By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer
After working as a flight attendant, realtor, caterer, baker chef and full-time mom, Shelly Bermont’s midlife crisis led to making her own jewelry. She began redesigning jewelry given to her, making it less ostentatious, more comfortable for everyday wear. Then her friends began asking her to redesign their jewelry.
While still living part time in Miami, Florida, Bermont began learning how to smith her own jewelry studying under Bozeman goldsmiths while at a second home in Big Sky during the summers. She discovered a passion for pearls—which gleam in many of her store’s showcases—and earned a Geologist Institute of America certification.
She had been coming to Big Sky for 25 years before deciding the area had grown enough to support a high-end jewelry store. Shelly Bermont Fine Jewelry opened in August of 2017 in the Meadow Village Center next to OZssage Therapeutic Massage and Skin Care. She employs four women, all of whom have GIA certifications that ensure an understanding of gemstones and diamonds.
As part of this ongoing series, Bermont shared her thoughts on 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?
Shelly Bermont: I think that I stay very true to myself. I design jewelry that speaks to me, that I love, and I wear. And I’m very passionate about that. None of my girls are on commission because I don’t want hard sells. … I’ve always said I don’t want anyone selling anything to [a customer] that’s not right for them.
For us, jewelry is not a necessity in life. If you’re buying, you want it to be something you put on and it makes you feel pretty, and you wear it, and you enjoy it.
EBS: Do you remember your first customer or sale?
S.B.: Oh yes. I was making jewelry for myself … and one of my friends asked me how much I’d sell it for. … She wanted a pair of the earrings and I think I sold them for $35 or something. But the fact that somebody wanted something I’d made, [I thought,] “Oh, this could go somewhere.”
EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?
S.B.: I think because we don’t have a very clear distinction between the Meadow Village versus the Town Center, people think that Town Center’s the only place that has stores. … Kate Tompkins, who owns [The] Trove [West] said once, “We should call [Meadow Village] the Old Village and [Town Center] the new village so that people would know [the difference].” … We don’t get walk-in traffic. I advertise so people find me.
EBS: What are some challenges of operating a jewelry business of which most people aren’t aware?
S.B.: Well, the setup every day. Every piece of jewelry goes in a 5,200-pound safe [at night]. So, every night we take everything out of the cases and lock it up. … [In the morning] it’s 45 minutes of several people working to get the cases set up.
EBS: What does your process for sourcing raw materials look like?
S.B.: I buy from vendors that guarantee me what I’m buying. If I say, “I’m looking for conflict-free stones”—and that’s all I buy—they will [show those stones to me]. Just about everyone now is sourcing conflict-free, because it’s become a big issue … I don’t want slave labor in mines producing stones [I buy].
EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
S.B.: Don’t overspend. When starting a jewelry business, it’s very easy to overspend on inventory. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you owe money and have to produce x amount of dollars.
EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?
S.B.: Know your market, know what you need. I knew that I did not need foot traffic, that people looking for fine jewelry would find me [but] if you were selling cupcakes, you need foot traffic. So, you need to understand what you need, and your location is important.
EBS: As a business owner and resident, what do you see as the area that deserves the most focus in order for Big Sky to successfully grows?
S.B.: Affordable housing. I’m very fortunate because all four of my employees live here in Big Sky. I think a lot of businesses here have issues with getting and keeping employees because of the lack of affordable housing. We really have to get a handle on affordable housing so that people who work in Big Sky can live in Big Sky.