Donoven approaching 25 years with family jewelry business


January 9, 2020

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Owner Janine M. Donoven helps Pamela Parker find a ring at J.M. Donoven Designs in Fine Jewelry in Havre Tuesday. Donoven worked for more than a decade in the jewelry business designing and repairing jewelry before starting her own jewelry store nearly 25 years ago.

J. M. Donoven Designs in Fine Jewelry is approaching its 25th year in operation, with the owner and her family serving the community for it's full history.

"Without the community we wouldn't have made it here, we wouldn't have made it 25 years," owner and jeweler Janine Donoven said.

Donoven said that she was born and raised in the Havre community. Prior to opening her own business, she worked in the jewelry indstry for 11 years. She first got involved in business while she was attending Northern Montana College, now Montana State University-Northern, studying architectural engineering and business. She added that she was taking a full class load at the time, 18 credits, and was already working two part-time jobs. 

Her friend Terry Renna, who owned a jewelry store at the Holiday Village Mall, asked her to work for her part time, Donoven said, and although she had a busy schedule at the time she came on board. 

"That's literally how I got my start in the jewelry industry," she said.

She said she worked her way up, first with Renna for five and a half years. She then worked at another jewelry store for about another year and a half before she became the manager of another jewelry store for five and a half years. The last jewelry store she worked at was looking to close, but a number of the customers encouraged her to start her own business, she said.

Donoven said that the customers told her that they loved the quality of the merchandise and they liked how she treated and worked with them. She added that a number of the customers also liked her because they knew her and felt comfortable with her.

After that, things just started falling into place, she said.

She said she started working on a business plan through Bear Paw Development Corp., through a business plan writing course they had at the time called Fast Track. She added that at the end of the course they submitted her business plan and won first prize for her work.

It was very exciting, because she knew she had a focus and knew where to go to get her business started, Donoven said. After finishing the course, Donoven submitted her business plan to the Small Business Administration for a women's pre-qualified small business loan, which is a small business loan specifically for women who own 51 percent or more of the business. Through the Small Business Administration, after making some small adjustments, she was awarded a guaranteed loan for up to 90 percent of the loan request, but it was still up to her to find financing for the rest, she said.

Donoven then took her business plan to two different banks in town before she got a loan from Independence Bank, she said. She added that she received the loan in March of 1995 and first opened the doors of her business in June of that same year.

She said that the banks were all impressed with her business plan, many of the people who come in for a business loan do not tend to have a business plan already written and having a plan already laid out was a great help.

"If I could give any advice to someone that's wanting to start their own business is to really take the time to put together a business plan with full financials and projections into the next three years," she said.

J.M. Donoven first opened up in the Atrium on Second Street but after a few years she knew she needed to expand, Donoven said. She added that she didn't want to rent so she was looking to either build a space or buy a building, but at the time she couldn't find any prime locations where she could move her business. It was not until Lyle Watson, former owner of the building where J.M. Donoven is currently located on Third Avenue, offered to sell her the building that they were able to move.  

One of the first people to get involved with the business was her mother, Gloria Allen, who had been Donoven's accountant even before she started her business, Donoven said. 

Allen said that she was working for BNSF Railway for a number of years in the administrative office, before the office moved out of Havre. She said that she would get off her shift at the railroad and go to help her daughter at the jewelry store.

"I think I was excited," Allen said about when her daughter told her she was going to go out into business for herself, and she was confident Donoven could do well. Donoven has a good head on her shoulders, Allen said.

"I knew that she was strong," she added.

Allen said she is very proud of the work her daughter has done and has always been happy to support her in any way she could.

Donoven said that her mother does the bookkeeping for the business and took early retirement from the railroad to work at the store.

One of the coolest things about working with her mother is that she can bounce ideas off her freely, without worrying about judgement, she said. Donoven said her mother has her own opinions and ideas, but she also respects that Donoven is the owner of the business.

She added that for the past four and a half years her sister, Michelle Helmbrecht, has also worked in the store alongside her. She said that having her sister around is great for many of the same reasons as her mother, but working with her sister it is an interesting dynamic.

Helmbrecht said that while they are working together they can joke around with one another or be serious with one another, and at the end of the day they are sisters and any problems they may have, they can always work it out. 

Donoven said that they know each other very well and can always have a great time working together.

"I think I'm really blessed I can have my family work here because that doesn't always happen," she said. "... Not everybody can work with their family."

Over the years, Donoven said, she also had a number of other family members work at the store. She added that both of her daughters, a number of nieces and a nephew at one time worked or are still working at the jewelry store.

"I did not do this all by myself," Donoven said. "My family, my staff members and the community supporting us, that's one of the reasons we give back to the community so much, it's because without them we wouldn't be here."

Helmbrecht said that her sister and the business are involved with a number of community organizations as well as donating to Montana State University-Northern and other organizations in the region. She said it is important to show the community how grateful they are for their support over the years because the support of the community is what has made them a success

Donoven said that jewelry stores are more than just a store, but an integral part of a community and the lives of individual people. A jewelry store is the first place people go when they want to get engaged or married, it's the place where people start that union with one another and start building a family, she added.

"We cry happy tears with our clients and we cry sad tears with our clients," she said.

She added that since she has opened the business, J.M. Donoven is now working with some third-generation customers.

Donoven said that in the modern world, people can get almost everything delivered directly to their doorstep, but the key, not only for her business but any business is to be able to stand behind what they are selling. She added that when buying things online people don't always get what they ordered, but with retail businesses people walk away with their products, their name behind it.

"If you're going to put your name on there, put your name on there, stand behind it, be proud of it, make sure that your customer can be proud of it, too, that they know that they are getting what they paid for," she said.

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

The staff of J.M. Donoven Designs in Fine Jewelry in Havre pose for a portrait Tuesday near the back of the store.


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