The old saying “the devil is in the details” doesn’t apply for Argo & Lehne Jewelers. “One of our store’s chef tenets is God is in the details,” says third-generation owner Robert Argo.
It’s the attention to such aptly named operational details and their divine providence that has allowed Argo & Lehne Jewelers to join an exclusive retail jeweler club of 100 years in business. The Columbus, Ohio-based jeweler opened its doors in 1924 and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in August.
The intriguing aspect of European immigrant stories from the late 1800s and early 1900s is not just the journey and subsequent assimilation, but the place such newcomers called home in America. James Alexander “Dickie” Argo was a trained watchmaker in Scotland. He immigrated to Ohio in 1902.
The Buckeye State was an easy choice for James to settle. His father had been bringing Black Angus cattle to Ohio State University (OSU) for many years before James came to the US. James joined his father on a cattle run to determine if Columbus was a good place to raise a family. The first impression was a lasting one.
A good father, Mr. Argo worried about James’ future in their native country. In the early 20th century Scotland and Ireland were suffering from a debilitating recession. With Columbus the capital of Ohio, the main city was receiving much in terms of industry investments from the state, making it fairly recession proof at the time.
The stability and growth, plus the family connection, compelled James to make Columbus his home. Even though James didn’t join the lucrative industries of the time, he did get his start as the watchmaker at Bancroft Brothers Jewelers on the corner of Long and High Streets in the early 1900s. This is where James met Adolf Lehne, a jeweler at Bancroft Brothers.
When the Bancrofts retired James opened the store under his name on August 2nd, 1924. Adolf joined as a partner. Shortly after the store was renamed Argo & Lehne Jewelers. Bancroft’s well-heeled clientele followed the enterprising twosome to Argo & Lehne.
“These were the movers and the shakers of 1920s,” says Robert.
The inherited client list helped get the business partners through The Great Depression. But the OSU connection would make an indelible impression on A&L’s success at the time as well as future sales growth.
“William Oxley Thompson, during his tenure as the fifth president of OSU, was a very influential client” says Robert. “Under his leadership, from 1899 to 1926, attendance at OSU increased 10 fold and the iconic horseshoe football stadium was built. Even now, Argo & Lehne still has a very strong following from OSU affiliates.”
What was a godsend during America’s worst economic downturn in its history were also the client and sales factors that would establish future growth for future generations. In 1938, Adolph passed. His American-born son-in-law Howard Hawk assumed the role as partner in the business with James.
Howard’s gemological skills through the American Gem Society (AGS) were the fledgling steps in A&L’s evolution to becoming a modern jewelry store. James’ sons J. Richard and William Alexander Argo would join the family business upon returning home after World War II. The boys were “market ready,” according to Robert, being city boys in Columbus.
Gen 2.0 was also part of the post-war store expansions. In 1959, A&L bought The Harrington Company. “Harrington strongly felt his clients would be best served by their chief competitor, A&L,” according to Robert. “Hence, staff, clientele, inventory and location all merged as A&L moved from 31 East Gay Street to 84 North High Street, where we stayed for 20 years.”
Sales and business growth allowed A&L to open a second store in 1959. Twenty years later, a third store was added in Bexley. Owning multiple stores was the hallmark of the second generation that was a key growth factor and ushered in the third and current generation of family jewelers.
J. Richard’s sons Dick and Jim, as well as Bill’s son Robert, eventually joined the family. J. Richard retired in 1990. The event helped raise two years of revenue in a single quarter, according to Argo. Rapid growth has the same impact as a rapid descent: both bring about soul searching and change.
Generation 3.0’s hallmark would be bringing A&L into the 21st century. Upon computerizing operations, number crunching became splendidly simpler. But with the numbers came stark realizations as a multi-store jeweler.
“The three stores were evenly stocked, staffed and furbished,” says Robert. “But the Arlington store became the perceived flagship store shortly after it opened, doing more business than the other two locations combined. After a decade of owning three stores, by 1993 A&L’s Arlington store was it.”
In the late 1990s Bill and Jim retired. This allowed Dick and Robert to become sole partners. In addition to adding the latest and breaking technology to operations, Dick and Robert’s other hallmark to the family business would be relocating to a free-standing store, their current home on Tremont Road, in 2002.
The move not only gave A&L its own four walls, it provided a long-term place for Gen 4.0 to take root for future growth. “Dick’s sons Scott, David and Andrew, and most recently Peter, as well as Bob’s son Joshua and his daughter Eva have joined the family business,” says Robert.
Other staff additions with Michele Ward as president, Eve Cicciu as director of operations, and Vinnie Boling as controller have also helped the 100-year-old business evolve and prosper.
Argo & Lehne’s, 100-year celebration plans are in the works with lots of surprises to delight their customers. They want to celebrate their amazing customers and tremendous community that have supported them for generations.