Ben Bridge Stories: Marc BridgeNovember 4, 2009
We hope to share with you some of the stories of the people in the Ben Bridge family who make the company so unique. I wanted to start with someone more interesting, but since everyone else has real work to do, I figured I could start with myself.
With luck this will be the start of a series, stay tuned and please let me know what you think.
“Hi, my name is Marc Bridge.”
Often when I introduce myself to customers they do a momentary double-take.
“Bridge, as in Ben Bridge?” they ask.
Yes, I reply, and explain that along with my sister Lisa and cousin Rebecca, I am a member of the fifth generation of our family to work in the company.
“I never realized there really were any Bridges,” they often reply.
This used to surprise me. Of course there are Bridges, I thought; just take a look around the store: my Grandfather Bob and Uncle Herb are up on the wall over there and next to them there is a picture of Ben (my great-grandfather) standing in the store on Pike Street in Seattle.
As I grew up, I came to realize the response was perfectly understandable. In a world where so much is impersonal it is easy to assume store names are little more than marketing slogans. So many of the other jewelers have family names above their doors but the families are long gone. There is no Tiffany at Tiffany and there hasn’t been for generations. No Zale at Zales, Kay at Kay, nor Cartier at…well, I think you get the picture.
I suppose in our family we just never got the memo.
Not everyone in our family has been directly involved in the business, certainly. Some of my uncles and cousins became lawyers, rabbis, doctors, and filmmakers. But in my case, I couldn’t imagine anything better.
My first job was working in our office on Saturdays as a little kid. When our mom needed a break from what I am sure was the ceaseless joy of raising Lisa and me, she would send us to work with dad. He paid us 25 cents an hour to go through old job envelopes to make sure there weren’t bits of scrap metal or stones left behind. If we found something (and it only happened once or twice) we got a 25 cent bonus.
We loved coming to the office because it meant running around the halls, playing hide and seek under all the desks, and racing up and down the ramp where all the office supplies were kept. To a five-year old, nothing is cooler than a gold embossing sticker and a four foot tall stack of manila file folders. (I suppose some things never change).
Vacations in the Bridge family often meant a week in Southern California. We are big fans of Disneyland, so a day riding Splash Mountain and the Matterhorn would be the reward after six days criss-crossing LA freeways visiting stores. We learned to clean the glass and make popcorn and Italian sodas for Diamond Shows. I was surprised when I got back to school and learned my fourth-grade friends hadn’t spent most of their spring breaks in shopping centers too.
I started working in the store formally before I had my driver’s license. It still amazes me that anyone bought anything from 15 year-old munchkin Marc. Dad had to fill out a form like the one they use for kids working on family farms: Marc won’t work during school hours, he will be supervised, he won’t operate heavy machinery, etc.
I spent almost every summer and school holiday from then on in the stores. Mostly in the Downtown Seattle flagship store with sojourns to Bellevue Square on Seattle’s Eastside and Ala Moana Center in Honolulu (great gig, but that’s another story).
It was the best education I could have hoped to receive. I realized what my dad had always said—sharing special moments in people’s lives is fun. To be able to help a young man pick out the perfect engagement ring or to assist a couple celebrating a special birthday or anniversary is the best job in the world. We get to play with beautiful things and make people happy all day long. What could be better?
Much to my mother’s chagrin, I strayed (temporarily) from Seattle for school, first for college at Washington University in St. Louis and then for graduate school at the London School of Economics.
I came home to attend law school at the University of Washington and momentarily entertained the notion of becoming a lawyer. I worked for a summer during law school at one of the oldest and largest law firms in Seattle and really enjoyed pretending to be a transactional attorney.
As great an intellectual challenge as that would have been, I realized what on some level I knew all along: my heart was at Ben Bridge.
I graduated from law school in June, took the bar exam in July, and started at Ben Bridge in August. (My dad gives me a bad time because he claims to have graduated from college on a Friday and started work the next Monday. I guess the work ethic is slipping around here!). Today I assist my cousin Jon (Co-CEO with Ed, my dad) with the legal work and get to try out new ventures like this “internet” thing.
As much fun as it is to sit behind a desk, there is still nothing I like to do more than help a customer find a wonderful piece of jewelry. A fine jewelry purchase is so much more fun and fulfilling in person than in the abstract. Dealing with figures, leases and technology are necessary and important, but ultimately it is the diamond that is forever and the customer that is our reason for being.
I am so blessed to have been able to grow up in such a wonderful company surrounded by incredibly dedicated and talented people.
I look forward to the journey ahead.