Lisa Bridge Berenstein’s great-great-grandfather immigrated from Poland and traveled across the United States servicing railroad conductors’ pocket watches. Once in Seattle, he launched what became Ben Bridge Jeweler, which Bridge Berenstein took over as president in 2017 and CEO in 2019. Rebecca Kaplan, along with her brother Ari Lackman, runs Glazer’s Camera, opened in 1935 by their grandfather, Ed Glazer. And Dani Cone, founder of Fuel Coffee and High 5 Pie, reinvented her great-grandfather’s corner store, Cone & Steiner General, in 2014, just shy of a century after Sam Cone opened the original shop with his brother-in-law, Sam Steiner, in 1915. The three women share their thoughts about being family business leaders.
Your industries are all rooted in history. How do you use the past to inform your business and grow for the future?
Lisa Bridge Berenstein: I think that having a heritage is a wonderful thing, but it’s not a sufficient reason to come and do business somewhere. The heritage speaks to the integrity of the business — “we’re going to be here to take care of you after you make an investment in a piece of jewelry.” So it’s about using that heritage as an emblem of the trustworthiness, the consistency, and expectation, and using that heritage also to talk about the community. You have this item that’s timeless, so there’s reassurance in a company that’s been around for a long time.
Rebecca Kaplan: We lean on how and why we were founded. We were founded during World War II. My grandfather bartered at times in the beginning, and he even stored some of his customers’ possessions when they had to go away to Japanese internment camps. My grandfather was this total mensch. We opened up house accounts for photographers when it wasn’t prudent. You have to take care of your people, then they can go and be successful for the company.
It was my dad who kind of grew the company and brought it to what my brother and I are able to take forward. Sometimes a client will come in and say about my father, “Your dad gave me credit when he never in his right mind should have, but it allowed me to launch my career.” What keeps me interested in the engagement of our business is when I think of all the cameras that have been sold and all the images they’ve captured.
Dani Cone: As I listen to you, I am thinking of the common denominator about capturing — in different ways but so similar — those special moments. It just moves me. It really does. It’s just beautiful.
I truly feel it’s a privilege to be a part of somebody’s daily landscape. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing people sitting here having a beer or having a sandwich. What I love is having four walls and a place where anybody — anybody — can go where they feel like someone is happy to see them.
Your businesses have experienced some amount of disruption and change. How have you handled that?
Rebecca Kaplan: Most recently, the emergence of the smartphone as a viable camera option in addition to a new category of cameras — mirrorless cameras — have impacted digital SLRs. It’s an exciting time in our industry, and we are embracing the fact that more photos are being taken now than ever. Then of course e-commerce created a little bit more marked competition, and so it prompted us to make sure we maintain our broad product selection and that we’re offering the best service as possible. We really pride ourselves on having the weird widgets and accessories. “Oh, this thing broke off my camera, it’s four years old, do you have it?” “Yup, we got it.”
Lisa Bridge Berenstein: One of the things that’s changed in jewelry is that people say, “Well, I have a casual lifestyle now. I don’t need a formal piece of jewelry.” I think it may change exactly what type of jewelry people are looking for and they want to shop for it. But also, it requires us to give people permission. You still deserve a beautiful piece of jewelry. Why should casual mean sloppy? Why does casual mean you don’t have something special or meaningful?
Dani Cone: For us it’s pretty straightforward. I’ve been in the coffee industry for 25 years, which has always been dominated by another great local Seattle start-up you might have heard of once or twice. People thought, “Oh forget it, there’s so many coffee shops, what are you doing? That’s crazy.” But every coffee shop pretty much has the same menu. Our thing isn’t to be the only ones with “that thing.” It’s about the experience we create. We stay in our lane, we find what we do the best, and double down on that.
As women, are you up against any challenges? Many women talk about imposter syndrome. Do you experience that?
Dani Cone: I’m not going to speak for you two, but good Lord. I wake up terrified every day. Well, here we go, let’s do it. One foot in front of the other. I think that there’s always going to be those challenges no matter what you do or who you are, it’s just about if you believe you’re doing the right thing and you’ve got a good thing to sell, whether that’s a product or a service. Then just stay hell-bent on it and keep going.
Rebecca Kaplan: It was challenging at first. [But] our clients and our community were super supportive, and people are glad to see the store is still here and that our family continues to run it.
Lisa Bridge Berenstein: The majority of jewelry, not necessarily watches, but jewelry is going to a woman. I feel very fortunate that as a business we have always promoted women equally to men. We have had a tradition of having whoever the most qualified person for each role is. I feel thankful that it’s been a non-issue for me in our business. Two-thirds of our executives are women, and I feel thankful that we have a strong culture based in equality.