Mark HartmanVanessa Nornberg, President of Metal Mafia
What recession? Sales at Metal Mafia, a New York City–based company that supplies body jewelry -- nose rings, belly rings, and more -- to 4,000 retailers in 23 countries, surged more than 30 percent over the past year. Indeed, growth has been steady since Vanessa Nornberg founded the business in 2004. Metal Mafia brought in $3.5 million in 2008, sending it to No. 258 on the 2009 Inc. 500.
I think body jewelry is like chocolate or cigarettes: It's something that gives people comfort even in the worst of times.
I have a tattoo and multiple piercings; I've had a nose ring since I was 17.
My first job out of college was working as a sales rep for a business that sold sterling silver body jewelry. I quit after a year to get my master's and eventually moved to France. A few years later, my old boss hired me back to run the company for him. Two years later, I started my own business.
We started with the idea that we could do things for our customers that weren't being done by our competitors.
We do all our own designs. While we offer a lot of basic products like a plain tongue or navel barbell, we also have products that are more decorative and innovative. Our ball-bearing tunnels are earrings for people with stretched earlobes; they contain actual ball bearings that spin. We also use interesting materials, such as olive wood and crocodile wood.
All 15 of our employees are based in one office in Midtown. We stock 7,000 products there. I am a control freak, so I like to have my people and products in my line of sight.