Barney Jette and wife Nancy Ball have built a retail success story, solely focused on jewelry featuring Jette’s design. The brand they have built is recognized throughout the nation and their reputation is one that they’ve earned, piece by piece.
Soft-spoken and unassuming, Barney is the big name behind the business. He design and creates the models for all of the jewelry at Barney Jette Jewelry Design in Missoula , Montana . Locally, it has become a status symbol to own “a Barney ” and his work is readily identifiable. Customers understand the value of his pieces in uniqueness, quality and artistry.
Barney attended college in Great Falls , Montana on a basketball scholarship. The metal-smithing classes he attended were taught by a nun whose expertise was in forming, fabricating, fusing and otherwise manipulating metal into chalices, chains and other decorative items. Barney was impressed by what he learned and thought this work was something he might enjoy doing. When he transferred after two years to the University of Montana in Missoula , he enrolled in the Metal Arts program and found his life’s work. He became immersed in painting and other art classes as well and attributes his sense of design and composition in jewelry to his background in these disciplines.
Selecting the gem material for his jewelry is an important part of the design process, Jette is “one lab and one examination away” from his Graduate Gemologist diploma from GIA, a learning process which actually began in 1975 through the home study (‘distance education’) program. Along with his gemological studies, he keeps abreast of manufacturing techniques and applications by attending industry classes and seminars on a continuous basis.
Literally the girl next door, Nancy Ball met her husband and business partner ‘in my backyard’. Bright and personable, Ball’s expertise is in business management and her self-proclaimed role is to “make other people look good”.
In 1989 Ball left her high-level position as executive director for an alternative medical clinic to join Jette full-time in their first jewelry store open to the public (across the street from their current location). In addition to the accounting for the business, which she had done along with her executive job, Ball took on the store management (including hiring and training employees), production scheduling, advertising, marketing and sales. In short order she prepared herself for her new position by completing the Jewelry Essentials course from GIA and becoming a JA Certified Senior Management Professional.
Ball was accustomed to working with people and orchestrating business operations in her 20-year career, but always behind-the-scenes. “I didn’t think I would be able to sell on the floor”, she confides, “I never considered myself a salesperson, but Barney makes it easy because I absolutely believe in his work. It is just so distinctly beautiful, it’s a joy to promote”.
Every element of the design and layout of the store compliments the quality of the jewelry and focuses on the comfort of the clientele.
Pieces are displayed for the most part by category (rings, earrings, etc.), gemstone and color. Nancy explains that this arrangement allows for continuity in presentation. If, for example a customer is interested in blue sapphires, the staff is able to focus on the presentation without moving around the showcases to find pieces.
Custom-made wall displays and comfortable seating areas highlight featured pieces in a quiet, softly-lit environment of warm wood tones.
A separate and semi-private sitting area features a microscope where clients can look at gemstones, get a bit of an education, relax while the Jette staff shows and discusses design options and other details about the jewelry they will purchase. According to Jette and Ball, this is a much appreciated service and their customers love being involved in the process, especially with commissioned pieces.
Nancy describes the sales style of Barney Jette Design as ‘promotional, rather than hard-sell’. She is acutely observant of a potential employee’s sales approach and has been very selective in hiring people who will fit both their business philosophy and the dynamics of their existing staff. Ball has overseen staff training in bookkeeping and sales and is quick to say how much she values each person as a member of their team
Rod Smith has been a bench jeweler for 37 years, with experience in all phases of jewelry making. Rod credits his father for his jewelry manufacturing training.
Around the work shop, among the newest manufacturing equipment Jette has purchased (including a Meiji microscope) are numerous modified and self-engineered tools Rod has used in his daily work.
Having learned his craft from an ex-Marine Corps guy, he says, you’re conditioned to improvise to get the job done. And a fine job it is, as evident in the repair, setting and finishing work he does for the store. The ultimate compliment comes from Barney, who has dubbed him ‘Merlin’ for the seemingly magical work he performs on jewelry.
This sapphire and diamond white and yellow gold ring was set and finished by Rod Smith, Jette’s shop manager.
The customer base is the long-time client, local or out-of-state, who purchases several pieces over the years building a collection of Barney Jette pieces.
As Barney Jette Jewelry Design evolved, two definable markets became apparent. One was the group of older clients with more discretionary income to invest in what they identified as unique, status symbol, designer jewelry pieces. The other group emerged with a much younger profile. These were men and couples in their late twenties or thirty-something’s who were looking for distinctive jewelry for wedding sets and gifts. The latter group did not always have the spending power, but they were committed to purchasing quality and finding pieces that weren’t sold everywhere.
Barney and Nancy do the majority of their public relations at the store. They personally see to the needs of their potential clients and regular walk-ins, even if it’s just to chat about family, business or downtown happenings.
Cable television spots have been added to enhance their exposure, with great response. Ball worked with the video producer to select the jewelry and the equally distinctive music, which she thought was a key point to association with the ad.
The Barney Jette Design website, designed and effectively managed by Colin Kulow in Minneapolis has proven to be a valuable sales tool with out-of-state customers, many of whom are longtime clients who make yearly purchases over the phone. Of course, it also serves as a design portfolio for interested prospects.
This display, located at Missoula International Airport features photo enlargements of Barney Jette jewelry design, business card and postcard handouts, a biography of the store owners, the store’s address and website information and shows the uniqueness of the Jette brand.
Nancy works with ad partner Gayanna Magcosta from Two Muses Marketing in Missoula to develop the weekly and monthly ads which appear in a local paper, The Missoulian. The layout is recognizable with a characteristic dark background (printed in black and white) and a new piece featured in each run. Weekly ads appear in the sports or outdoor sections while the monthly ads are seen in the financial section.
|Image provided by Two Muses Marketing|
Gayana Magcosta created this advertisement to feature Jette’s recent accomplishment of winning two categories in the Montana – Wyoming JA jewelry design contest.
Barney Jette designs are featured exclusively at the store. Barney personally selects gemstones of the highest quality for his jewelry. He meticulously prepares wax models for each piece, custom-fitting the stones he will incorporate. All casting, setting and finishing is done on the premises. Included in the inventory are hundreds of articles of jewelry in a variety of price ranges – all Jette originals and all a part of the ‘brand’. Fifty percent of the stores sales are commissioned pieces while the balances of sales are generated by the originals from the showcases.
Creatively displayed in a wall showcase is this American Freshwater Pearl shell product that Jette cut and shaped. Smith fabricated the pendant and set the pearl and diamond and finished the piece.