It’s safe to say that Peter Luplow’s first day working for Ben Bridge Jeweler, in 1977, proved to be pretty auspicious.
Not only did Luplow (pictured) end up staying with the company for 44 years—eventually becoming its vice president of merchandising—but that day he met his wife (and coworker), Jeanne. An appraiser, Jeanne worked for Ben Bridge for 42 years, before retiring in 2019.
Now Peter is stepping down, too. This summer he’ll buy a “one-way ticket” to Maui, Hawaii, he tells JCK.
“We’re building a house there,” he says. “I figured, why not live in a place where everyone wants to go on vacation?”
The company is currently looking for a replacement, who will have big shoes to fill, says Lisa Bridge, the retailer’s president and CEO.
“Peter has made friends around the world as he has traveled sourcing our merchandise,” she says. “Always bringing along his trusty Ping-Pong paddle, he connected with our partners over games of Ping-Pong, tennis, or a morning run.
“What really distinguishes Peter is his belief in his team,” she adds. ”He cares deeply about each of them, and he inspired their best work and deep loyalty by trusting, supporting, and encouraging them.”
Indeed, four of Luplow’s buyers have been with Ben Bridge for over 25 years; the “newest” has worked there for 5.
Luplow was probably destined to work in jewelry. Growing up, he had two sets of neighbors who were mom-and-pop jewelers.
“They knew I was a people person,” he says, and both suggested he work at Ben Bridge. He got a job working at one of its J.C. Penney concessions, which have since been fazed out.
“That’s where I learned merchandising 101,” he says. “Whatever the customer wanted, that’s what we would do.”
He worked directly for Bob and Herb Bridge—the family’s second generation—and when he wanted to marry Jeanne, “I didn’t ask my father,” he says, “I asked Bob.”
“Back then, I didn’t know if it was okay if you could be involved with someone you work with,” he says. “So he called her and said, ‘I have a young man who wants to know if it’s okay if he marries you.’ ”
It was, and the Luplows moved to the Ben Bridge side of the business, which then had around 10 stores. (It now has 75.)
Luplow first worked the sales floor, then graduated to store management. After 22 years in the field, he transitioned to merchandising.
He’s seen the company withstand a lot, including 9/11, the financial crisis, and now the COVID-19 pandemic—which, he admits, delayed his retirement a bit.
One big moment was the company’s 2000 purchase by Berkshire Hathaway. Surprisingly, though, the business didn’t change much after that.
“[Berkshire chairman Warren Buffett] trusted the family knew how to run its business,” Luplow says. “That’s what he does: He buys businesses and lets the people in charge run them. The company has taken a long-term view, and we’ve pleased him for many years.”
He calls Ben Bridge “a family business where everyone is treated like family.
“Some family businesses, each generation is less dedicated. It’s the opposite with Ben Bridge. Each generation is more dedicated. You feel good knowing they are working as hard as you are working.”
Now that Luplow is stepping down, he’ll miss the relationships he forged with his suppliers.
“Working jewelry is 24/7,” he says. “We have gone many places together, we have played Ping-Pong, we’ve played tennis. It’s more than just sitting around the table.”
Even though he’s ready for retirement, he feels blessed to have worked in the industry.
“There is no other business like jewelry. If I was in the flower business, I’d be sad having to send them for funerals.
“Nothing carries the prestige of selling someone a beautiful piece of jewelry. It’s something that’s forever. If you like people, this is absolutely the right business to be in.”
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