Husband and wife team Pierre and Nancy Plante are the proprietors of Plante Jewelers in Swansea, a business started by Pierre’s grandfather Arthur in 1905. Arthur excelled as a craftsman but knew that a successful business relied on customer service, teaching his two sons – Gaston and Andre – that “customers had to climb two flights of stairs to get to the shop, and when they arrived, the boys had better make sure that they were well taken care of.”
Gaston and Andre worked with their father for decades as jewelers, watchmakers and gemologists, but the next generation’s involvement was not preordained. Nancy recalls her first date with Pierre: “We were sitting in his Pinto wagon and he said that his father (Andre) had a family business, but he would never have anything to do with it.” Pierre had studied jewelry fabrication, casting and gemology but was initially more inclined to put his BFA in sculpture to use. That is, until art school reality hit: “He realized he needed to make a living. He came around to the family tradition and the spiritual link to his grandfather as a craftsman and engraver.”
In 1981, Pierre joined his father and uncle, and wife Nancy followed in 1996 after doing some artwork for their advertising. After decades of male stewardship, the feminine influence was welcomed and Nancy found a mentor in her father-in-law: “Although he was a gemologist, he taught me the bookkeeping, business and accounting. He may have had less day-to-day involvement by then, but believe me, he still had clout.”
Today, Pierre is the gemologist and jeweler and Nancy is the sales, marketing and business leader. It’s a natural division of duties, though hectic for both: “We each have our own work and many times we have to make an appointment to meet. We try to have lunch together so that we can get on the same page for certain things, but sometimes it’s tough.”
The double-edged sword of a family business is that work is not confined to the office – advantageous when the work day fills with obligations, but draining when R&R is needed: “Work spills over to home constantly... you try not to talk about it, but you end up drifting back to it. It’s really 24/7.” Despite the lack of reprieve, Nancy appreciates one result of this condition: “You really have a total understanding of what the other person is going through. When I started, I didn’t know how a small business worked. Pierre would tell me about some problem and I’d say ‘why can’t you just do this’? Now I know why. You get what’s going on.”
In any family business, continuity is always in the back of mind. Nancy looks ahead to her two boys: “I don’t think either one is for the business - one is an engineer, the other is trying to break into fashion design. They saw the long hours and they never wanted to do it. We would never force them into it. It’s sad that the business might not continue, but that’s just the way it is.”
Of course, generational connections aren’t just for behind the counter – family businesses have family customers as well: “We had a customer just the other day that came in with her mother and grandmother. She wanted them to be part of the selection process since they had also shopped here in the past. It’s cool to feel connected to all those generations.” 207 Swansea Mall Drive, Swansea. 508-673-0561.