Lessons from Broad Street

Earlier today, my parents announced that their successful 28-year retail careers had finally come to a close. Vaughan’s Fine Jewelry & Gifts — a long-time pillar of Edenton, NC’s vibrant Broad Street retail center — was sold to a fifth generation of owners who took the reins of the establishment in the historic town.

As I look back over the 28-year run my parents had with the store, and the times that my sister and I worked there, I recall many important life lessons learned along the way — and business lessons, too.

Shortly before graduating from high school, I read Dr. Robert Fulghum’s noteworthy commentary on the simplicity of life’s lessons, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. That book had a significant impact on me then and influences me still today. And as I look back at my experiences working at my parents’ retail store, I now realize that much of what I need to know in the business world, I learned at an early age, right there on Broad Street.

I learned about customer service — real customer service. How to engage customers. How to handle customers when I was wrong and handle them when — yes — they were wrong. I learned how to help customers make decisions. About going the extra mile. About doing the unexpected. I learned the importance of keeping your mouth shut. (Let the news of a pending engagement slip and you might as well close down your jewelry store.) I learned about how to make people feel special. And a favorite of my mother’s: I learned that every person who walks into that door deserves the same attention and respect as anyone else.

Twenty-eight years later, I find myself in another “store,” working with “customers” and helping them “make decisions.” And as I reflect on the experiences I shared working with my family on Broad Street I realize that — even after an MBA from Kenan Flagler Business School — the lessons learned at Vaughan’s are influencing me today in the business I am in now. And for that, I am grateful.

So, thank you, Dr. Fulghum. And thank you to my late nursery school teacher, Mrs. Britton, who bit me back after I bit a classmate on the arm. (Yes, you could do that back then. No, my parents didn’t mind. And it obviously made an impression on me for the good.)

And thank you, Mom and Dad. Your life and business lessons continue to impact me.