December 2019 most of us were celebrating the holiday season. In January things started taking a turn for the worse with COVID in China. As business owners, the majority of us did not see everything that has now transpired, coming, especially here in the United States. It’s essential to be flexible in business and to know how to pivot, the right way, and at the right time.
Jalona Falkner is the owner of Jalona Marie Bridal and The China Connect. Through The China Connect, she did tours of China markets and manufacturers designed to help businesses develop those relationships, cut out the middle man, and increase profits. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restricted travel (especially to China) caused her to cancel her February tour and find other ways to utilize her connections. She has used her expertise in imports to help others who are impacted by the slow down of business in China understand what is going on there and is now selling medical protective gear, which is in short supply, on her website
MillBuzz: Tell us about your journey as the owner of Jalona Marie Bridal and The China Connect and how you got started.
Falkner: My professional background is in technology, but what makes my heart soar is being able to create and problem-solve. After I learned to sew, I began designing and creating workwear for myself and other professional women. As my clientele grew, I opened a studio and when those customers began to get married, the question was asked, “Can you make my wedding dress?” and off I went! I learned everything I could about the craft of creating gorgeous wedding gowns. That was in 2013 and my heart still flutters with every new wedding project. Since then, I have designed dozens of custom-made gowns that reflect each bride’s unique taste and personality.
My connection to China came as I began to scale my custom workwear business and began looking for manufacturing partners. I expanded to China for clothing and eventually wedding dress manufacturing. It soon became clear to me that visiting the country was imperative to deepening and expanding my China-based network. So in 2017, I made my first journey to China and while there, I decided to bring others to experience that amazing country and its business opportunities. I formed The China Connect in 2018 to help small businesses, like myself, make valuable connections that allow them to cut out the middle man, expand their product lines, save money, and increase profits.
MillBuzz: As an entrepreneur, it comes with a lot of ups and downs. What motivational advice can you give to us that can help us to keep going when the going gets tough?
Falkner: Nothing is truer of the entrepreneurial journey, than it shifts and swings wildly, sometimes in the very same day. When things get tough, I take a moment and ask myself one of two questions. The first is, “Are you having fun?” If the answer is no, then I immediately try to locate the disconnect. The second question is, “Is your WHY still worth it?” Most times, that answer is YES. If I hesitate or don’t feel a confident YES, then it’s time to reevaluate my reasons for being involved with that business or project.
MillBuzz: Due to COVID-19, you’ve had to restrict travel especially to China, how have you been able to pivot within your business due to this?
Falkner: This was a direct blow to my business strategy. My team and I had two tours already planned and fully booked out for 2020. In January, it became evident that this viral situation could potentially impact others’ views of China and their willingness to travel. I gave myself some time and grace to fully absorb the overall impact to my bottom line. It was painful. It was frightening, and it meant a significant loss of income.
After a couple of weeks of sitting with the reality of things, I knew I had to pivot, but needed to do so very strategically. I was looking to source PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for my family when I realized that selling PPE myself would be a great business opportunity and easy to do because I already had established relationships with several suppliers. The opportunity came together in a matter of days, and I launched my online store www.HealthGearNow.com to make it happen.
MillBuzz: Let’s talk about your medical protective gear and supply business that you have started, Health Gear Now, and how you were able to create another business to provide supply to an overwhelming demand.
Falkner: As I stated, Health Gear Now began with me wanting to order PPE for my own family. Once I connected with my network of suppliers, I extended the invitation to friends and family and the word spread quickly. We were all looking for affordable supplies to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Within three days, we’d developed a website and were taking orders. We launched in February, and since that time, my team and I have had to make many tweaks and adjustments to meet the demand, but luckily supply chain management and product sourcing is one of my expertise. Although it’s been a fast-moving business, it’s been overwhelmingly enjoyable!
I’ve also been able to use Health Gear Now as a means to help others. We’ve partnered with several non-profits to distribute masks. Either as a fundraiser (a portion of the sales are donated to their organization) or using our platform to enable the public to purchase masks to donate.
MillBuzz: Right now, it’s hard for so many engaged couples whose weddings were planned and are planned for later this year, how is the bridal industry holding up during all of this?
Falkner: The bridal industry has suffered a major blow. Weddings are being canceled, refunds and deposits have been returned, balances due are not being collected and calendars have been de-booked. Bridal stores were shuddered for months, and are cautiously reopening without knowing if brides will spend at the same level or will they be more budget-conscious. The complete after-shock remains to be seen, but I did hear some promising news recently. A few bridal salons have reported that brides are even more excited and average ticket sales are a bit higher than usual. I guess people are realizing how important it is to seize and enjoy every moment. Hopefully, this will be the trend, and couples will embrace their weddings with the same (or more) eagerness than before.
MillBuzz: What else would you like to share with us that you are currently working on?
Falkner: Thanks for asking! I am excited to announce the launch of The China Connect Shop! It’s for entrepreneurs who want to start working with China-based suppliers but aren’t sure how or where to start. The China Connect Shop is a one-stop-shop of templates, how-tos, and most importantly, hand-selected vendors that can be accessed immediately. This is the perfect platform to connect entrepreneurs with my network of suppliers while educating and providing ready-set-go options all in one place. The shop went LIVE on June 1, 2020, and I am very excited!