Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’re checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt to glean shareable tips and tricks for doing business—and living as well as possible—during the COVID-19 crisis.
Today, we hear from Lisa Bridge, the Seattle-based president and CEO of Ben Bridge Jeweler, founded by her family in 1912 and now boasting 75 stores and 850 associates.
JCK: Hi, Lisa! Let’s start by looking back at spring 2020, which must have been an enormous challenge for a company with so many locations and employees.
Lisa Bridge: And it happened right as I was having my first child. We closed all of our stores while I was still in the hospital, so it was quite a moment all around. Seattle had the first COVID outbreak in the country at the end of February, and looking back, it almost seems comical that we said, “We’ll send everybody home for two weeks and then it will be okay.” We had never closed for a period like that, let alone what ended up being, on average across our stores, 106 days. That’s not counting curbside [delivery] only or limited capacity, but fully closed. I’m very proud that we worked through it and moved forward in a strong way. The focus always was on our people and keeping them safe.
How did your background as the fifth-generation leader of a family business help you steer the company through the pandemic?
Having the perspective of more than 100 years helped us weather this challenge, recognizing that we had weathered challenges in the past and that we have wonderful values to draw from. I had support from my father and my uncle and my grandfather, who were here to provide a sounding board, and a team of incredible people who have knowledge and experience and a passion for this business. It was a lot to navigate in each different market, but we closely followed the CDC recommendations and were clear all the way through that people’s health and safety were the number one priority.
Were your stores well positioned to comply with safety guidelines?
That definitely took some rethinking. We had redesigned our stores a few years ago to open them up so traffic could flow through. It took a bit of reorganization to think about how to control the flow—and I could never have anticipated having to ask people to wait to enter the store. Thankfully, our customers were understanding, because they saw how we were caring for each person who walked in the door. Many of our long-term customers were calling our associates to see how they were doing, which speaks to the kind of relationships we have. We were lucky that customers were ready to continue celebrating the important moments in their lives [with jewelry]. The industry fared quite well, once we were able to get open again, [because] jewelry is deeply meaningful and incredibly lasting. That’s what people were looking for during this time.
How would you describe the retail landscape in Seattle as we emerge from the pandemic?
Our downtown Seattle store has been really successful during this time, even when it was quite quiet in the city itself. We’re actually in the midst of moving our flagship store. We left the building we’d been in for 94 years and moved into a temporary space a few months ago. This moment afforded us the opportunity to look around and say, “Are we in the best place? Is there real estate available that would be better? Where do we want to be for the next 94 years?” The center of gravity in downtown Seattle has shifted a bit, so we’re moving a couple of blocks to a big, bright open space in the heart of downtown.
How exciting that your grandfather gets to experience this new chapter!
It’s true, and he is fully in support. He said, “Good for you! I’m looking forward to being at the opening.”
How do your roles as a fine jewelry designer and CEO of Ben Bridge feed each other?
My favorite projects to tackle use both sides of the brain, the creative and the analytical, and I think both are needed as a designer and a CEO. With jewelry design, I’ve always wanted to create pieces that people will want to wear. I looked at my friends who were wearing jewelry that wasn’t necessarily real. They didn’t know that they could own and wear precious metals and genuine gemstones every day. I didn’t see anything in the marketplace that struck the right chord, so I created it. [With] the CEO hat, I see our company as a creative venture as much as looking at spreadsheets and doing analytics. You have to have a vision and also know how to make it work.
How have you juggled work and family life over the past year?
Life during the pandemic was completely different, and it’s hard to tell what part of that was due to COVID and what part was because of the baby. I feel very fortunate that home life and work life have always been blended in my family, although working from home has been a bit more blended than expected. It’s been wonderful, but I’m also looking forward to traveling and being back at events.
Finally, how do you relax? Any entertainment recommendations to share?
The music [I listen to now] is definitely different—a lot of Caspar Babypants, from [Chris Ballew] the lead singer of the Seattle band the Presidents of the United States of America, with the occasional Paul Simon, who I grew up listening to. My most-listened-to podcast is The Daily, from The New York Times. There hasn’t been a lot of time for relaxing!
Top: Lisa Bridge filming a Mother’s Day video (personal photos courtesy of Lisa Bridge; store and jewelry photos courtesy of Ben Bridge Jeweler)Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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