Years After Entering the Shark Tank, R. Riveter is Still Expanding Its Reach

By Jeffrey Bonior
R. Riveter’s line of American-made bags and accessories are constructed by military spouses stationed throughout the country, with final assembly happening in North Carolina and at a facility in Florida. | Photos by R. Riveter

The Made in America company opened a new facility in Florida – and is making waves on QVC.

It’s been a little over three years since the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) last checked in with R. Riveter, the small platoon of military spouses that first banded together in 2011 to make a line of fashionable American-made handbags, carry-on bags and other accessories.

R. Riveter founders Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse launched the company to provide a way for military spouses, who frequently move, to earn income wherever they are.

The company continues to grow, recently opening a new facility in Florida that’s designed to help that network of military spouses as they do their work from wherever their husbands are stationed. 

R. Riveter is the brainchild of Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse, who met in 2011 when their husbands were stationed at Camp Merrill Mountain Range school in the small town of Dahlonega, Ga. The women were unable to find meaningful employment despite possessing master’s degrees – Bradley’s in business and Cruse’s in architecture.

As military wives, their dilemma was that they never stayed in one place for more than two years because their husbands were transferred to various Army outposts. Bradley and Cruse looked to the original Rosie the Riveter for inspiration, realizing there was a demand for American-made canvas and leather products.

R. Riveter’s unique production model employs military spouses to cut and sew components of the handbags from their homes and send them to R. Riveter headquarters in North Carolina, where they are assembled and made ready for sale. It provides a way for the “riveters” to continue to work from any location while their spouses are transferred for duty.

The company took off in 2014, when it launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $42,000 of initial investment revenue. The funds were used to purchase modern sewing machines and fabric. Eventually, R. Riveter even opened a retail store in Southern Pine, N.C. after Cruse’s husband was transferred to nearby Fort Bragg; the 5,000-square foot assembly and distribution center soon followed.

The parts and pieces of each R. Riveter product are made by hand by military spouses and sent to the company’s North Carolina and Florida facilities for final assembly.

“Sales really started to pick up when we started our Kickstarter campaign,” Bradley said. “Sales for 2015 reached $320,000, an increase of 48 percent from the previous year.”

But R. Riveter hit new heights in 2016 after Bradley and Cruse appeared on the ABC business investment show Shark Tank, where they offered the sharks a 20 percent equity in R. Riveter for a cash investment of $100,000.

Three of the sharks – Robert Herjavec, “Mr. Wonderful” Kevin O’Leary and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban – each offered Bradley and Cruse $100,000 for a 20 percent stake in the company. Cuban, a billionaire from his initial investments in computer and online marketing and sales, sweetened his offer by saying he would cover costs for additional equipment and inventory when needed.

It’s now been about four years since the R. Riveter duo accepted Cuban’s offer. Those additional assets for equipment and inventory came to fruition last fall, when R. Riveter opened its second 5,000-square foot “prep center” in Wauchula, Fla., located in Hardee County near the middle of the Florida peninsula.

“This is a great opportunity to bring manufacturing to remote areas,” Bradley said. “I grew up in a really remote area in Montana, and it’s just really important for us to keep manufacturing in America, let alone a place where we can bring job opportunities.

“It was really a job creation grant that we were awarded. That was in October of last year. We have officially opened the doors on this new facility and it’s a great opportunity for us to greatly increase our capacity.”   

The new warehouse is set up to better support the military spouses doing their work out in the field by producing prep kits that are sent to the riveters. These kits allow the riveters to better measure their materials, so they no longer need to do it manually, which can be time-consuming. 

R. Riveter’s line of handbags and accessories are available online and in select stores.

“So, we’ve ramped up our riveters by adding more technology in the way we are prepping our riveters who work from their homes located all over the country,” Bradley said. “The riveters are really excited about having these kits sent to them… the process has helped us create really a riveter prep center and parts come back from the riveters to be assembled in Florida, as well as in North Carolina.”

Erica Scheipsmeier runs the Florida production center.

“I met Lisa a few years ago and did some consulting work with her,” Scheipsmeier said. “I met her right before the first time they went on Shark Tank. Mark Cuban has just been great. We have a pretty big purchase order with QVC this year that’s going to be a big undertaking for the company, so he is helping with the financing on that which has been great.”

“The company continues upward growth and Mark has been just been amazing,” Bradley added. “On QVC, we already had two airings, one six-minute show and one hour show. We sold out before the end of the airing. It was really an exciting debut for us on QVC.”

The home shopping channel has already re-ordered three purchases for 2020, and the company shipped the order last week, Bradley said. 

R. Riveter could not be happier than working with the NBA’s resident maverick.

“With Mark, on every turn, especially when we need something when we are looking to grow even bigger, he is there to support us,” she said. “He’s been an awesome partner in our growth. I couldn’t say better things on how he has been there to help us grow.

“I think he got involved with us because of the unique business model. We send the work to the riveters and then they send it back to us. The more work they are able to do from home, the more money it brings in for what they can do before struggling times can hit for military families.

“I think what we want to do is support those who are protecting our freedoms and we tend to know a little bit more about the service members' story as the individuals that stand behind them and keep the home fires burning.

“I think it is unique to be able to hear that side of the story, and hear that we are kind of like modern day Rosie the Riveters, in that we are serving our country in a unique way.”

R. Riveter is sold in select retail locations and online.

Editor's Note: Blogs like this one are intended to highlight companies that support American jobs and that make great products in the United States. We rely on companies we feature to provide accurate information regarding their domestic operations and their products. Each company is individually responsible for labeling and advertising their products according to applicable standards, such as the Federal Trade Commission's "Made in USA" standard or California's "Made in USA" labeling law. We do not review individual products for compliance or claim that company products comply with specific labeling or advertising standards. Our focus is on supporting companies that create American jobs.