Family first is a simple enough rule, and it’s family that drives the Confers’ jewelry business.
Monteca Confer Beisel said her grandfather, Sam, started a watch and clock repair shop after a car accident decades ago, which left him paralyzed from the chest down. His venture, she said, was his way of adapting and continuing to support the family.
Her parents, Monte and Brenda Confer, bought the business from him in 1977 and gradually transformed it into a jewelry shop, Confer’s Jewelers.
Somehow — the way Monteca talks about their faith, their growth and CO2 The Unique Boutique, which is the other family business — it always comes back to family.
Q: You were headed on a different path when you first went to college, right?
A: I was going to be a physician’s assistant, did everything to get accepted into school and did the first year of school. I realized I really missed the jewelry business, because I worked half days here my senior year of high school. I really missed the business and my family. I came back and started working again. I’ve never regretted that. That was definitely the right choice.
Q: How did you decide to turn to the family business?
A: I actually really missed working with my family, for one, and it’s a beautiful business. I love jewelry and diamonds, and we’re also usually celebrating happy occasions like engagements, weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. People are excited when they come in, and I knew I would miss that.
Q: Your parents moved the shop to Bellefonte in 1985 from Potters Mills. Why have you stayed in Bellefonte?
A: We love Bellefonte, and we’ve really got our roots here. The town and the people have always been really good to us. We really enjoy Bellefonte’s Victorian atmosphere, too. Also, a lot of people come here from State College and Altoona, because no matter where you’re coming from it’s a special trip to come here for a special occasion. It’s pretty special when we know people are willing to do that. We love Bellefonte, and I think that’s where we’re going to stick.
Q: Have you, at this point, taken the lead in running the family business?
A: We work together as a team, all of us. My parents plan on retiring in the next few years, so when that happens we’ve already started the transition. We all do different things. I do the marketing, my dad does the jewelry repair and we just hired another jeweler. My mom does a lot of the bookwork and customer interactions.
Q: Do you feel any pressure to live up to what your parents built?
A: Yes, but I also feel like I had a big part in helping them build it. Before I started working here it was very small. Then, we joined Independent Jeweler Organization, which has about 800 jewelers. I feel like going to that, learning and having a lot of business classes, I’ve helped them grow a lot. I feel like we’ve all had a big part in it, and we all have different views of the business, which works really well together.
I always say we should have a reality show in here with the stories people tell us.
Monteca Confer Beisel
Q: What have been the key components to your growth?
A: First, our faith. We are Christians. We pray a lot about our business and really trust God to make decisions. We also really strive to work together. A lot of family businesses might fight with each other, but we really try to do things together and make decisions together. Joining IJO was also really important, because of what they offer in group discounts, trips to Antwerp, Belgium, to go to the cutters to buy diamonds. In the spring, I went to Asia and bought gemstones in Thailand and opals in Hong Kong. We’ve been exposed to so much because of that organization.
Q: What is difficult about the jewelry industry?
A: For one, safety is always an issue. There is a lot of crime for jewelry. You always have to be aware of that. Every day you realize that you could be attacked, that someone could come into your store and hold you up. So, I worry a lot about security and safety, whereas in other jobs you might not have to worry about that as much.
Sometimes it’s just every day business stuff. It’s hard to specify, because there’s always something that’s going on. It’s a much tougher industry than even 15 years ago, because you have the Internet competing with you. It’s not all about jewelry competition, but also technology. People might want the latest iPhone or the biggest TV out there instead of a new piece of jewelry. So, priorities shift a little. That means there’s a lot more competition in the market place for luxury items.
Q: Is this high time for Christmas gifts and boyfriends picking out engagement rings with the holidays and then Valentine’s Day on the horizon?
A: December is the biggest month for engagements. A lot of the year, like most businesses, is spent paying expenses — taxes and all of that — and then November and December is where you really make a profit. December is going to be a really big month. This is the time of year people think about gifts that have meaning. They want to give, hopefully, someone a lifelong gift that isn’t the newest iPad.
Q: How do you handle the jump in business around this time of year?
A: We have eight full-time people now. As we’ve grown we’ve hired more people. We have to. I also used to do all kinds of stuff, but as you grow you can’t continue to do everything you once did. I also have a 6-year-old daughter, and the first priority here for me is family. I don’t ever want to be here working 60 hours a week when I have a family. So, it’s really been us hiring more people to spread out the work.
Q: I imagine a lot of people give you not only their trust, but also their stories. Got any good ones off the top of your head?
A: I always say we should have a reality show in here with the stories people tell us. My dad has taken pieces of metal from accidents and turned it into jewelry. We’ve done some unbelievable things.
For stories, we celebrate a lot of anniversaries. We just helped someone celebrate her 70th anniversary. That was amazing to me, so I asked her what the key was to 70 years. She said, “Never go to bed mad,” which I thought was a good rule. Then, she said, “And sometimes you just keep your mouth shut.” I was like, “that’s true, too.”
We have a lot of interesting proposals, too, that we post on our Facebook page and Instagram. One of my favorite ones was a guy who took his girlfriend hiking, got down on his knee and told her he had a rock in his shoe. He gets down on his knee and pulls out the diamond ring and proposes on the trail, while she’s standing there waiting for him to get some rocks out of his shoe. I just always thought that was so cute. That was 15 years ago before everyone was trying to be really creative. People really have gotten really creative now, so there’s a lot of pressure on guys.
Q: Speaking of pressure, you’re married. I don’t know if your sisters are, too, but your dad has been a jeweler for several decades. What kind of pressure was on your husband?
A: They are both married, too, and I’m sure it was challenging for all of them. My mom was sneaky. I loved this one ring, and so she helped him and ordered it. I had no idea about it, so they pulled it off. That’s what my husband says, though. He tells me I’m almost impossible to surprise. My mom is really good about helping him out, telling him what I like and passing it along. She does the same with my sisters.