Steve Samuelson recalls when he began working summers at his father’s business as a teen in the 1960s. Milton Samuelson ran a successful business since 1922, but it wasn’t only the man himself who stuck around.
“Unbelievably, the five or six employees that were there had all been there over 40 years,” Steve said.
Clearly, something about this business was worth putting down roots, he thought — and he was right. Sixty years later — a centennial anniversary for Samuelson’s Diamond and Estate Buyers — Steve is now at the helm with his son Ron, who has been working full time there for the past 28 years.
The father-son team, both of whom attend Beth Tfiloh Congregation, talk about their third-generation family business that beat the odds and stood the test of time.
Becoming a family business was a choice, not something that was ever expected, Ron told the Baltimore Jewish Times on a call with his father on Sunday.
Ron saw the potential in the work experience when he was a teen the same as Steve did, and their knowledge of where the business had been, along with fresh perspectives, helped it grow.
“(Milton) was always an advocate of ‘you have to change with the times. You can’t do business the way you did it yesterday,’” Steve said.
The marriage of old and new ideas helped grow the business from a pawn broker to a retail shop to today’s hybrid appointment-driven retail store and buying operation.
The Samuelsons moved from Pennsylvania Avenue to Baltimore Street in 1972 and now occupy offices over Quarry Lake Drive. They have two satellite locations in Chevy Chase and Vienna.
The two now have a model that sets them apart, focused on one-on-one appointments and open on weekdays, not weekends, like traditional retailers.
It’s also an opportunity to “lift the veil” on a traditionally secretive business, Ron said. They are transparent about the market and what their items are worth as an asset and commodity.
“We feel like even if you don’t sell your items to us that same day, you came out with an education and you came out knowing something,” he said.
Those values flow out of their personal relationships as well.
They have been active in the Baltimore Jewish community — Steve is a past president of the board of trustees for Beth Tfiloh and his late wife was the first female president of the Women’s Division of Israel Bonds of Maryland — and they always want the name Samuelson to be associated with integrity.
Ron also attributes the company’s success to working relationships. His father has always stressed resolving any issues between them in a pleasant way, and they treat their employees like family.
A positive work environment and opportunities to innovate ensure Ron and Steve stay as well.
Although he was once tempted to leave, Ron said, breathing new life into the business and focusing on entrepreneurial growth have sustained him.
“I transformed the business just like Ron transformed it when he came in,” Steve said. “That’s what has made us viable through 100 years.”
The two met the challenge of COVID-19 with more of those ideas — developing an online model to coexist among their appointments 24/7 — and making educational product videos. Their next goal is to find buyers in more cities so they can expand their footprint.
Only about 12% of companies are older than 26 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
For the Samuelsons, their centennial milestone is cause for celebration. The Samuelsons will award a $10,000 grant to family-owned businesses operating in Baltimore for more than 10 years. The winner will be invited and revealed at a celebratory 100th anniversary party in May.
“We thought that this would be a really good way to pay it forward,” Ron said.