As stewards of a 95-year-old legacy, the Runyans value deals, diamonds—and droll good times
Steve Runyan’s father didn’t believe in doling out allowances to his kids. “He’d say, ‘If you want money, you can come down to the store and work,’?” says Steve, the third-generation owner of his family’s Vancouver, Wash.–based jewelry store (now called Erik Runyan Jewelers after Steve’s son, the shop’s current owner). Erik, a computer whiz who majored in chemistry in college, helms the store’s day-to-day operations, while his wife, Leslie, acts as co-owner and manager. And a fifth generation of Runyan proprietorship may be imminent. Erik and Leslie’s daughter, Erin, a 20-year-old business major at Washington State University, just wrapped up her first full summer of working at the family business, which Erik’s great-grandfather, William Leonard Runyan, founded in 1917 as a watch bench at the local ferry stop. “We’re not putting any pressure on her,” Erik says. “But she got her hands into everything and did an amazing job.”
Erik: Both my dad and my grandfather taught me the business. But when I graduated college, I thought I’d be doing something different; I had a job at U.S. Oil & Refining. The lure of the company’s history brought me back.
Steve: In 1975, I bought out my father, brother, and two uncles. It was a struggle to keep the store going, so I put up a jewelry bench at home and my kids went to sleep to the sounds of hammering, buffering, and Johnny Cash. When I had my heart attacks years ago, I gave Erik the store. But I still like to come to work six days a week; it’s fun to spend time with my boy.
Erik: My father has a unique flair for showmanship. He puts a good foot forward, and he’s likable and recognized for his sincerity and honesty.
Steve: I’m kind of like the Colonel Sanders of the jewelry business—I just joke with customers. And my talent has always been repairs. Erik has brought us into the computer era. My granddad and dad would walk in, look at the merchandise, and say, “Yup, that’s about what we need.” That’s about as sophisticated as it got before Erik.
Erik: I joined the Independent Jewelers Organization; they had a turnkey diamond-selling program that taught me how to be a strong diamond player. I’ve also developed our own signature brand of diamonds laser-inscribed with the brand name and serial number.
Steve: Erik’s taken our diamond business to a new level. I didn’t realize so many people in our town were interested in 2 carat and 3 carat diamonds.
Steve: We try to keep it upbeat and positive. At 5:30 we close the store, and we don’t go home and keep beating the same drum. A family can be something you have to live down, or something you have to live up to.