On top of the world

Carolyn Rafaelian named Small Business Person of the Year


Sitting in her office in Chapel View, Carolyn Rafaelian, owner and designer of Alex and Ani, has one of the best views of Cranston and of the Providence skyline. More importantly, she is close to an area that is near to her heart. Rafaelian grew up in the Garden City and Dean Estates neighborhoods.

For her, Cranston is home. It is also home to her business, which was founded in 2004 and has been making headlines ever since. At the age of 45, Rafaelian is the Small Business Administration’s Rhode Island Small Business Person of the Year.

Sherri Lynn Carrera, small business ombudsman at the RI Economic Development Corporation, nominated Rafaelian for the award. She will go on to compete nationally this May.

Alex and Ani sells bangle bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings. Named after her daughters, 20-year-old Alex and 19-year-old Ani, the company also incorporates Rafaelian’s third daughter, Alivia, age 13, as they desire customers to “Liv” Alex and Ani on a daily basis.

Rafaelian and her four sisters grew up in the jewelry industry, as her father, Ralph, who recently passed away, owned and operated Cinerama Jewelry in Cranston. Rafaelian’s sister, Rebecca, is presently running the company.

During the summer months, Rafaelian would work for her father but often, according to her mother, Lucy Rafaelian, would try to get fired so she could enjoy her time off from school and have some fun. This meant dropping trays of jewelry and other antics to try to get the day off. Her father, Lucy said, did not buy into it.

Rafaelian and her father did not have the same approach to business. Rafaelian recalls her father’s focus on the factory side of the business, while she has created a brand about design and enlightenment. Yet, they were similar, she said, in that they loved the people that work for them.

“She deserves this award,” said Lucy Rafaelian. “She has worked very hard and has a big heart and helps others. She is a go-getter and she is her own person. I am profoundly honored that she is my daughter and that she never takes no for an answer; she goes after what she wants.”

Lucy Rafaelian’s favorite Alex and Ani bangles are of the Armenian Cross and of St. Christopher.

Lucy Rafaelian might be biased in her daughter’s favor, but the employees at the company sing similar praises.

“I love working with Carolyn,” said Lilit Faryan, the creative coordinator at Alex and Ani and Rafaelian’s assistant. “She is more of a mentor than a boss and creativity just comes to her naturally. Every day is different at work.”

Faryan is not surprised that Rafaelian won the SBA Award due to her positive energy that radiates throughout the workplace.

“Being in a world where there is negativity, it is a relief to work here in such a positive atmosphere,” said Nicki Castonguay, Alex and Ani vice president of Charity by Design. “We are all about positive energy, in our products and in our work. Watching Carolyn come up with ideas is very refreshing.”

Through Alex and Ani’s Charity by Design division, Rafaelian raised money for more than 135 charitable organizations and individuals.

According to the SBA press release, Rafaelian clearly demonstrated a substantial history as an established small business, experienced impressive growth in the number of employees and a substantial increase in sales over the last three years. She also has demonstrated innovative products that illustrate imagination and creativity.

“I congratulate Carolyn Rafaelian for this well-deserved recognition of her success, hard work, commitment to creating jobs in Rhode Island, and contributions to the community,” said Mark Hayward, director of the SBA Rhode Island District Office, in a release. “Carolyn’s positive energy, creativity, and the development of products made in America are a true inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere.”

The company is headquartered in Cranston but has nine corporate retail locations in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York City and West Palm Beach, Fla. They also have over 700 wholesale accounts worldwide.

“It is a blessing and an honor to be selected as the 2012 SBA Rhode Island Small Business Person of the Year,” said Rafaelian. “I truly appreciate the acknowledgement of the accomplishments of my business and I am proud to represent Rhode Island in the national competition.”

“The award is an affirmation of years and years of work I put into Alex and Ani; long days and long nights; and I am happy it is being acknowledged,” she added.

Rafaelian competed with more than 20 Rhode Island entrepreneurs for the award and will now compete with 54 other small businesspersons from around the country for the 2012 National Small Business Person of the Year Award. The National Small Business Person of the Year will be announced in Washington, D.C. on May 21.

Rafaelian will be honored locally during the Rhode Island Salute to Small Business Awards Luncheon at the Alpine Country Club in Cranston on May 30.

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