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Mahtomedi, MN—Put any two people together, and it means at least two ways of looking at a circumstance, a fact, or an event or history. Both perspectives are valid, but not necessarily the same. In a multigenerational business where members of more than one generation work together, it’s an invalid assumption that members of different generations will see the same situation identically. The differences in perspective can mean very different understandings about key information—and how that information best informs a business practice or policy.

Let’s consider a few key questions that have “obvious” answers. Yet those answers might create different expectations, different decisions, and even differences that can shake the business foundation.

Who started the business?

“I started the business on March 1, 1975.” The person who started the business remembers to the core the excitement and frazzle of the start-up, the risks taken, fears about ability to pay vendors and employees, the satisfaction of success, the pride of a lasting life-work. The one who started the business dreamed the dream of a business, likely selling fine jewelry, and made it happen.

“My dad and mom started the business in the mid-‘70’s.” Often, the person whose parents started the business remembers how much it seemed like home-life revolved around the store -- dinner conversations, parental fights, school events missed by one or both parents, especially in December. There may have also been great memories of helping out in the store, of pride at seeing your last name on the door. The second generation is one step removed from start-up, and while he or she may be entrepreneurial in business thinking, the reality is this generation has stepped into a work life in a going concern.  Rather than dreaming a start-up dream revolving around a passion for gems and jewelry, he or she may be dreaming dreams of business expansion or having nightmares of living with less than optimum business decisions in a business that she or he was born into but did not create.

“My grandfather started the business sometime in the last century.” For a third generation, the business is at minimum a fact, sometimes an expectation, sometimes a burden, but it has always stood as one of the defining aspects of life in the family. Third generation small business owners face big considerations with their future and the future of the business. If the business has been truly successful, there are questions about the third generation’s ability to run the business, to afford business transfer, and realities about changing business climates in the community that may have once had strong industrial economic drivers that have weakened in the service economy.

Where is the business located?

One generation may answer, “On the wealthier side of town.” The next may say, “we’re in a pretty good sized town of 40,000.” The third may say, “we’re in a small town of 40,000.” All three are speaking a truth, but each is also naming the parameters in which the business operates and is reflecting on the opportunity available to the business and to those working and/or owning the business.

Why does the business exist?

Each person answering with their own perspective means that each speaker has different reasons in mind about why the business exists and is likely to act accordingly. “I had a dream, a real passion for gemstones.” This speaker might be committed to knowing about and displaying gemstones and may find real value in gemological training and in visits to gem locales, and this speaker might really desire others in the business to earn a G.G. This speaker might also have a passion for diamonds and would never consider an alternative, such as showing prototypes.

A second-generation member might say, “We’ve been in business to serve the community for 35 years.” This view might mean a priority on the business’ role in the community and so the speaker may focus on community organizations as a tool for business outreach – Rotary, Lion’s Club, Chamber, Hospital boards. Why earn a G.G? It might be nice to have, but it is all about networking.

A third generation speaker might think the business exists because it always has and always will.  “We’ve always had this business as long as I can remember.” This speaker might value the business wholeheartedly, but be very frustrated at doing the things the business has always done in the ways the business has always done them. If this speaker thinks networking should include using a Smartphone during work hours, means checking Facebook, or means running in an MS Mud Run, it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t see value in networking, but it does mean networking may not look like it looked to the previous generations. And how about an MBA?

What does it mean to be in a luxury business?

Just as each generation views the business differently, the definition of “luxury” also has changed with successive generations, and their approach to selling luxury is going to reflect their attitudes about luxury.

Older generations, such as our first generation here, equated luxury with formality; i.e. the “good” china that only came out for holidays or dinner parties, and the “good” jewelry that is worn mainly for dressy cocktail or black-tie events.

The second generation grew accustomed to everyday luxury—equally costly products that are treated less preciously and used regularly, not relegated to the jewelry box or china closet. They see the relevance of wearing a diamond necklace with a pair of jeans.

The third generation sees a blurring—or, in some cases, obliterating—of the lines that define luxury. They see nothing unusual in pairing a high-name designer to do a collection for a discount retailer, or in oxidizing and blackening precious high-karat gold to get a modern funky look.

For multiple generations to thrive in one business, everybody needs to understand that what seems “obvious” is not, that the actions of the others are motivated by what he or she understands to be true, and that each person’s point of view has validity. Yes, the store owner’s perspective is where the buck stops. This necessitates the store owner communicate effectively. More on communications in multi-generation stores in my next article.

Charlotte Preston Catalysts Inc. provides business leadership consultation and services for independent jewelers, facilitates targeted business peer groups for jewelers, and develops the educational content and programs for multiple industry associations. Charlotte also is an active board member of many nonprofit organizations, both civic and in the jewelry industry. She is the recipient of the national Women’s Jewelry Association Award for Excellence in Special Services. Contact her at (651) 653-3919,, or log onto

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Comments (4):

I liked how you differentiated the generations and their possible mindsets.
It can add thought to how to approach each with regards to buying, selling and just doing general business with them.
I’d be interested in what you’d say about the difference between a first generation store today as opposed to a first generation store 3 generations ago..? Deborah

By Deborah e. Hecht, g.g. on Sep 8th, 2011 at 7:14pm

Deborah, you wonder what I’d say about the difference between a first generation store today as opposed to a first generation store 3 generations ago. Today’s first generation store is so much more likely to include a woman in a visible entrepreneurial role, either as one of the start-up team or as a solo start-up. It’s not that women weren’t involved three generations ago, but visibility now is different. The economic environment is also very different now than in the Roaring Twenties (think of each generation as 30 years), and one of those differences is that three generations ago, among those who could buy and sell jewelry, the assumption was that one income was the norm and in most of this segment of society, the income earner was male. Yet, some reasons for starting a business remain across these generations—an entrepreneurial outlook held by a person with a good idea and the willingness to make it work.

By Charlotte Preston on Sep 8th, 2011 at 8:32pm

Charlotte - this is brilliant and so spot on…and I really love you comment above.

It is true that women have a much stronger voice in an industry that traditionally was men…the same can be said for Minority presence in the Industry.

Today’s Jeweler is consciously seeking ways to appeal to a diverse customer base.

By Robyn Hawk on Sep 10th, 2011 at 5:57am

Thanks for the affirmation, Robyn. Appealing to the individual in his or her sense of uniqueness is a solid way for luxury marketers to approach today’s consumer.

By Charlotte Preston on Sep 15th, 2011 at 7:43pm

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