By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer
In 2004, after graduating from Montana State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in metalsmithing, jewelry artist and designer Ariane Coleman opened Ari O Jewelry. After a stint in the West Fork Meadows, then Big Horn Shopping Center, Ari O moved to its current Town Center location next to Lone Peak Cinema in June of 2015.
Both a showroom and working jewelry studio, the space allows unique access to Coleman as an artist and craftswoman, important to patrons who want to know the source of their jewelry, its maker, and who might have custom jewelry ideas.
Other than her retail space, J.P. Woolie’s in the Mountain Mall is the only Big Sky vendor of Ari O Jewelry, a partnership that complements seasonal ebbs and flows in the jewelry market.
As part of this ongoing series, Coleman shared her thoughts with EBS about what it takes to make it as a small business owner in Big Sky.
Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?
Ariane Coleman: I’ve taken … opportunities to listen to … the customers—to what people want, what Big Sky is looking for—and then to also be available to those people to give them what they want.
EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?
A.C.: It’d be availability of a work pool, and this is specialized [work] and there’s not a lot of people with skills here to [make jewelry].
I would say even bigger than finding people to work is … figuring out the flow of Big Sky as the seasons change, getting the flow of when the money comes in and when the money leaves and balancing that throughout the whole year.
EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?
A.C.: There definitely are more people here now than there have been. This summer was the bestmy busiest summer. People are coming in with their own ideasold jewelry and wanting me to do my designs with their [ideas] redesign with their stones.
EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?
A.C.: This is home. The community has always been first. They’re the reason I’ve even gotten this far, whether it be from people supporting me through buying things or renting me the studio spaces to work in, to purchasing the jewelry in their stores. It just beingIt’s home, it has to work.
EBS: Where do you source your jewelry materials?
A.C.: For Montana, sourcing the materials [means] actually knowing the people that have the mine. I go to gem shows, or I go to Thailand or Cambodia [to] try to find out as much as I can [about the stones]. I usually will find and do business for a long time with the sellers I connect with that have more knowledge on what they’re selling me.
EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
A.C.: Study the characteristics of focused and successful people: patience, consistency, dependability, discipline, persistence, resilience, make decisions quickly, admit faults, ask for help, take actions.
EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?
A.C.: The community will tell people about your work shop if they know you and they know your work, so it’s you better [to] get to know your community.
EBS: How would you describe the interplay between art and business in your work?
A.C.: The artist part is the part that is the wild part … that does whatever it wants. Then there’s the business person that’s like, “You need to pay your bills.” I think in the middle of that is called the designer. It’s the combination of the two. It’s a disciplined art form. That’s the only way the two can interact with each other.
EBS: How have you found and kept employees in Big Sky?
A.C.: I’ve definitely gone through my fair share of makers. I have found sourcing from people who live in Big Sky, that have a mortgage to pay and a responsibility [to be most successful]. The people that I’ve chosen have really wanted to work here because I teach them.
[Ari O is] not a bad place to work and I’m pretty flexible. For them as well as me, it’s not a bad job. It’s education and [there’s] also something to show for it.
Ario O Jewelry by the numbers
• Staff: 2
• Years in business: 14
• Longest serving employee: Kendra Schwartz, nearly 5 years