“From Berkshire Hathaway and Wal-Mart to small stores everywhere, about 90% of all U.S. businesses are family-owned or controlled by a family. Family businesses generate over 50% of the US Gross National Product (GNP).” – Forbes.com
“Our business is about people, not status or bling per se, but marking moments and milestones in relationships with beautiful, well-made works of art. Whatever the importance of the event or size of the gift, the icon and presentation must be special and unique.” – Robert Argo, owner
My first introduction to the Argo family was when Robert, now my husband of 40 years, took me home to present to his parents as his bride-to-be. I was terrified! I had heard so much about this prominent, illustrious family. The family business, Argo & Lehne Jewelers, was an incomparable icon in Columbus, Ohio. I grew up on a farm in Iowa, far removed geographically and culturally from this world. Or so I thought.
I meet the family.
It was dark as we drove up the driveway through a large wooded lot. As we rounded a bend, an impressive, elegant, well-lit house appeared, and a lump came to my throat. Would they like me?! Help! As we got out of the car, I saw a beautiful smiling woman with arms open wide running down the walk and a man not far behind. It was Barb and Bill. The open arms were for me! My introduction to the Argo family was a hug and a warm welcome. After dinner, when Bob told them the news, Bill laughed and said, “Well, what d’ya know! Congratulations!”
This is the family into which I had the great good fortune to marry and later join in the business. As I got to know more of the Argo extended family, Bob’s sister Sarah, his Aunt Ruth, his Uncle Dick and Aunt Dottie, their sons Dick and Jim and their wives and families, I found them to be sweet and down to earth (and a lot of fun). I realized that this warm, welcoming quality is a hallmark of the whole Argo clan. These are the people whose personalities and values still permeate our business to this day. When I think about Argo & Lehne, many things come to mind – quality, service, longevity, integrity. But even more than that, it’s all about relationships. People are the foundation this 95-year-old jewelry store is built on, starting with the family and extending to employees, customers, and the community.
Everybody pitches in.
Just like the farm where I grew up doing chores every day after school, Argo family members pitch in, and most Argo kids have worked for the business in some way. Before joining full time, Bob worked in the mail room and made deliveries. His cousins Dick and Jim started really young. According to Jim, “Dickie and I started out by riding downtown with Pop while we were out of school for the holidays. We were maybe seven and ten, and we mainly ran errands, including walking the work up High Street from the original A&L location at 31 East Gay Street to the old Brunson Building at Long and High. Today, one can only imagine the imminent peril awaiting two little boys, dressed by their dad in suits and ties, hoofing it around the downtown of a state capital carrying a small briefcase filled with thousands of dollars in precious treasures.” They also carried purchases from the sales floor to the gift wrappers downstairs and then back to be delivered to the customers. They had to remember which packages went to whom, a lot of responsibility for such young ones.
As little boys, Vinnie, our controller and office manager, gave our sons Will and Josh “jobs” shredding paper. She rewarded them with dollar bills and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coloring pictures. They have since been part-time mail clerks and engravers. Will has now become a talented bench jeweler, and while Josh is working on an engineering degree, he’s still willing to help out here when needed. Even our daughter-in-law Ayaka strings pearls in her spare time.
As for other Argo wives, according to a favorite family story, Bob’s grandmother Pearl, founder James A. Argo’s wife, once performed an important service to the store, rescuing her husband when he accidentally locked himself in the vault! Apparently, the jovial Mr. Argo had a great sense of humor and loved telling that story. Dick Argo’s wife Karen recently retired after many years of service in the business. Aunt Dottie worked stringing pearls for a time during World War II. Both Barbara and Dottie, while not employed at the store, worked tirelessly in numerous volunteer community service jobs such as The Buckeye Ranch and the Women’s Board of the Columbus Museum of Art.
Helping our neighbors.
Also like my rural home community, people are willing to extend themselves to help each other. For example, have you ever heard of a jeweler who makes house calls? Bob wouldn’t tell you about it, but he’s been on numerous excursions to help customers who couldn’t make it to the store. There was a senior citizen who was panicking because she couldn’t get her ring off. Neither she nor her husband could drive, and her finger was hurting. After reassuring her, Bob drove to their house and cut off the ring. Later, he had it repaired and sized and returned it to them. We went to the home of another lady who had recently lost both her husband and daughter. She had some estate pieces that she needed help sorting and deciding on, so after the store closed, we went out and spent some time with her. And, every so often a young groom-to-be will put off his engagement or wedding ring purchase so late that he needs to have the ring delivered at the last minute, which we do happily.
These are all little things to us but important things to them. So Argo & Lehne sees them not as some kind of heroism but as the right thing to do and least we can do. Most successful businesses go out of their way to help customers, and rightly so – it’s in their best interest. I’m just so impressed by the strong welcoming and loving ethos of this long-lived family business. And I’ve come to realize that the man I married, his wonderful family and business are very much like the good, kind people I grew up with.