Aesop’s famous “Tortoise and the Hare” fable details life lessons for people of all walks of life, but is especially applicable to Midwesterners. “Here in the Midwest we do things at a slow pace,” says third-generation jeweler Katie “Nummi” Perrault, store manager of Nummi Jewelers in Superior, Wisconsin.
Being fast has its merits. But as many in the Midwest are keen to say, “slow and steady wins the race.” Nummi Jewelers, a family-owned jewelry store that celebrated its 70th anniversary last year, has done well with a measured pace with quantifiable progress, and has Katie, her father Dale and their staff on course for their next milestone anniversary in 2026.
“Since 2014, we’ve been experiencing 10 to 15 percent year-on-year growth,” says Katie. “COVID added some stress to operations but didn’t impact our growth trajectory.”
Katie is the granddaughter of Nummi Jewelers’ founder Harry Nummi. Similar to many Midwestern families Harry grew up on a large family farm. When he was 12, Harry broke his hip. In the time it took to get him from the farm to a major hospital in a large town the break began to heal. Given the level of medical care of the 1940s, then young Harry had to allow the healing to continue.
At the time Harry and his parents were handed devastating news. “My great-grandparents were told that their son Harry could never do the physically demanding work of a farmer,” says Katie. “So my great-grandfather had the idea of sending him to watchmaking school.”
Early on, trade work helped Harry earn his wages and stripes as a watchmaker. The only drawback for Harry was no real interaction with customers. Eventually Harry decided to approach the bank for a loan to open his own shop. The banks rejected Harry’s business proposal based on a market saturated with jewelry stores.
Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota, share a large port on Lake Superior. In 1871, the Duluth Ship Canal opened with great fanfare. It brought much grain, minerals and a range of commercial and consumer goods to production and market. Over the decades, however, the promise of increased industry and a population to support it leveled off in the late 1940s.
By the 1950s, the retail market Harry had hoped to tap into would never be realized. Undeterred, Harry continued to service retail watch customers out of the back of a shoe store. In slow but steady fashion Harry built not just a following, but a business.
“When he had enough money he’d buy a Speidel watch band,” says Katie. “And, when he sold that one Speidel watch band, he’d buy two. And that’s how he slowly built the business.”
Harry began with cautious, small steps. Eventually he provided more watch services, began selling watch brands and even added jewelry to the mix. Over the span of nearly four decades Harry transformed a small watch repair business to a full service retail jewelry store.
In 1989, Harry sold the family business to his son Dale Nummi and daughter Karen Nelson. By all measures the succession plan went off without a hitch. But sometimes when incoming generations are handed a functional, operating business, decision making is based on a “if it works don’t fix it” approach.
Karen decided to leave the family business at the end 2014. Dale was in his early fifties when his older sister retired from the family jewelry store. Being a traditional man, for many years Dale deferred to his older sister’s decision making. When Dale became the sole owner he reached for his wish-list and to-do list and got busy.
One of the first orders of business was reaching out to Katie. With her degree in Fish Biology Katie was literally in hip waders, pushing through heavy currents and slogging muddy bottoms of rivers and lakes when Dale made the call to join the family business.
“I worked in the jewelry store as a kid and that was it,” says Katie. “When my father asked me to join the family store years later I was essentially starting from scratch.”
With Katie on board, her fresh eyes and perspective helped the father-daughter duo continue working down their combined lists. Next on Dale’s list was joining the Retail Jewelers Organization (RJO). Katie fondly remembers her first RJO show in Minneapolis.
“I remember wanting to review certain lines and make certain acquisitions for the store,” says Katie. “But the biggest eye opener was a David Geller seminar on Quick Books, repairs and store management essentials.”
After that seminar Katie sat in on every retailer education presentation her schedule allowed. Her mind was buzzing with ideas and her wish list and to-do list grew exponentially. The only problem was investment capital. To bring in new services with a low front-end investment Katie sourced a used Signature brand engraving machine from a Minnesota retailer that was closing shop.
“Computerized engraving brought in a range of fresh services for us,” says Katie.
Katie also pitched the idea of making Dale the voice and face of the family business. Dale possesses the innate people skills, confidence and gift-for-gab the role requires. The decision to produce and air TV commercials quickly strengthened their local market positioning and brought in out-of-market sales from northern Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Nummi has moved three times in its 70 years. The current location is the home of the family business for the foreseeable future. Katie and her father completed a six-year renovation project to the store last year. Again, “things move slowly in the Midwest.”
Advances in technology usually define the younger generations these days. Katie and Dale have become RDI Diamonds’ AI (artificial intelligence) retailers. Since joining the program a few years back Nummi Jewelers has become one of RDI’s leading AI diamond selling stores.
As Katie and her father look ahead, she plans on continuing her current goal of partnering with innovative vendors to grow the family business while increasing sales. Over the last decade or so Katie has been pleased with how old school principles and practices and new ways of doing business are working in tandem at Nummi Jewelers.