By Sue Moore
Karla Hirdning Piper has reinvented herself several times over since graduating from Vicksburg High School in 1987. “I wanted to see the world and experience different cultures.” So she headed to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY. Upon graduation in 1991, she sailed the seas as a third mate, working her way up to chief mate, primarily responsible for ship navigation, before leaving to start her own business.
For five years in the marine survey business, she got paid to inspect cargo and ships leaving from her home port in Charleston, South Carolina, all the while raising two sons, James and Ryan Ross. Then she tried her hand at direct sales to retailers in the scrapbooking business. With this interest, her outlook turned 180 degrees into the world of selling products to women.
Divorce followed, but not her determination to succeed. “From grade school on, I’ve always strived to succeed. I’ve pressured myself to be the best I can be in sports, life and family,” she said. Her life took another turn when the class of 1987 celebrated its 20th anniversary back in Vicksburg. There, she encountered another classmate, Mark Piper, who was divorced. She recognized him as a friend from grade school and perhaps a few dates their junior year in high school. It was instant chemistry. They married in May 2008 and honeymooned in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Piper was intrigued with the silver jewelry being sold in the marketplaces in Cabo and a light bulb went on. Why not bring some back for gifts? She did; they turned out to be much appreciated. That got her to thinking she could start a business selling the jewelry to individuals and store outlets back in Vicksburg where she was soon to be living. Meanwhile, she had just finished as general contractor for the new home she and Mark built in the Angels Crossing subdivision. Once they moved in, it didn’t take long to create Siesta Silver Jewelry out of her new home office in a downstairs hideaway.
Starting this business meant learning about packaging, commodity prices of silver, exchange rates, branding, web design, jewelry design, and ordering product from Taxco, Mexico. It is in Guerrero State, and a very dangerous place, Piper related. She has never been there. But she has developed a connection with John, a Michigander, far removed from his home state having married a woman from Taxco. The city is known worldwide for its silver deposits and its artisans who craft the silver into beautiful jewelry.
Her first importing order from Taxco was a lesson in shipping as it passed through U.S. customs but failed to arrive on Piper’s doorstep. The shipper had lost the shipment, causing the new business to be depleted of capital and product at its very next show in Lansing.
Piper’s life now consists of expanded travel, doing at least one big show a month in states east of the Rocky Mountains because she has to drive to each one. “I would never fly and take the chance of my jewelry disappearing, plus I have to take my own tables, chairs, display cases, and the booth paraphernalia that is needed for each show,” she said.
She doesn’t just do shows. She has developed a series of 51 small shops across the US and Canada that carry her product by purchasing it up front and reselling it at the same price Piper sells it on line or at her shows. Her first outlet was Tanya Delong’s Girl Garage in Vicksburg.
Once more, Piper has worked to reinvent the business by focusing on women who do quilting. She has designed rings, pendants, earrings, pins, and charms in quilt designs, which sell especially well to quilters who attend shows and treasure a memento of their passion for quilting. “There is less competition in this target market than in the general public where I was concentrating, plus quilters usually have disposable income. Those are my two criteria for landing in the right place for my business,” she said. The web site is SiestaSilverJewelry.com and email is Karla@SiestaSilverJewelry.com.
Through it all, Piper has been giving back to the community because that is her nature, she said. She was involved in Junior Achievement in high school and now helps to coach the VHS class that Scott Wills advises. She is an active member of the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce, delivers Meals on Wheels once a month, and coaches a Special Olympics basketball team based in Kalamazoo.