In 1990 when Forest Park resident Jon Kubricht was 12 years old, he started making jewelry. It was the basis for a career, for decades of artistry and expertise that has taken him to the Czech Republic numerous times, to China and Thailand, and all over the world, in search of the world’s most exquisite beads. In the past 20 years, he’s sold $100 million worth of beads. His warehouse is almost 10,000 square feet, and it’s filled with 140 tons of beads and over two million buttons.
As a child, Kubricht lived in Oak Park. His parents were heavily involved in Futures for Children, an organization that provides educational assistance for Native American youth. Twice a year, Jon would travel to the southwest to attend events with his parents, spending time on Native American reservations.
He liked, and studied, the jewelry and stone carvings, the silverwork and bead loom work.
“I was interested in and excited about that form of art,” said Kubricht. “And I said to my mother, ‘I could make this for you so you wouldn’t have to buy it.'”
He did just that, creating a necklace and earrings for his mother and grandmother. When women at his mother’s church and organizations saw the jewelry, they wanted some too. And Kubricht began hosting booths at garden and house walks, charity and church events.
In high school, he took advantage of the y-neck necklace craze, creating his own version of the popular pieces. His family knew a buyer from the Oakbrook Nordstrom store, and soon he was selling to several Nordstrom stores, creating around 2,000 pieces a month. But it was taking a lot of his time, and he was still in high school.
“I had to say no to cross country and tennis,” said Kubricht. “The business was going great, but after a year I had to stop.”
With the excess materials he still had, though, he started participating in trade shows, where he sold the beads. He began importing beads from India and, in 1993, a family friend in Bulgaria found a woman who made porcelain beads. Kubricht bought 100,000 of them and sold them within two months. He ordered a million beads next and sold them too. He was 17 at the time.
By participating in seven bead shows a year during college, he didn’t need to take out any loans for school and he paid his own tuition at Wheaton College, where he studied business and economics.
When he graduated, he worked for a dotcom, but didn’t stop selling beads: he took unpaid time off to do 11 shows a year. He was the second employee at the startup company, and when it began to fail, he stayed on, unpaid at the very end, a testament to the curiosity he has to see the how and why behind events.
“I wanted to see what happened,” said Kubricht. “I wanted to understand how it would be wrapped up, how it would end.”
In 2002, instead of finding another job, he decided to give himself three months to see if he could run a successful full-time bead business.
By the end of 2003 he had six employees and participated in 85 shows a year.
In 2009, with the popularity of online buying and selling increasing, he cut down on trade shows. Now he participates only in two annually, and a great deal of his business is done online through his wholesale website, with a Chicago-flavored name: dabeads.com. His biggest buyer is Jewelry Television (JTV), a 24-hour-a-day, jewelry-focused television station. He also sells to about 850 mom-and-pop stores, to Craft Warehouse, Beverly Fabric, and Ben Franklin stores.
From 2006 to 2012, Kubricht owned Briolette Beads on Madison Street in Forest Park, and another bead store in downtown Naperville. But most business was done online, so that’s where he focused his attention.
Now Kubricht owns a 9,800-square-foot bead warehouse in the Galewood area of Chicago, where he has around 140 tons of beads at any given time. He employs eight people in the warehouse and four salespeople. And he has two full-time employees in the Czech Republic, where many of his beads and glass come from. He sells to about half the department stores in the Midwest and to 150 Etsy and Ebay websites.
Kubricht regularly travels, especially to the Czech Republic where he does a lot of business, but also to Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Mexico and Peru. In Africa, for example, he looks for antique trade beads from the 1600s to the late 1800s. Bone beads from Kenya. Malachite from Zimbabwe.
And through his business, Creative Adventures Tours, he organizes trips to some of the places he’s traveled, such as the Czech Republic, taking participants into bead manufacturing facilities and giving them a sense of the history and artistry of a place. He organizes trips to other places, too, focusing on creativity and art. An upcoming trip to Scotland takes travelers to locations featured in the books and television series Outlander.
Since he was 12 and started making jewelry, he’s only had two other jobs: the dotcom he worked for temporarily until it failed and at an ice cream shop during his junior year of college.
Or three other jobs, if you count the eight-hour-per-week college internship, which he did as part of his senior year coursework, at a financial planning firm — and though he is still in contact with the owners today, he thinks it’s funny that the school wouldn’t waive the requirement for him — even though he was paying his way through college with his own business.