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The gem gallery draws on a sense of place to forge a brand identity while its owner travels the globe.

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The Gem Gallery, Bozeman, MT

OWNER: Don Baide; URL:gemgallery.com; FOUNDED: 1994; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2013; EMPLOYEES: 12; AREA: 4,100 square feet; ONLINE PRESENCE: 1,510 Facebook likes;
Alexa.com global rank: 3.7 million; BUILDOUT COST: $240,000


WORLD TRAVEL IS an integral part of Don Baide’s career as a Montana jeweler, as he searches the world for rare gems. It’s become his lifestyle, too, especially since he also runs a farm now in Thailand, to help fund the education of orphans.

“With all my travels and other adventures I’m out of the store about a third of the time,” he says. “I always have a travel bag packed if I need to go see a gemstone discovery. I’m always searching for old vintage Yogo sapphire pieces.”

At his store, Gem Gallery is the brand — and of what he sells, 80 percent is designed and created in-house.

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The store specializes in Montana’s Yogo sapphires, bright specimens that caught his eye when he was a kid.

“I liked the shininess, the color,” he says. “My dad was an avid fisherman and I spent a lot of time walking in riverbanks. When I discovered the brilliant color of sapphires I was hooked.

“I had thought about becoming an architect but jewelry was more hands-on from start to finish.”

He studied fine arts and metal smithing right across the hall from the architecture department at Montana State University, giving up plans for a dual major but not before he had learned how to draw, something that helped him in the design of his own store.

Baide’s dorm room, where he was known by the women on campus for always having “something sparkly” to show them. After college, he created jewelry in a shop out of his garage, and launched a gemstone import business he called Merchants of Interest. In 1994, he began his brick-and-mortar retail business with the Gem Gallery in a small shop off Main Street.

In 2013, he and his staff moved to a larger location across the hall from the previous one.

It features an open floor plan with corner windows providing an enticing view of downtown. The artwork on the walls and above the fireplace changes seasonally with exhibits by local Montana photographers. Fortunately, by mid-November 2015, the winter-themed photos had been hung just in time — shortly before Bozeman was hit by its first big storm of the season that brought 4 inches of snow and 60 to 70 mph winds.

The Gem Gallery is a Montanaesque experience in myriad ways, with open post beams, natural river rock on the walls, rustic wood floors and cases hand-made from local wood.

Baide, a fourth-generation Montanan, prefers the native materials to imported Italian marble, for example.

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“We wanted a real Montana experience,” he says. “The comment I get most often is this is more like coming into a nice Montana living room rather than a traditional jewelry store. It’s comfortable.”

Everything feels and looks solid and substantial. A teak-root table weighs 1,800 pounds and a full size, walk-in bank vault claims center stage, rather than hiding behind the scenes.

“The showcases are wrapped around our vault,” Baide says. “Structurally it worked for our flooring and traffic flow; people don’t have to go far to get merchandise.”

It’s practical, too, with an efficient use of space. The L-shaped floor plan allows Baide to have a spacious office amid private work stations for staff. The expansive goldsmithing area behind glass can be observed by shoppers directly or examined more closely via videos shown on large monitors.

“Our old store had a single check-out place and a single design station,” Baide says. “Now we can actually handle about eight clients at a time, independently without interruption. It’s very efficient.”

As a custom jewelry store, the focus is hands-on and rooted in Montana, too. The Gem Gallery works with many types of gems, metals and designs but the star of the show is the Yogo sapphire, which comes from only one mine in the world in Yogo Gulch in central Montana. Two full-time goldsmiths work to create designs through the lost-wax process. They also create custom jewelry using CAD/CAM with Counter Sketch software that they mill in house. “If we can sketch it, we can build it,” Baide says.

The Montana college town offers a picturesque setting for tourists, many high-end, who are easily drawn to his shop.

“We’re right in the core of downtown Main Street Bozeman; lots of traffic goes by. The most vibrant part of our whole town is our Main Street, with restaurants, galleries and shops, and we put up beautiful flower baskets in the summer. Bozeman keeps getting picked as one of the nicest cities to live in in the United States.”

One reason for that is world class skiing, Baide notes. The road just outside his office tempts his staff to play hooky, since it leads directly to a ski hill. But Baide is more than willing to make allowances  for what’s known in ski
country as “white flu.” If the sales floor is covered and the job box is empty the staff is free to take a powder day. “When you have a record fall of white powder, some of us who don’t ski will hold down the fort for those who do,” he says.

And although Baide prizes efficiency, The Gem Gallery is a comfortable work environment. Sales staff work as a team, and not on commission. And Baide offers a flexible approach to the workday.

“I’m not hardcore about 9 to 5, where you crack the whip,” he says. “One person commutes over a mountain range to get here and drops a child off. I tell her, `Do not hurry to get here.’ The staff’s safety is more important than starting a meeting on time.”

Baide also treats staff members and their families to dinner and a room at Chico Hot Springs for the annual Christmas party. “I treat my employees like family, or I try to,” he says.

Five Cool Things About The Gem Gallery

1. Farmer Don. In the course of his career Don Baide has spent much of his time in Thailand for jewelry manufacturing, and diamond and sapphire cutting. Fourteen years ago, Rotary International asked him to visit an orphanage in Thailand that needed help. More recently he joined a partnership to start a farm operation — the principal crop is cashews — which raises funds to help put orphans through school. “It’s life fulfilling,” he says. “I spend between a third and a fourth of the year in Thailand. At times, I don’t know if I’m a farmer or a jeweler. When I’m there I’m totally busy from Day 1 until the day I leave.”

2. Speedy setup. Inspired by a system used by Robert Lynn of Lynn’s Jewelry Studio in Ventura, CA, Baide revved up the set-up and tear-down processes in his new location. “We tear down the complete store in less than 10 minutes and wrap away 90  percent of all value,” he says. “Everything comes out of the cases in trays and rolling carts. It’s fast and there’s far less damage to the merchandise. We touch the jewelry as little as possible.”

3. Halloween hilarity. Each year the entire staff chooses a theme and dresses up for Halloween to hand out candy to downtown trickor- treaters. They have been superheroes, pirates, gangsters and flappers, hippies, as well as characters from The Wizard of Oz, Shrek and Alice in Wonderland.

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4. Successor in the wings. Don’s son, Jason, is dedicated to taking over the business, a development that his father applauds with enthusiasm. Jason is studying metal work, CAD/CAM jewelry design, and business administration. “From age 7, he said, ‘I want to be a jeweler’ and he’s excellent. A college student with a triple major and a super-talented young man, he is a shining light of the next generation.”

5. Artwork with a twist. The Gem Gallery has featured the work of in-house artists during downtown Bozeman’s Art  walks on the first Friday of each month during the summer. Sincethe new store opened, they’ve turned the spotlight on different artists from the community. In 2014, The Gem Gallery featured the artwork of Brett McGinley of McGinley Motorsports and filled the store with canvas, metal and motorcycles featuring the artist’s airbrushing talent.

TRY THIS: Create a Loyalty Program

“We earn our margins and don’t want to be known as a discounter, so our customers are learning about ‘Forever Starts at Kevin’s,’” says Kevin Seele, explaining his loyalty program, which gives back a percentage in store credit for future purchases. “A husband buys his wife a beautiful necklace, and now he has Kevin’s credit to buy her the matching earrings for their anniversary. It’s a total win-win for everyone!” he says.

 

PHOTO GALLERY (10 Images)

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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