Matt surprised (and delighted) his parents by joining their four-decade-old family business
Matt Gilmore has vivid childhood memories of watching his dad, Pat, get spruced up for work in the family store, Dunbar Jewelers. “I always liked seeing my dad put on a suit every morning,” he recalls. “It made it seem like going to work was very important.” Still, Matt never thought about joining his parents’ Yakima, Wash.–based business, let alone taking it over one day. “When I was 15, I?started doing things like mailings and cleaning and painting at the store,” he says. “But I was never pressured to join the business in any way.” After graduating college—then doing a stint in the trucking industry—the idea of working with his family became more attractive. “He really surprised us by calling us up and saying he wanted to be a goldsmith,” remembers Pat, a third-generation jeweler who co-owns Dunbar (named for one of the store’s original owners) with his wife, Linda. “As he was growing up, Linda and I were at the store six days a week and he kind of resented that, as most kids would. We were shocked when he said he wanted to do it, but he was really passionate about it.” Now a graduate jeweler and gemologist, Matt has been working Dunbar’s sales floor and bench for the past 10 years. Pat’s area is appraisals and diamond buying, and Linda sells and handles the finances. “We all have our areas that we maintain, and we all work together on buying and inventory management,” says Matt, adding with a laugh, “so we don’t step on each other’s toes too much.”
Matt: My grandparents had a jewelry store in a town close by. I can remember visiting the store as a kid, and I always knew what went into running a small business. As a teenager, I would ride my bike after school down to my parents’ store [which opened in 1978] and work a couple of hours. Then I went off to college, and in the summers I would come in and help out. I studied business administration with an emphasis on entrepreneurship at Washington State University. After college I was recruited as a freight broker in Seattle. After four years, I wanted to move back home and started looking at how I could join the business at that point. We would discuss it on and off. My parents were realistic from the get-go. They would remind me that it’s a lot of work and it’s not great all the time. But they thought it would be a good opportunity. Still, they definitely didn’t want it to seem like, “Oh, yeah, come back and it will all be great.”
Pat: Matt took on the idea of getting an education himself. We were encouraging him to get his gem degree, but he got his graduate jeweler degree first, then came back and started working, then eventually did his gem courses. He worked so hard—he’d work long days during the holidays, then come in and keep going through his gems until late at night. He’s very, very driven.
Pat: Matt brings a different perspective to the business. He’s really bright and personable, and he’s come up with lots of great ideas that have helped us. He does all the social media and Facebook and Twitter for us, too. He works on the bench, and we now have another goldsmith in the shop so Matt can spend more time doing management things.
Matt: When I came to work at the store, I knew I had to work on the education side of it, too. I had to know the product. My dad was able to help me through all that. Then I had a much better appreciation of the knowledge that he had about gemstones and suppliers. It takes years and years to [amass] that depth of knowledge. My mom is super good at switching gears—she adapts to new situations and circumstances really fast. And in business, things are different every day.
Matt: I always liked working with my hands. I think it’s fun when I can remount something or fix something that was special to someone, and they appreciate the work. That’s the best part of it for me. A lot of jobs are so thankless these days, and if you can have an impact on people, that’s pretty special.
Pat: Being around my family is my favorite part of the business. And we’ve met some unbelievable people over the years through the store. Linda is a financial wizard and also sells—she’s the number-one salesperson. So we’re a good team. I really appreciate working with my wife and son.
Pat: When you are bringing in the next generation, you need to accept their ideas and be attuned to change and enjoy the ride. It’s not all roses, but we have a lot of fun. We don’t have a rule where we don’t talk about the store when we’re home. We do try to avoid it. But it always comes up in conversation. And some of our best ideas come when Matt calls on a Sunday.
Matt: I think you just have to be patient when you’re coming into the family business. You have to let things happen naturally and slowly. Try to observe. College doesn’t hit on lots of that work-environment stuff. You have to get your daily stuff down, then learn the ins and outs of the business.
Matt: The plan is that I take the store over eventually; it’s something we’ve been talking about for five years. We keep in touch with our accountants and attorney, and everyone’s starting to think about that and prepare.
Pat: I’m really proud of Matt. When we were starting to transition things, he said, “Dad, you can’t just walk out of here one day. You have to work at least a few days a week.” That was heartwarming.