United States

Your Corner: The Success Story of Crystal Ninja

Turning everyday items into art is the secret to the success of National City-based business owner Kelly Defries, the master behind Crystal Ninja

At a time when online giants dominate the retail world, there is also a lot of success for small business, and one of those stories is in National City.

Twelve years ago, Kellie Defries decided to try and make her hobby more than that by starting a company called Crystal Ninja. From her studio apartment in Pacific Beach, Defries would glue crystals onto anything anyone wanted.

Over the past 12 years, she’s taken some pretty interesting orders.

“The lid of a toilet, that was really weird and strange,” she laughs. 

The list goes on to include an entire elevator, a motorized scooter, sports memorabilia, and a full Kevlar motorcycle suit boasting 80,000 crystals. Her crowning achievement, however, is the one she recently sold for $110,000. 

“I did a fully crystalized 1956 Porsche 356 replica,” said Defries. “It took 247,148 crystals and 462 hours, within 39 days.”

What’s more impressive than that car is the growth of her business over the past decade.

Like a lot of businesses, hers started with a solution to a problem: how to pick up the small crystals to actually get them onto her canvasses.

She developed a tool to make that tedious process a lot easier. The tool uses synthetic wax to pick up the tiny crystals and that's turned into a big idea. 

“And now we make probably 10,000 units every couple weeks. We’re in Michael’s Arts and Crafts, Hobby Lobby; we were on QVC a few weeks ago,” she said. 

Defries has moved from that studio apartment into a two-story office space in National City with three other employees. Last year, the company did roughly $750,000 in sales.

It’s a small business success story at a time where online retail giants like Amazon and WalMart continue to grow.

What a lot of people may find surprising is that small businesses are growing as well. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 29.6 million small businesses in the U.S. That number has grown almost every year over the past decade. Also from 2010 to 2016, small businesses accounted for 63 percent of all new job growth in the U.S.

Defries is a former graphic designer who had no business experience before starting Crystal Ninja.

“I kind of fell into it. I really did. I never wanted to be my own boss,” she said.

Her advice to anyone out there who thinks they have an idea is simple: go for it.

“If you ever think you can do better at something, then you should try it because sometimes you can," she added.

Contact Us