The most basic motivators in life are always the most powerful. When Matt “Monty” Montonati transitioned from a registered nurse to owning a jewelry store, being a better husband and father were his guiding goals.
As the owner of Cedarburg, Wisconsin-based MKB Jewelry, Matt didn’t go from mending broken bones to repairing split ring shanks overnight. The seeds of destiny were planted in 2012 when Matt’s father-in-law needed some help with his jewelry business.
Matt wanted to help out, and young couples can always benefit from a little extra money in the bank. Early tasks included back office jobs, mainly listing items for sale to other jewelers, and essential behind-the-scenes duties. “I started getting to know the ins and outs of the business and found the whole industry fascinating,” says Matt. “There are so many moving parts.”
The part-time pursuit became more intriguing to Matt. As knowledge of the business grew so did his confidence in selling jewelry with sales made to friends and family members.
When Matt would return to work at the hospital, he’d compare and contrast his two jobs. “The nursing profession is not for the faint of heart,” says Matt. “It’s physically draining and mentally exhausting. In addition to the long hours and high stress, there can be real health risks associated as well.”
After 10 years as a registered nurse, the 70-hour work weeks and being on call became too much for Matt. During his time away from work and days off Matt was catching up on much-needed sleep. Matt became deeply concerned he wasn’t measuring up as a supportive partner in a marriage and as a father.
“I started dreaming of working for myself and being able to set my own hours to accommodate my new role as a father and as a husband,” says Matt.
The long hours and back-to-back shifts were exhausting, but Matt knew accumulating whatever capital he could squirrel away would be a vital first step in starting his own jewelry store. When the adequate level of seed money was reached, Matt began working less at the hospital while dedicating more time to serving his jewelry customers.
In 2016, Matt officially founded his jewelry business as a side gig. Two years later it was getting noticeable traction. But working two jobs was becoming increasingly difficult. After “a lot of thought” and “endless discussions” with his wife Kim, Matt decided to quit nursing in August 2020.
Working in his father-in-law’s jewelry store gave Matt essential insights and observations. But Matt would soon discover more had to be added to his education in order to be successful in his new endeavor.
As many retail jewelers will attest, the first days, weeks and months are the most stressful. Matt was a one-man operation and performed all tasks from cleaning and delivery duties to being his own ad agent and secretary – and everything in between. There was much to learn early on, and Matt managed well by most measures. But poor organizational skills were an early Achilles’ heel.
Being a very “social” person, Matt considers himself to be a good networker and isn’t afraid to ask for help when needed. This helped take his fundamental knowledge base to a strong business foundation. Still, there were struggles.
“I entered this business with zero dollars and limited knowledge,” says Matt. “I couldn’t even afford company checks. What I did have was two Stuller catalogs, a selling solutions kit, a kitchen table, and a powerful drive to be the best.”
Despite the early hardships, Matt could do one thing in his new job he couldn’t do at the hospital. Turn off the lights. Lock the doors. Then go home to his family at a reasonable time of the afternoon. For Matt a big six-figure sale wasn’t a verse in the narratives of an early success story.
It was being home after a day’s work to help with dinner, spending time with his family, and getting to bed at a decent time to have enough restorative and rejuvenating sleep for the next day. These basics, plus the occasional family vacation, were monumental and vitally important differences in Matt’s career change.
Over time, Matt improved his organizational skills. The importance of better record keeping, establishing timelines and clearly outlining written customer preferences for his mainly custom design jewelry store translated into quick growth. Matt also teamed up with Jake Fox of J. Fox Custom out of Victoria, Texas.
“He is my CAD guy, and also helps me with design-related questions,” says Matt. “He ensures my designs are flawless, aesthetically pleasing, and structurally sound.”
Word-of-mouth brought in new and repeat business. Matt later hired a jewelry designer to help with the work load. And, in January 2020, MKB Jewelry was voted Milwaukee’s Best Jeweler of the Year.
“That was big for us,” says Matt. “Just to see that we’re doing enough things right that other people are proud to say they shopped with us and took the time to vote for us. It was a huge honor.”
Satisfied customers do more than just vote for businesses they support. They also write favorable Google peer reviews. In five short years Matt has 49 Google reviews with a near perfect 4.9-star rating, a business boast many long-standing, traditional jewelers can’t make.
Matt’s jewelry store is 95 percent custom with a sampling of finished jewelry for sale. Over the years, he has not only earned certifications from GIA to enhance his overall product knowledge, he has made fine diamonds a driving mission for his business and his customers. And, he’s become a bit of a perfectionist, working with only select vendors that meet his store’s level of quality.
Being his own marketer, Matt likes branding basics with swag essentials such as pens, stickers, Yeti-brand coolers and even socks to promote his store. And it’s working.
“Every entrepreneur dreams of being successful,” says Matt. “For me, family is everything. As long as I am not starving, and my wife and kids are cared for, I am happy. Rather than setting goals like ‘I need to hit this number by this timeline’ I just work to grow organically, and to hone the craft. I want MKB to be the best at what it does, and when that is your goal, the rest follows.”