North Star: Talking to Josh and Theresa Kiemele of Westley’s Jewelry in Bismarck, N.D.

Josh Kiemele took a detour on his way to accounting school and hasn’t looked back since

Josh Kiemele, second-generation jeweler at Westley’s Jewelry in Bismarck, N.D., inherited his dad’s mechanical mind—and love of working with his hands. While still in high school, Josh started repairing clocks at the now 77-year-old store his parents, Rick and Theresa Kiemele, took over in 1983. “I was going to school for accounting, and I realized along the way that I didn’t want to be an accountant,” Josh recalls. “I preferred making things and working with my hands. We do a lot of custom work at the store. So I learned from Rick how to carve models, how to set stones, how to fix watches and clocks. That seemed more exciting to me than doing bookwork.” He officially joined the family business in 1994, taking over a chunk of the custom design and repair services (the shop boasts a big custom design business). And now his wife, Mia Kiemele, is a top sales associate for the company and assists his mother, Theresa, with buying, merchandising, and decorating. “There’s something really comforting and reassuring about working with family,” Josh says. “There are no big surprises or inconsistencies, and I like that.”

Auspicious Beginnings

Theresa: After my husband got out of the Army, we moved to Bismarck and he needed a job. The jewelry store had two owners at the time, and one of them taught Rick to fix watches, so he was a watchmaker there and learned a little bit about sales. He’s the kind of person where, when he likes something, he puts all his time and energy into it. Eventually, the older of the owners retired and Rick became a part owner for a while. Then the second owner decided to leave and he said to us, “You guys should become co-owners.” Our kids were older, and Rick asked me to come work at the store. Now I’m the buyer for the store, and also a sales rep and the marketing person. But I do everything—from tying ribbons to decorating the store and keeping it clean. Anything that needs to be done, I do.
Josh: My transition into the store was very smooth. My parents and I had always gotten along, so it wasn’t a hard thing at all.
Theresa: I wasn’t surprised when Josh came to work at the store. Josh and I were best friends when he was growing up, and it was a treat to have him back. He’s a good worker and I love having him here.

Good Fit

Josh: I really enjoy working with customers from the beginning of the process to the end—seeing something move from [concept] to creation. Every day is totally different; it’s not like I’m working on an assembly line and ­setting stones all day. I’m working on different pieces, talking to customers, and making little changes to things all the time. One day is never like the next.
Theresa: I love to help people, I love to decorate, and I love fashion. Women like fashion and they like feeling good about themselves. They seem to trust me in that department. [Laughs.] At least they keep coming back.

Mutual Admiration

Mother and son Theresa and Josh Kiemele at the counter

Josh: Mia has a really dynamic personality and she’s good with people. She likes people. My mom and Mia are on the sales floor, and for the most part I’m in the back until I’m needed—to talk to a customer about a design or a repair. I don’t have quite the dynamic personality that my mom and wife do! They both have big, winning smiles. People are comfortable with them, and they like to sell. They’re also both really good at the visual aspects of running a store. The store looks beautiful all year-round, especially at Christmas. I love helping people, but I’m also fine sitting in a corner and working on a piece for hours at a time.
Theresa: Mia is a great sales rep, and she’s also our bookkeeper. She inputs all the numbers and keeps our finances [straight]. She went to GIA grading school, so she has that great background, but she’s also a strong decorator. We’re lucky to have her.
Josh: I’m not sure how many people in the industry can do all of the things my dad can do—from custom jewelry to watchmaking to fixing clocks—and have such a wonderful rapport with customers. He’s honest, trustworthy, and friendly, and there’s not much he can’t do in a shop. I would say everything I learned about my job I learned from him, and by going to seminars and workshops, of course. But I also learned from Dad how to talk to customers—how to explain things in easy-to-understand ways. I learned all that by watching him.

Sage Advice

Josh: When coming on to a business your parents own, I would say you should learn everything you possibly can. Be a sponge and learn it all before thinking you can run things.
Theresa: When working with family, always keep your private life at home, and always be honest and helpful. Always try to keep your [kids] as friends.

Family Perks

Josh: What I like most about working with family is that there are no real trust problems. I work at a store where the newest person, other than my wife, started 15 years ago. We don’t have a lot of turnover and we don’t have screaming fights. I enjoy my family’s company and enjoy spending time with them.
Theresa: We’re very fortunate to like each other so much. Of course everyone needs space sometimes, but we’re good at ­giving each other space too.

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