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Webinar: Milspouse Employment with R. Riveter

by Lizann Lightfoot - December 4th, 2021

Webinar: Milspouse Employment with R. Riveter

Our Guest: Cameron Cruse, co-founder of R. Riveter, a milspouse and proud mom with a degree in architecture. We founded R. Riveter in 2011, and we are a handbag company on a mission to provide mobile, flexible income for military spouses so you can always take your job with you and have a source of income. 

PCSgrade: We know that PCSing affects military spouse employment. Let’s share some important statistics. Blue Star Families does a military lifestyle survey every year, and the largest stressor of military life was listed as “civilian spouse’s employment.” 22% of responders in 2020 said the reason the spouse was not employed was because they were recovering from a PCS move

Cameron: In 2011, I graduated with my degree in architecture and moved into the middle of nowhere in Georgia. There were no architecture opportunities there! The military forced me to re-evaluate my job and what I could call my own. No one was coming to save me, so with my co-founder Lisa we wanted to provide flexible income for military spouses that was mobile so they could always take it with them. We had never done manufacturing before, but we jumped into making handbags and wanted to make a difference for our community. So many military spouses can relate to this experience of being in a new location and needing to make the most of your temporary situation. 

We started by buying little things and sample materials, and taking it to market so people could customize their choices and materials. We make everything from recycled military and surplus materials. Initially, we put $2,100 on credit cards. We didn’t start by raising capital and putting together an entire business plan! There are probably pros and cons for any method of starting a business, but we started small. We needed to sell 10 bags to make 20, and 20 bags to make 50. 

What is the Riveter fund that you set up?

We know not every military spouse wants to be a remote Riveter and make parts. We can only sell so many bags at a time, but there are many ways to support the community besides making bags. We wanted to support fellow milspouse entrepreneurs, so we started with a Marketplace for military-affiliated entrepreneurs. We sell their products online and through our stores. This allowed us to start the Riveter fund. Because we were able to start with a $2,100 investment, every year we want to give away $2,100 to fellow milspouse entrepreneurs. You can learn more about the Riveter fund and apply here

What’s in store for R. Riveter for 2022?

We started with handbags, because people take those everywhere. Our mission goes beyond handbags. We want to do more in the bag department with increased colors and styles, of course. But we want to continue to develop our brand with candles and accessories that will always support military families with each purchase. The Riveter fund will continue to support military spouse entrepreneurs year after year!

Do you find it challenging to be hands-on with your company since PCSing?

Yes and no. I had to leave the physical location of our flagship store near Fort Bragg, so of course I miss some of those in-person connections. That is the workplace environment I wanted, so I created it! But I moved to Texas over the summer, and needed to bring R. Riveter and what I am doing to this new community. We can’t afford to set up a new retail store here. But I can network with the local Chamber of Commerce and start to build connections here. We always have to invest in travel and make it possible to connect as a team. I miss personal connections, but I look forward to building more in my local community. 

What is a challenge you overcame in business?

There have been several embarrassing and vulnerable moments, but the only failure for me would be not showing up or not trying. I have times where I am uncertain about introducing myself as the owner of R. Riveter, and I once told someone that I worked for the company! I have been in Texas for a few months now, and I’m just getting my feet underneath me to meet and connect with new people. 

What tips can you provide for potential milspouse entrepreneurs?

You have to make sure everything you do is providing some kind of value. You don’t need the perfect website or social media pages, because those are very time-consuming and vanity-driven projects. Focus on your products and what the customers are saying about them. Listen to your customers and meet what they need. Ask people what they want and go talk to them! 

For example, men have requested more masculine products in the lineup, so we have men’s wallets available here. Also, customers have requested the possibility of creating bags from their own unique materials, so our Heirloom collection allows you to donate your own material, such as military uniforms, work blazers, grandparents’ clothing, etc, and those materials will be repurposed into bags in our Heirloom collection. 

PCSgrades has been listening to our readers too! We hear people requesting overseas content, so we are expanding to include that, and our Know Before You Go series is now available!

Does R. Riveter have a Holiday Guide?

Yes, you can find our Holiday Gift Guide here with tons of ideas for the patriotic and military-oriented people in your life. And you can always send out the gift guide to people who are shopping for you, because it has tons of ideas for military spouses too. 

How many employees does R. Riveter have?

We started with just two of us--Lisa and myself--working in the garage in November and freezing our tails off. We are now at 42 employees, mostly at our assembly facility, and some in North Carolina at the retail store, plus some admin employees scattered across the country. We have about 45 remote riveters who work on parts all over the country, so we are close to 100 members of the team now.

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot, the "Seasoned Spouse" is a professional writer and speaker for the military community. After two decades with her service member, she has completed 7 deployments, 6 PCS moves, raised 5 children, and published several books for military families. Her most recent book is "Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses" published Sept 2021 by Elva Resa. You can find Lizann's articles and resources at SeasonedSpouse.com

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