Generous, Funny, and Smart: Remembering Kate Peterson

IndependentsApr 14, 2023

Generous, Funny, and Smart: Remembering Kate Peterson

The longtime, well-liked sales trainer died earlier this week following a fire at her Maryland home.

20230414_Kate Peterson.jpg
Sales trainer Kate Peterson, president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a company she co-founded in 1997, died April 11 from injuries sustained in a fire at her Maryland home. She is remembered for her generosity with her time and knowledge, and her love of learning.
Montgomery Village, Md.—Start talking to people about Kate Peterson, and one thing quickly becomes apparent—a lot of people called Kate a friend and for good reason.

The longtime jewelry industry sales trainer and business coach is described as being incredibly smart with a wicked sense of humor who was, above all, generous—generous with her knowledge and generous with that most precious and irreplaceable of commodities, time.

“I don’t think many people didn’t like Kate,” said longtime friend Patti Geolat. “She was beloved.”

“She was so connected. She had such a great network and she was willing to share it. Some people hold all that [close] to the vest. And that wasn’t her. She was always like, let me introduce you to so-and-so, let me make this connection for you.”

Another longtime friend, Diamond Council of America President and CEO Terry Chandler, said the same.

“The thing about Kate ... she was one the most generous people with her time and her talents. She would help anybody who needed her and,” he laughed, “sometimes without getting paid.”

Peterson died unexpectedly Tuesday following a fire at her Montgomery Village, Maryland, home in the early morning hours of April 9, Easter Sunday.

She was 64.

According to the Montgomery County (Maryland) Fire and Rescue Service, the cause of the fire was accidental, most likely caused by a lamp that was on the screened-in porch in the back of the house.

Peterson got her start on the salesfloor at J.B. Robinson Jewelers in the late 1970s, spending 14 years with the retailer before moving on to become vice president of training at Kay Jewelers and, later, Littman Jewelers.

It was these years spent behind the counter performing basic duties—working mall hours, waiting on customers, putting the jewelry back in the safe at night, cleaning the backroom—that laid the groundwork for what Peterson became: one of the industry’s top sales trainers.

“She just understood what happens on the salesfloor of a jewelry store on that very foundational level. That’s one of things she and I had in common and probably one of the [reasons we became friends],” said Chandler, who also got his start behind the counter at a jewelry store. “She understood it from that level.”

Together with Janice Mack, Peterson started Performance Concepts in 1997. Eventually, the two women went their separate ways (though they remain friends), and Peterson became the sole owner of the business.

To anyone who’s been in the industry for even just a few years, Peterson was unmissable.

She worked with retailers and manufacturers and was a fixture as a speaker at trade shows, from JCK, AGS Conclave and the InStore show to all the buying group events. 

Fellow sales trainer Pat Henneberry said whenever she saw Peterson’s name listed as a speaker, she’d make it a point to find a seat in the audience.

“If she was ever on a panel or talking, I’d make sure I was in the room. I always put a star by her name because I knew Kate always had something good to say, something important, productive. I’d have a key takeaway.”

For a decade before the pandemic hit, Peterson also crisscrossed the country with her friend Geolat doing antique and estate jewelry trunk shows.

Peterson had the contacts and did the bookings; Geolat brought the jewelry.

Though Peterson initially did not know much about antique and estate jewelry, she soon learned thanks to what Geolat described as her friend’s “insatiable appetite” for knowledge.

“Anything that interested Kate, she went at it with all her effort,” she said. “She was passionate and she wanted to learn.”

Chandler said Peterson’s desire to learn contributed to her success as a sales trainer, and the fact that she was always in demand as a trade show speaker.

He described her as “obsessed” with staying relevant and current, constantly researching and reading business books.

“A lot of trainers have a program that they’ve created and they stick with that. And it’s very effective,” he said. “Kate’s take was, I gotta know what happened this morning. I need to know what’s happening right now. She absorbed research about our industry like a sponge.

“It was a new conversation every time she spoke in front of a crowd.”

When she wasn’t working, Peterson loved her dogs, the beach, spending time with her family, and traveling.

For Geolat, Peterson was what every adult needs as they navigate through life—a good travel buddy.

“We went from Morocco to South Africa to China. There’s no place we weren’t open to going to.”

She said the last international trip they took together was in fall 2022 to South Africa, where they went on safari in Kruger National Park and make the trek down to Capetown. She said it was one of the best trips she’s ever taken.

“It was just great to build all those memories together,” Geolat said. “Memories made with a friend are always fun.”

Peterson leaves behind two sons, Nicholas Peterson and Kevin Peterson; as well as her parents, Paul and Connie Bykowski; one sister, Beth (Adam) Henning; two brothers, Tom (Lisa) Bykowski and Jim (Annette) Bykowski; nine nieces and nephews; and numerous cousins.

No details on services were available as of press time; National Jeweler will share them as soon as they become available.

A friend and neighbor has set up a GoFundMe to raise money in support of Peterson’s family. More than $12,000 has been donated as of press time, just under the $15,000 goal.

On social media and in articles written about Peterson’s passing, it has been said she will be sorely missed but Geolat contends that’s not adequate to describe the void her absence leaves behind. 

“That’s not even big enough. It’s an understatement. I don’t think the loss to our trade can be realized until we experience it. As days and months and years go by, I think we will realize more and more what a loss we’ve had. She was a gift.” 

Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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