Tag Archives: Chris Hughes

Entrepreneurs of the Great Recession

July 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Even the Great Depression couldn’t keep some entrepreneurs down. Enduring companies and brands including Sony Music, Westin Hotels, Allstate, Rubbermaid, Ray-Ban, and Tyson Foods all originated during the economic downturn in the early 20th century. Similarly, the period of economic recession that began a decade ago didn’t stop several local entrepreneurs from starting businesses during a time when numerous companies were floundering or failing.  

Kirt Jones was already a business owner when 2008 began. He had started Jones Construction in 2005 under a strong market climate, which may have helped him achieve financial stability, but, ironically, did not foster rapid growth. 

“[That] made it very hard to find lots to build houses on in good developments. Simultaneously, banks were not interested in working with a new company to provide construction lending,” he says. 

He started Castle Brook Builders in 2008 not knowing a market crash was around the corner.

“The change to Castle Brook Builders was for marketing purposes. We wanted to bring brand awareness to the company by developing name recognition to the Omaha area. We started before the market crash, but we accelerated growth during the downturn,” he says. “When the market did slow down, banks paid more attention to our strong financial position and land developers were willing to listen to my proposals on multiple lot purchases. I developed a successful business model from these long-term lot purchase agreements, providing higher profitability for Castle Brook Builders.”

The timing was advantageous but Jones says other factors also contributed to his success during a time when so many of his competitors struggled. 

“I have a financial background, so developing long-term strategies and partnerships allowed me to rise above the competition with stronger sales and profits. We invested some of this profit into creating and continuing our brand awareness,” he explains.

Having been through the economic downturn, he says he is ready now for anything that happens in the next 10 years and beyond. 

“Reputation is very important in the Omaha market. We have worked very hard to establish strong relationships and partnerships with other respectable homebuilders and land developers in the area. This will provide CBB a very strong competitive advantage far into the future,” he says. 

Chris Hughes’ IT job was eliminated in 2009 as a result of the economic downturn, and he needed to create another source of income after landing a job that brought in about one-third of the salary he once commanded.

“I was obviously looking for any other avenue, and I was making tote [bags] in my basement to sell on Etsy,” he says. “That started to take off for me, so this decision to launch Artifact was partly due to timing and largely due to necessity…I’m pretty risk-averse in general and the idea of entrepreneurship—it would not have been my first pick.” 

The well-crafted bags he sold on Etsy for extra cash became a big hit, and he officially launched Artifact Bags in 2010, when the economy was slowly starting to turn. It is thriving today. Looking back, Hughes says that, although he may have felt then like circumstances forced his hand a bit, waiting for the economy to turn around would have actually been a misstep.   

“I think it’s becoming more and more difficult to do what I’m doing. The market is more saturated with people who are doing similar products or business models to what I’m doing,” he says. “I was on the bleeding edge of it and there was a time, with e-commerce, where Google was at a point where I was able to really leverage my standing in Google search in a way that was more democratic and didn’t require as much capital as it would require now to pay for that space.” 

The frustration he encountered in trying to find a new job turned out to be somewhat motivational, he adds. 

“When you’re backed in a corner and you’re trying to tell people what you’re capable of, there comes a point when you give up and you demonstrate what you’re capable of, through entrepreneurship or just doing your own thing. And I think that it speaks more than just your own self-speculation about what you think you can do for some company,” he explains. “Everybody’s got an idea written down on a napkin somewhere, but execution is everything. I’ve met a lot of people along the way through the eight years of doing Artifact, and I hear tons of great ideas all the time, but they don’t mean anything. A great idea that is never executed is worse than an average one that someone works their butt off to try to get out there in the world.” 


For more information, visit artifactbags.com and castlebrookbuildersomaha.com.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Chris Hughes

Meet the Hughes

June 22, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was published in the June 2015 issue of Her Family.

Chris Hughes is a father of three who spends most Monday and Wednesday evenings toiling away in his upstairs workshop on Farnam Street. It is a curious space filled with antiquities and tools akin to his trade—custom leather bags.

He fulfills orders from across the world, assembling packages containing his hand-constructed waterproof tote bags, briefcases, and artisanal aprons crafted with quality materials.

“I wanted the items that I designed and sold to have a timeless quality to them. I wanted someone to look at them years in the future and say ‘look at this artifact,’” Hughes says. Hence, you have the evolution of the name of his business, Artifact Bag Co., a thriving online business that Hughes started more than four years ago

Hughes says that being an entrepreneur is a constantly evolving process of new experiences. “The minute I get comfortable with something, I take on a new challenge. I’m always throwing myself into the fire so that I’m never comfortable. When you come home from days of that, you really just feel like your legs are rubber bands. You feel like you could just collapse.”

Hughes2In a flip-the-switch moment, Hughes dons his daddy hat before stepping in the door at home. “The minute I cross that threshold into my house, I’ve got two boys and a girl that are jumping up onto me. I have to kick in the afterburners. I just have to be present because for them they’re fresh and they want to see their dad,” he says. His children are Kit, 6, Levi, 4, and Jane, 2.

Hughes’ schedule has him spending weekdays at his shop, surrounded by a small team of craftsmen and craftswomen who assist him as business demands. He also works until almost 11 p.m. a few nights of the week and at least one weekend day.

He says his demanding schedule sometimes frustrates his children. “It pulls me away from them so often.” But they do enjoy visiting their dad’s cool space. “They’re fascinated by the workspace because of all of the machines and all of the materials.”

His wife is Beth Hughes, who works as a speech-language pathologist at the RiteCare Speech and Language Clinic located in the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The couple went to school together at Westside High School, but didn’t actually date until years later when the two crossed paths again while Beth was in graduate school.

Beth says that having an Internet-based business can make finding the right balance between family and work challenging. “The Internet never stops. So it’s not like Chris can just walk away at 5 p.m. and say, ‘Oh, the shop’s closed for the day.’ There are always more things to do in terms of emails to respond to and social media stuff to post and promote and things to research for projects that he has coming up,” she says.Hughes3

But knowing that the family sets aside evenings for sit-down meals and plans one day out of each weekend to spend together provides a home base for sanity. “Getting some sort of schedule just so that we all know what to expect has been helpful,” she says.

As a mother, Beth says she feels privileged to help her children grow and develop into the people that they’re meant to be. “I like to help foster their interests and teach them things and to see things through their eyes. It’s just fascinating.”

She finds strength in her support system of mommy friends. “I’m learning every day and I make mistakes every day. I’m very fortunate to have a great group of friends who’ve been on this parenting road a little bit longer than I have that I can learn from,” Hughes says.

The kids keep active with swim lessons, fishing, tee-ball, and riding bikes. Some Sunday mornings, one might find the Hughes family over at the Bagel Bin—a family favorite. They also love going
to the zoo.

Friday nights are family movie nights. “I’ll make popcorn on the stove,” Chris says. “They love watching Star Wars over and over again. They like that good versus evil kind of stuff.”

Hughes is inspired by his children’s creativity. “All of the sudden a card table becomes a fort to drape blankets over, or a stick becomes a rifle. They’re just constantly interpreting their environment in very imaginative ways.”

“They haven’t really been taught that they are not artists or those other things that happen in life when people dash people’s dreams and hopes. They are still very optimistic,” he says.

“In many ways, I never lost sight of that either, so on some level, I relate with them.”

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