Benton Clyde Clark – or as he’s better known around here, B.C. Clark – arrived in what was then Indian Territory in 1892 (cue the jingle).
That was 15 years before statehood, and the Clark family has been selling jewelry ever since.
“My great grandfather grew up on a farm in Mississippi,” said Mitchell Clark, BC Clark Jewelers executive vice president. “He had an older brother who moved to Lubbock, Texas, and he had a jewelry store specializing in watch repair. He joined his brother and learned the trade. He taught him everything he knew about watches.
“He started hearing about Indian Territory up north and explored that. He took a train and headed to Chickasha because he liked the sound of the name. But he lost his wallet and all his life savings, so he ended up in Purcell, Oklahoma, because it was a train stop. He ran into a guy who he knew from Lubbock who had a five-and-dime and he talked him into allowing him to open a small jewelry store inside.”
Train operators were required to have their watches inspected, so the then-just-four-year-old Purcell was a perfect spot for a watch repairer to start a jewelry business. By the time Oklahoma was a state, Clark’s great grandfather had moved out of that five-and dime and had his own store.
Benton Clyde moved his store to Oklahoma City in 1929, same year as the stock market crash, and the Clark family has weathered every financial storm since. Located in downtown Oklahoma City since arriving, B.C.’s corporate office and flagship store is one of three locations in the metro. Clark and his brother, Coleman, are the fourth generation to run the 130-year-old company. Their dad, Jim, serves as chairman, and Coleman serves as president.
“We have always lived on the same values that my great grandfather started with,” Mitchell Clark said. “Quality is very important, but it’s more about people — our customers and our staff. It makes a big difference. We pride ourselves on customer services.”
He said many staff members have been around for decades, extending the familial feel beyond the Clark family.
“We have salespeople who have sold someone an engagement ring, and they bring their child back to buy their engagement ring and the same salesperson serves them,” Clark said.
Clark himself has worked in the business since he was a little boy – first as an elevator operator (“I got a little stool and sat in there and pushed the buttons,” he said) and then moved up to gift wrapping at Christmas and checking the weights of diamonds. But, his father or grandfather never pressured him into joining the family business, advice he said he’d give any family business when thinking through transitions.
“They never really talked to me about going into the business,” he said. “It was really nice. At that point, I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to be a part of the business.”
Clark said it was important to choose to join the family business and get experience outside of the family first, both traits he said are important to consider whenever a family member joins an existing family business.
“I think it’s a good idea for someone thinking about coming into a family business is to get some experience outside the business to get some foundation and knowledge that you know that this is right for you,” he said. “Make sure that the decision is not taken too lightly. Make sure that’s where you want your career path to go.”
He said he’s seen many family businesses in the jewelry industry collapse because of communication issues or differing values.
“I think communication is very important,” he said. “You need to get together often to discuss your thoughts and feelings about the business and make sure you are on the same page. And being together at our headquarters every day – we can grab each other all the time to talk about things that come up. It makes it all very simple.
“We’ve seen a lot of that conflict with friends of ours that have generational businesses, and we realize we are very lucky because we all get along really well. We all have the same values and the same mindset when it comes to running our business. We have different ideas from time to time, but we listen to one another and try out each other’s ideas. So far, it’s been really smooth.“
Yep, for just the last 130 years.