Austin Walsh/Daily Journal
Carl Martin, co-owner of the Studio Shop, helped usher in a century of the company’s service to the Burlingame community.
Martin shows a note written by the Ralph and Dorothy Crawford, founders of the Studio Shop, to John and Martha Benson when they purchased the company in 1955. The Bensons’ daughters inherited the store, and still operate it.
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
The old adage summarizes the customer service philosophy which has helped the oldest retail business in Burlingame stay open for 100 years, claim the owners.
Developing close relationships with customers to gain a keen sense of their needs and delivering with a personal touch is part of the reason The Studio Shop has kept its doors open for a century, according to co-owner Janet Martin.
These traditional methods have allowed the family-owned business to remain connected with an evolving demographic of customers living in a constantly changing community, she said.
Martin, who runs the company with her husband Carl and sister Kristen Benson, celebrated the 100th birthday of the art gallery and framing store, located at 244 Primrose Road, with the Burlingame community on Friday, Sept. 18.
Janet Martin and Benson inherited the business from their parents John and Martha Benson, who purchased it from the company founders in 1955.
As the second generation of family owners ushers the company into a second century, Janet Martin said she is tremendously proud.
“We are really lucky we have such wonderful community that have allowed us to stay open and supported us,” she said.
While essentially growing up in the shop, Janet Martin said she has seen the art and framing industry change tremendously as online commerce has become increasingly popular.
Carl Martin concurred, and said the increased competition from websites has driven out many of the other framing and art stores which used to be open locally, as he said the Studio Shop is the only business of its kind left in Burlingame.
The type of personalized service the 10 workers at the store strive to offer customers helps separate the local store from its competition, said Janet Martin.
And though the cost of tailored service may cost more than bulk retailers or online merchants, Janet Martin said the initial investment may pay dividends in the long run.
“You will only have to buy it once, because you have it done right,” she said.
But specialty services such as picture framing or art sales tend to dip with dives in the economy, noted Carl Martin, which makes the company’s perseverance through tough economic times such as the burst of the dot-com bubble or Great Recession especially notable.
And should the market become challenging again, that is when a little time-tested wisdom comes in handy, said Janet Martin.
That sage advice comes from her mother, Martha Benson, now 86, who still periodically swings by the store during her daily strolls, she said.
Martha Benson and her husband purchased The Studio Shop from Ralph and Dorothy Crawford, who founded the company in 1915, and has seen it flourish during boom times, and survive during tight periods.
Her mother’s extensive experience running the shop informs her perspective that despite rough stretches, the company is in good hands and will continue to survive, said Janet Martin.
The former owner is proud of the success of the company she built, said Janet Martin, and the fashion the family’s next generation is guiding it into a new era.
“She approves,” said Carl Martin, of his mother-in-law.
Janet Martin said she too is fulfilled by the company’s success and endurance.
“It feels really good,” she said. “It is an accomplishment.”
Kristen Benson agreed, but said the ability of the store to survive the myriad hurdles it has met in the last 100 years is not a coincidence.
She credits the ability of the management team to share responsibility and excel in their own individual fields of expertise as a contributing factor to the shop’s perseverance.
Kristen Benson manages the studio and works directly with clients when they consider purchasing art, to ensure the piece looks attractive in the context of their home.
This requires her to spend countless hours researching the latest trends in the art market, both locally and internationally, to be able to serve the needs of an informed and cultured clientele, she said.
That willingness though to go the extra mile for customers furthers the company’s reputation for excellence, despite the changing market and environment in Burlingame, said Janet Martin.
And the family running the company continues putting in the long hours required to keep The Studio Shop open, because of their close connection to their work, said Janet Martin.
“This really takes a lot of hard work,” she said. “But we must enjoy it, because we spend a lot of time doing it.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105