perhaps she was more cut out for this line of work than she’d thought. Bonitas International, a company dedicated to making traditional workplace items – like lanyards, name tags, ID badges and other workplace products – into stylish forms of affordable and durable jewelry, was born. The cornerstone product, Boojee Beads, were named after the nickname of Kimberly’s then-3-year-old son.
“I was pulling (skills) from my nursing career,” she explained. “Organization, attention to details… and the biggest thing is the ‘why?’ I’ve never been able to just do something because I’m told so. I always wanted to know why—what are we trying to accomplish with a particular treatment? I prefer the holistic approach.
“Now, I’ve been to the factories where they make the jewelry. I understand how people make mistakes, I can help them to learn how to do it better. Also, the way our business decisions impact every aspect of the business. I learned that holistic approach from nursing.”
The Success Story
The progress made by female entrepreneurs has reached a level where women own almost 50 percent of U.S. businesses. But it’s not easy—less than 3 percent ever enjoy sales of over $1 million. Bonitas International surpassed that milestone in just their third year. Now, 15 years after little Katie made her first necklace, the company is positioning themselves at the forefront on an ongoing retail revolution.
Lisa serves as co-founder and CEO, with Kimberly in the role of co-founder and president. “We’re 50/50 owners,” Lisa clarified before adding with a laugh, “that can be both good and bad!”
Lisa’s organizational, process-driven mentality is custom-made for the CEO role, while Kimberly’s corporate experience makes her a natural fit for overseeing sales and the omnichannel retail side of the business.
Above all, they remain sisters-in-law—Kimberly married Lisa’s brother. “Some people are amazed that we remain so close, and still love each other.”
The company, based in Newbury, OH, is entering its 16th year of doing business, with myriad ideas for the future. But what about its origin? What about Katie, the little girl whose gift started everything? Now 24, is Katie involved in the business, or at least wearing Boojee Beads to work every day?
“Katie,” Lisa explained, “is a two-time national champion collegiate boxer at the University of Cincinnati. She does work for us—part-time social media manager, marketing activities—but she works primarily as a personal trainer.
“Nursing wasn’t in the cards for Katie. She’s not a big fan of needles.”
She is, however, the second generation of women in her family forging her own path and using her skill set to find success no matter what she does—nursing, marketing, boxing, or being CEO of a multimillion- dollar company.
“We’re in a very small minority—a woman-owned company in business for 15 years. It’s not easy to stay in business that long with this level of success,” Lisa summarized. “It’s very important to us to serve as resources to other women-owned businesses. It opens doors, and it’s been a critical part of our success.”