Steamboat Springs When Lindsay (Lockhart) Dillenbeck still was in high school, she used to tease her father, Ty Lockhart, that the name of the family’s landmark Western wear store, F.M. Light & Sons, someday would be renamed in recognition of her gender.
It was a running joke since I’ve been in high school,” Dillenbeck said this week. “I used to tell him that someday I was going to add ‘and daughter’ to the F.M. Light & Sons signs in hot pink.”
Today, the alteration to the historic yellow and black advertising signs that line highways across much of Northwest Colorado would be appropriate — minus the hot pink — but Dillenbeck never was serious.
She is the great-great-granddaughter of F.M. Light. And now that she and husband, Chris, are the new owners of the family business, they wouldn’t consider tinkering with one of the West’s most enduring retail brands.
The Dillenbecks assumed ownership of the 107-year-old F.M. Light & Sons, 830 Lincoln Ave., from Ty Lockhart in September. F.M. Light & Sons dates to Steamboat’s pioneer days, and a visit to the store, with its old wooden floors and some original display cases, evokes the days when customers arrived in horse-drawn wagons. Today’s lines of merchandise bridge traditional cowboy and cowgirl fashion with the new. Lindsay Dillenbeck said nationally branded clothing lines are helping to keep Western wear fashionable by adding traditional elements to contemporary merchandise.
“F.M. Light was a visionary and a pioneer,” she said. “The store used to sell men’s suits and top hats. The product lines have always changed with time.”
She pointed out the decorative stitching on her own pair of Western boots that she said are emblematic of contemporary Western wear.
Lindsay and Chris have the benefit of other family members working with them in the business as they embark on a new era. All seven Lockhart cousins of Lindsay’s generation have worked in the store at one time or another. Her brother Brandon works the floor in sales, as has cousin James Lockhart. Susanna LaRosa maintains the store’s social media presence (look for Hank the Cowdog and his Christmas cookies song at www.fmlight.com), and Sarah Lockhart designs the historic window displays that complement the Tread of Pioneers Museum just around the block.
And in addition to her father, Lindsay has a steadying influence in her grandfather, Lloyd Lockhart, who presided over the store in a period of growth from 1963 to 1973.
“He’s given me a lot of advice,” Lindsay said. “I’m used to having leisurely talks with Pop, but one day he asked me some direct questions to make sure I was on top of things. I really appreciate that he doesn’t put much pressure on me. He always ends our talks by saying that he has confidence in me and not to worry too much because things will work out.”
Another person the Dillenbecks rely on is Michelle Bauknecht, the store’s buyer for the past 22 years.
“She knows where the store has been, what’s worked and what hasn’t,” Lindsay said. “She knows what’s coming next and makes buys that fly out of the store.”
The Dillenbecks bring sophisticated professional and business backgrounds to Steamboat’s longest-running retail store, but they also took deliberate measures to prepare themselves to run a family business.
Chris studied at Duke University and graduated with triple degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering as well as mathematics. After graduation, Chris did IT consulting for Fannie Mae and other financial services companies, helping them to manage their information.
“I learned the power of the raw data and learning what it’s telling you,” he said.
Lindsay went to Dartmouth, where she earned a degree in economics with minors in English and religion. She raced on the Alpine ski team for two years at Dartmouth before an injury cut her career short. She did business consulting in Boston for a year before working in former Vice President Dick Cheney’s domestic policy office. Next, she earned her Master of Business Administration at Pepperdine University, where she also was able to pursue her passion for surfing.
The Dillenbecks both chose MBA tracks (his was at UCLA) that offered a focus on operating family businesses. They had the opportunity to analyze case studies of family businesses that have achieved longevity, and they learned that open communication is a key.
The longevity that F.M. Light & Sons already has achieved is notable.
Its website points out that according to the Boston-based Family Firm Institute, only one in five family businesses remains in business after five years and only 3 percent of family-owned businesses in the U.S. make it to the fourth generation.
Lindsay Dillenbeck chooses to sit behind an old wooden desk at the back of the retail floor where customers can seek her out.
One day, a woman walked up to her desk and asked, “Are any of those Lights still around?”
“I’m F.M. Light’s great-great-granddaughter,” Lindsay answered proudly.
The fifth generation is well-prepared to carry on the tradition.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com