Some of the world’s most successful companies were started around the family dinner table.
Forming a business partnership with a parent, sibling or spouse, or a combination of the three has its advantages. (Just ask the families of deeply rooted name brands like Wal-Mart, Mars chocolate and Ford Motor.) Dedication to common goals, a built-in support system and desire to protect the family’s good name and reputation ensures teamwork and maximum efficiency.
But there are also drawbacks. Personal misunderstandings can seep into the workplace and if the management structure isn’t well-defined, decision-making may become an issue.
Different Skill Sets
That’s not a problem at Foreman’s General Store where owners Greg and Susanne Foreman work alongside son, Scott, and daughter, Traci. Opened in 1976, the oldest established business in Colleyville offers an eclectic mix of products from pet supplies and lawn fertilizers to home brewery ingredients and spice rubs for grilling.
The owner depends on the younger generation’s savvy computer skills.
“If my son wants to do something, he’ll come and ask me,” says the 79-year-old father of the clan. “I rarely veto anything because he’s usually right. I couldn’t run this place without my son.”
The owner depends on the younger generation’s savvy computer skills to update the business’ website and offer promotional contests on Facebook.
“I don’t know about Twitter but Scott does,” Foreman says acknowledging his son’s social media experience. "He’s the one who comes up with the advertising we use.”
But working with family members on a daily basis can have a downside. Foreman, who employs 17 workers, admits family gatherings aren’t the novelty they are for some people.
“It’s hard to get together with family when you’re with family all the time,” he says before quickly adding, “but I enjoy my kids and seeing them every day.”
Having trained both offspring in the art of customer service, Foreman never doubts their dedication to making the business successful, “because someday it’s going to be theirs.”
Foreman’s General Store provides services not found at a mass merchant. Family pride fuels the extra effort. “When your name is on the business, you try harder,” the owner explains.
Reliving joyful times
Traditional values and a love for their mother’s Italian cooking inspired Ralph and John DeVivo to open DeVivo Bros. Eatery in Keller three years ago.
“Our mother, Rosemarie, didn’t use recipes. She did everything by memory or taste,” says John DeVivo, who remembers his childhood home as the hub of family gatherings and celebrations. “Being an Italian family, we spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her and developed a love for cooking and food.”
After honing their culinary skills at other restaurants, the brothers decided to work for themselves. Older brother, Sal, sometimes helps with catering. John’s wife, Lindsay, developed the bakery menu and Ralph’s spouse, Melissa, manages the wait staff.
The family shares a commitment to making the restaurant a success.
“And we’re both on the same page on how to do that,” John explains. “We’re sharing our childhood with our customers by creating or sparking memories for them with our food.”
DeVivo Bros. Eatery prides itself on using fresh ingredients for the homemade Italian menu items and other dishes like fish tacos and steak Diane.
“The beauty of a family business is that we’re all together,” says the restaurateur. “Sure, we disagree sometimes as siblings do but that’s one of the only disadvantages.”
Reliving the joyful times of cooking in Mama Rosemarie’s kitchen motivates them to work through the long hours and difficult times that come with ownership.
“If we can’t agree on something – that’s the worst that happens – we’re doing pretty well,” John adds confidently. “We love sharing a bit of ourselves with the community, friends and church.”
Chlorine in your veins
Upholding the family’s reputation is important to Josh and Jeremy Klapprodt, owners of Klapprodt Pools.
“Our name is on the truck, the building and everybody’s shirt,” Josh points out. “We’re proud of what our family established and continues to grow.”
After years of working in the industry, Klapprodt’s father, Fred, and older brother, Joel, started the Keller-based company in 1997. The younger Klapprodts became sole owners of the operation in 2012.
“What are the advantages of working with your brother? There aren’t any,” Josh wisecracks as his brother laughs in the background. “That’s the answer. Fun. We grew up together in a very tight family so working together is natural to us.”
Both brothers went to college and pursued other interests after graduation but eventually found their way back to designing and building pools.
“I was drawn back because of family,” confesses the Keller native. “Everybody jokes that once you get chlorine in your veins, you can never get out of the pool business.”
The business partners “talk shop” constantly – even at the dinner table. “Our wives tell us to pipe down every once in awhile. They get tired of hearing about pools,” Josh acknowledges sheepishly. “It doesn’t bother us. Our personal and professional lives kind of bleed into each other.”
Because it’s a family business, the brothers benefit from the loyalty of other relatives – especially their father. The company’s founder is a trusted advisor.
“Dad is still an invaluable asset to us and everybody in the company,” says the proud son, calling his father a respected visionary in the pool industry. “He’s an absolute wealth of knowledge and is still very passionate about it.”
From the ground up
Family-owned businesses offer solid, informal training to the next generation so it’s no surprise that Mike Masters taught daughter, Michaela, his flooring business from the ground up.
“He started the company installing floors,” says the 28-year-old businesswoman, who remembers answering phones at Masters Flooring in Keller when she was 12. “My father’s been a great mentor both in business and personally. He taught me everything I know.”
Although her father started the company when she was three, Michaela didn’t consider joining forces with her dad until after graduation from Baylor University. Discouraged during a post-college job search, she took a temporary job at the family business.
“And I just fell in love with it,” explains Michaela, who uses tips gleaned from her advertising and marketing courses to promote the store’s countertops, flooring products and workmanship. “We’ve had other family members working here but now it’s just the two of us. I do everything but install the floor!”
Because operating a small business can become all-consuming, the father/daughter team abides by some ground rules.
“We have to separate our work and personal life so there’s no talking about work at family dinners,” Michaela insists. "That’s important.”
Her first year as a full-time employee meant long hours and missing a family vacation to Georgia. “Somebody had to stay behind to run the store.”
But the long days and weeks spent making the business a success paid off. “The money’s good, sales are good and everyone gets along,” she says, adding there’s one advantage of working with dad that trumps the others. “I like my boss.”
“Familiarity breeds contempt” is a common expression but B.J. Standridge says knowing the people you’re working for and working with is one of the benefits of a family-owned business. The father of four is the sales manager at Richland Sewing Center – a Hurst store owned by his parents, Doug and Jeannie Plant. His wife, Bethney, is the office manager.
Growing up surrounded by fabric, spools of thread and sewing machines, Standridge remembers being the only senior boy in his mother’s home economics class at Northwest High School.
“I resisted and resisted but finally realized I liked the business. It beats knocking on doors for a living,” says the sewing machine pro who joined the company in 2013.
Standridge’s grandfather, Tom Plant, started the family venture after working for the Singer Sewing Company. His son, Doug, bought the business 40 years ago and moved it to several locations before settling in Hurst.
Third generation Standridge demonstrates the store’s wide variety of machine models to customers.
“Everybody here wants to make the business a success,” he says praising the family’s shared dedication and organized management structure. “I’m geared toward the machine side of it and training. Mom and my wife go to conventions to learn about new fabric designs, notions and accessories.”
Extended family members also have sewing centers so family celebrations involve a lot of industry talk.
“My grandfather opened stores for my uncle and aunt so when we get together that’s the conversation,” the manager adds. “It never goes away.”
With home sewing skills making a comeback thanks to the popularity of quilting, embroidery and TV programs like Project Runway, Standridge turns to his parents for advice about current trends and the business’ future. With 40 years of experience in the next room, he doesn’t “Google” for information.
“My parent are knowledge on-hand,” he explains. “I get to pick their brains.”