Family Ties Keep casual retailers tight
By Laurie Rudd -- Casual Living, 3/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
Across the nation, the ever-present threat of big boxes, mega retailers or Web-based entities pose challenges to retailers large and small.
For nearly 93% of Casual Living’s Powerhouse 100 specialty retailers, those challenges are met not only with business acumen and attention to the bottom line but often with generations of experience, dedication to community and customers plus the common thread of family ownership on their side.
“The greatest benefit to working with family members is that it has strengthened family ties giving us a common goal,” said Howard Miller Jr., president of Hartville Hardware, Hartville, Ohio.
When the challenges for any company to grow and thrive today are daunting, many family-owned businesses in our industry are finding a secret to success. Could it be those family ties?
Sense of Ownership
There is a great deal to be said for a sense of ownership in creating a successful business. For many in the casual industry, that is all they have ever known.
“A child of the South, I spent my summers pulling chores,” said Keith Guidry, third generation owner of Lafayette, La.’s, Percy Guidry’s. “You don’t go to the pool. You go to work and that meant the store.”
Founded by Percy Guidry in 1945, Percy Guidry Companies has continued to grow under leadership of Percy’s son, Ray Guidry, and now the founder’s grandchildren as well. Today, Keith manages the retail operation, while his brother Gregg Guidry manages the manufacturing division and sister Suzanne Guidry Rudasill manages the office.
A similar scenario of early responsibility was expressed by Bonnie Richins, general manager of Anaheim Patio & Fireside, when relating her childhood memories of working for her parents, Kurt and Phyllis Lorig, who founded the company in 1956 in Anaheim, Calif.
“I remember at 12 dusting furniture in the old store in Anaheim,” Richins said.
Today, early memories like these often are being supplanted by experiences of a more high-tech nature as new generations of family members join businesses and bring with them up-to-date talents and skills. Such is the case with Richins’ son Gregg, a new college graduate and head of the customer service and Web site departments.
For Gail Williams of Sunshine Furniture in Vero Beach, Fla., her son George was an ever-present fixture for her customers during the early days of the company. Today, George is vice president of the company and a valued component of the success of the business.
“Customers have known George since he was in Little League,” Williams said. “Today, they are growing to trust him more and asking for Mom less.”
Within a family-owned business, gaining confidence from customers is as essential as building the confidence of the founding generation. This was the experience for Diane and John Bassemier, who opened Bassemier’s in 1968 in Evansville, Ind. Today, both of the Bassemiers’ sons work within the business; one as general manager and another as the service manager concentrating on the hearth and grill divisions of the business.
“I think one of the challenges for my husband and me is to realize our sons’ full potential and not limit them and their ideas,” Diane said.
In the case of Hartville Hardware, the entire operation was dependent on the second generation. Howard Miller Sr. purchased Hartville Hardware in 1972 and chose not to be involved in the company’s operation aside from influencing its business philosophy. His sons, Howard Miller Jr., president, and Wayne Miller, vice president, have operated and made a considerable mark.
“The second generation took a 5,000-square-foot store and grew it to a 100,000-square-foot store,” Howard said. “The third generation is more technology minded and is getting us more involved in Internet sales and social marketing.”
For Hartville Hardware, being a part of the family business has been a preferred path for many in the next generation. A long list of third generation members today work within the company in positions from CFO to division managers.
|Third generation of Guidrys gather with their father Ray. From left, Keith Guidry, Ray Guidry, Gregg Guidry and Suzanne Guidry Rudasill.|
Family-owned businesses rely upon and value the input of many non-family personnel, but the value of the family ties is an undisputed secret to success.
“I could never do what my brother or sister do within this company,” Keith Guidry said. “They have taken their God-given skills and have pursued different areas to benefit themselves and our company. Recognizing this is inspiring to me. I admire what they do.”
This gratitude and acknowledgement of contributions from family members is an oft-repeated theme.
At Sunshine Furniture, George Williams holds responsibilities throughout the store’s operation, and is seen by his mother also as providing a grounding force to her more risk-taking inclinations. “It is a good balance,” she said. “We complement each other.”
At Hartville Hardware, the Millers’ commitment to making family unity the highest priority is viewed as a secret to the business’ success.
Howard said, “opportunity for all involved to give input and to be well informed of company finances, allowing change as each generation brings new ideas to the business.”
Similarly, Diane Bassemier said her sons “realize it has taken a lot of hard work to get where we are today, but they also realize there are a lot of perks that come with owning your own business.”
Those perks of a family-owned business include the relationships built with their customers and the communities within which they work.
“My father was very active in our community and still is as well as active in the company,” Richins said. “Both my parents continue to be a part of our buying with my mother responsible for our accessories.”
Taking advantage of experiences and relationships built by the generations that have gone before or that are currently leading the way is yet another secret within many family shops. “We are here to serve customers much as my parents were in the ’50s,” Richins said. “Many customers come in and talk about how they shopped at the Anaheim store with my parents. That is a big benefit to us.”
Keith Guidry sees the family connections not only as a big asset in relation to bringing customers in; but also in what he gains from them. “It is a treat to hear a customer of my grandfather or father tell stories involving the products purchased from us. Many still have the products and continue to love doing business with the family,” he said.
The Bassemiers also see the family ties within their store as a benefit to their customers. “They can deal with real people and they trust us to take care of any needs they may have,” Diane said. “And, since our sons are involved in the business, they know we intend to continue to offer them a great service for years to come.”
With many years of experience, Williams has learned many secrets to running a successful family-owned business with customer service at the top. “If they have a problem, they know it will be taken care of,” she said. “We go the extra mile. Our customers know the family and know that using a specialty retailer is not necessarily more expensive.”
The Millers expressed the same sentiments. “Many of our customers feel that buying from a locally owned family business is a benefit to them and the community,” Howard said. “Unfortunately, most consumers only look at price and do not see the value of purchasing locally. They mistakenly assume independent retailers can’t compete.”
Ties that bind
Although operating any family-owned business has challenges, most of those involved are in it for the long haul. Whether their path into the business was the answer to the American Dream or just happened, many wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I fell into this, my father fell into it,” Keith Guidry said. “But, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It is God’s will for me.” Like more than 90% of casual retail owners, he sees family ties creating a platform for success.
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