Helain Pesis, owner of Continental Diamond
If you had told Helain Pesis 40 years ago that she would one day own a jewelry store, she wouldn’t have believed it. She and her husband Jimmy own Continental Diamond, which has been named “Best Jeweler” by Minnesota Bride for the past seven years. It’s a testament to Helain’s belief in “keeping an open mind to life’s experiences and opportunities.”
Continental Diamond modestly opened its doors in 1981 with just a few diamonds and herringbone chains in an apartment Helain and Jimmy carpeted and painted. Although Jimmy had owned a business before, he and Helain had no previous retail or jewelry experience; they took a diamond class and the rest is history. They grew the company one customer at a time, focusing on relationships and customer service.
“We are in the happiness business,” says Helain. “We get to help people mark moments, buy beautiful things for themselves and celebrate anniversaries, engagements and babies. It’s pretty awesome that people let us into their lives for these special times.” You can see the depth of their relationships if you go to dinner with Helain and Jimmy. You can’t make it from one end of the restaurant to the other without several people stopping them to say hello and grab a hug.
Open to experiences
Helain has led the growth of their business by being open to all of life’s experiences, remaining a continuous learner and building her team. Before Continental Diamond, she worked as a special education teacher. “When I was growing up,” says Helain, “women had three choices: becoming a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. I chose to become a teacher.”
Her history has shaped her two biggest life lessons: “All life experiences are valuable” and “You never know where life will take you.” She doesn’t discount the ups and downs of life, they’ve both been useful.
This opportunistic outlook has also provided Helain with many new insights as she enters what she calls her final third of life. “Aging has been a change for me physically and emotionally,” she says. “It’s a new stage of life, and it does get you thinking differently.” Although she has no plans to retire, Helain is thinking more about succession and the legacy she wants to leave, in addition to spending time with her grandson.
Q&A WITH HELAIN
Best piece of advice to women?
“Know you can be whatever you want to be and trust your gut and intuition.”
What inspires you?
“I’m inspired by those I’m surrounded by, thinking creatively and out of the box, craftsmanship and beautiful gems.”
Best go-to when you need a boost?
“Family and friends. Oh, and the spa.”
Best habit or practice?
“A daily to-do list and being able to prioritize what I should be doing every day. Not what I want to do, but what I should do.”
Is there balance?
“I try to believe there is, but it takes a lot of discipline. Some times are more balanced than others. For women, I think it’s even harder. Many of us women still have the major responsibilities with the kids and the house; it’s more balls in the air you have to try and juggle.”
How do you measure success?
“When the engine is running well, employees are happy, vendors are happy and customers are happy, that is success.”
Favorite product or service?
“Because I’m in a customer-service industry, and we believe in extraordinary customer service, I would say the Ritz-Carlton. They give their employees the opportunity to make a difference. And also the Apple stores. You walk in there and there’s a feel and a buzz.”
What do you want in this next phase of life?
“I want to continue mentoring and to see and feel the results. That would be wonderful.”
Just as Continental Diamond has evolved over the years, so has Helain. “We needed to learn to be leaders,” says Helain, noting that when she and Jimmy first opened the store they learned as they went, like most innovative entrepreneurs. At this point, Helain is “the process person, the finance person, the detail person,” and admits “there’s a lot of learning that goes along with that. If I hadn’t wanted to grow, it would not have worked.”
She enjoyed the challenge of learning those skills and is now focused on developing her team as well. She’s focusing on resources, including the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) and Emotional Intelligence training. “Status quo is not what we want to do,” shares Helain. “We constantly try to improve. We talk about change at Continental Diamond as something that’s good because we believe if we’re not changing and growing with the environment and the times, we’re actually going backward.” As she enters this new stage of her life, Helain is focusing on delegation and mentoring others while “finding happiness in their success.” Under Helain’s leadership, Continental Diamond and its team continue to find ways to improve, innovate and challenge the status quo.
Building the team
Helain consistently expresses her love for her employees, and throughout our interview she emphasized that the success of the store would not be possible without them. “We are a family,” she says, acknowledging that “sometimes you are with your team members more than your actual family.” Not surprisingly, this sense of family is extended to customers as well. I can speak to that because my husband and I have been customers for years, and we’re always greeted with a warm smile and a hug. Helain is grateful for the connectedness of her team, and says this contributes to the family feel. “Everyone here shares the same Core Values — which were the same 30 years ago as they are right now,” she says. “We really are a ‘we.’ It’s not about me and Jimmy anymore, it’s about ‘we’ as a team.”
Eye for design
No profile of Helain Pesis would be complete without mentioning her eye for design. This stems from her degree in Art education, emphasizing her belief that all experiences are useful. Helain values craftsmanship and materials, however; she believes the most important aspect of design is that it makes the person feel good. “Design can be calming, it can provide happiness, it can provide humor,” says Helain. Surprisingly, she also stresses that beautiful things don’t need to be expensive. She emphasizes “the stories behind them are much more important than the price tag.” These stories not only include historical and design information but also the sentimental reasons for the purchase, something Helain loves talking about. When discussing jewelry specifically, Helain thinks of each piece as “putting frosting on the cake, enhancing your look and contributing to your style.”
Helain’s commitment to continuous learning has kept the business thriving and on-trend, while the commitment to Continental Diamond’s Core Values keeps employees aligned, customers happy and everyone connected as a family. Although she swears she never would have imagined it, it’s clear Helain Pesis was meant for the “happiness business” all along.
Sue Hawkes, CEO of YESS!, is a Certified EOS Implementer, Certified Business Coach, WPO Chapter Chair, bestselling author and award-winning entrepreneur. She has been helping entrepreneurs and leadership teams succeed for the past 20+ years.