ROB BRIMAN ~ Topeka Business Hall of Fame
David Vincent | Photographer
Beautiful diamonds glitter from glass cases and designer watches sit majestically on their pedestals waiting for just the right wrist to adorn. But it is upstairs, away from the glitter and sparkles, where Rob Briman makes the real magic happen.
Sitting at the same engraving machine that Rob Briman used when he was in junior high to help his dad in the store on weekends, Briman creates customized charms for a longtime customer. While computers and lasers have taken over the jewelry industry in most stores, Briman enjoys doing some things the old-fashioned way.
“When I sit at this machine and guide it by hand, I feel like the artisanship of the craft is still alive,” Briman said.
UNCOVERING A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Briman didn’t plan to step into the family business. He was your typical teenager looking to spread his wings. He moved out for a brief stint and discovered there really is “no place like home.” So, he found his way back to
Topeka where his father offered him a job.
As a third-generation owner of Briman’s Leading Jewelers, he learned from an early age that the most important aspect of a successful business is taking care of your customers. Briman watched his father, Dale Briman, treat people with respect and integrity as he helped guide them through what could sometimes be very emotional purchases.
“My dad understood that in treating people right, he was creating generations of repeat customers. That is why he didn’t want me in the office,” Briman said. “He wanted me out on the floor interacting with people and creating lasting relationships.”
He has been out on the floor connecting with his clientele for the past 39 years.
DESIGNING A UNIQUE SETTING
Briman joined the family business in 1979 when the economy was booming. People were excited about all of the development on the Wanamaker corridor. Briman’s father and uncle took advantage of the momentum and opened a store in the mall in 1988. That store became Rob’s baby.
He went into management without any real experience or business knowledge but survived his trial by fire and spent the next 20 years making the mall location a success.
“That is where I truly cut my teeth in this business,” Briman said. “It was frightening. It was exhilarating.”
During this time, his father and uncle started gifting company stock to Briman and his cousin, Debbie, to begin the transition to the next generation. Also during this time, the economy began slowing down and the mall location was barely staying in the black.
“In 2008, we were hemorrhaging money,” Briman said, tears filling his eyes as he reflected on that memory. “We knew we had to cut off the leg to save the life.”
In 2010, the mall store lowered its gates for the last time, and Briman moved back down to the Kansas Avenue store where his story first began.
REDISCOVERING A PRECIOUS GEM
Downtown Topeka hadn’t escaped the economic downturn either. The birth of the mall and the booming growth on Wanamaker started the slow death of downtown. Major retailers moved out of their downtown locations, leaving the area full of empty buildings and devoid of retail draw.
Fortunately, about the time Briman’s Leading Jewelers consolidated into the store on Kansas Avenue, the push to revitalize downtown was underway. With focused leadership and renewed energy, those dreams of customers once again walking up and down Kansas Avenue began to become a reality.
As a member of Downtown Topeka, Inc. (DTI), Briman found himself in the thick of the planning and excitement as public and private dollars flowed into the project. Briman literally grew up on Kansas Avenue, so seeing an area that he watched die out years ago burst back to life, renewed his own enthusiasm for both the downtown area and his own business.
“Downtown is my home,” Briman said, once again tearing up as his emotions took hold. “I have been running around Kansas Avenue my entire life, and it only seemsfitting that I end up back home to watch this transformation happen.”
CREATING AN HEIRLOOM
Briman served two 3-year terms on the DTI board and is a past board chair. Briman also sits on the Small Business Council and is proud to be one of the many people forging the path for a better Topeka.
Giving back to his community in other ways, Briman has been a member of Topeka South Rotary for 24 years, sits on the board of Capper Foundation Advisory Council and is a past board member of Brewster Foundation.
He isn’t one to sing his own praises. In fact, he says he has no idea why he deserves to be in the Topeka Business Hall of Fame.
“I am not a wealthy man. I am a working man,” Briman said. “I am just a guy walking through the world.”
Rob and his wife, Carol, have been married for more than 30 years and share two children and three grandchildren.