Continental Diamond’s Dynamic Duo

Jimmy and Helain Pesis appreciate their customers—and they aren’t afraid to show it

In 1981, Jimmy and Helain Pesis opened Conti­nental Diamond with some herringbone gold chains, a few loose gems, and a then-pioneering approach to consumer education. Today, Jimmy has built up one of the largest diamond inventories in the Twin Cities area. Helain—who does all the jewelry and watch buying—exposes their customers to a wide range of trendy designers and cutting-edge timepieces. Continental also boasts a top-notch custom department and in-store photo and graphic-arts studio. Yet it’s with their inspired customer-appreciation programs—a $500 diamond gets you a baseball signed by an MVP first baseman—that these Minnesotans truly hit it out of the park.  

What kind of customer service separates you from the competition?

Helain: We offer an online personal shopper ­service called “Ask Helain.” It started a few years ago when I was bored shopping online. By the third page, I was ready to stop the purchase altogether. That’s when the idea came to mind—what if someone did the shopping based on a questionnaire? It has six questions with fill-in boxes and convenient pull-down menus. Based on their specifications, I usually come up with three to four items and create a custom e-newsletter. We started the program three years ago and literally hundreds of people have used the program. It’s popular with the slightly older-than-millennial crowd, commonly for gift-giving occasions such as milestone birthdays and anniversaries.

How have you leveraged your relationship with local sports teams?

Jimmy: We are the preferred jeweler of the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins. First baseman Justin Morneau is our store spokesman. In 2009, we started “Around the Diamond”: Customers complete an online form and are placed in a drawing. If a Twin hits a home run in the third inning of any regular-season game, a lucky winner receives a $250 gift card. Since we started the program, we’ve given away about 15 to 20 gift cards. This year we decided to give away a Justin Morneau–autographed baseball with a diamond purchase of $500 or more—truly a collectible.

What are some of your creative giveaways?

Helain: For many holiday seasons, we’ve sent gifts to our top customers. Last year we created a gift box of favorite products with $150 to $200 worth of gifts. Jimmy—an avid fisherman—included his favorite slurpee lure. I’m into kitchen gadgets, so one of my items was a vegetable palm peeler. We also included things like hand lotion, a Min­nesota Vikings scarf, a heated neck wrap, chocolate wine, a gift certificate for gas at local Holiday stations—Jimmy’s favorite place for coffee—and a Michael Jackson CD in honor of his passing. We called customers to let them know there was a “little something” for them at the store. 

Jimmy: Each day we do fun stuff, like give a girl a fun kids’ watch. For boys…Pez dispensers with the Joker from Batman. We’re always thinking of stuff to give away—especially for the kids, who are our next generation of customers. They’ll always remember that gift.

And events?

Helain: Last Valentine’s Day, we rented out a movie theater on opening weekend of Valentine’s Day. Customers who spent $150 or more received two free tickets and a large popcorn. We also had drawings, with the top prize a pair of diamond stud earrings. Paul Allen, the voice of the Vikings, emceed the event. Our staff knew a couple that was ready to get engaged, so we staged a drawing that would allow for an impromptu proposal. About 400 people showed up. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event—unless they create a sequel.

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