April 3, 2013

Want a business that lasts? Start one with family

Some family businesses are more resilient during downturns because of a focus on the long term as well as a commitment to their customers and employees.

The Associated Press

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In this Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, photo, Mike Rainville poses with his family members at the Maple Landmark Woodcraft factory in Middlebury, Vt. Rainville works with multiple generations of his family at the factory. Experts say family businesses are more resilient when times are tough because of relative’s commitment, passion and knowledge of the business. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

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In this Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, photo, a worker assembles wooden toys at the Maple Landmark Woodcraft factory in Middlebury, Vt. Experts say family businesses are more resilient when times are tough because of relative’s commitment, passion and knowledge of the business. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

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"We're pretty frugal Yankees but you find ways to be sure that you're not spending more than you need to. You just shop for things harder, you watch your expenses more," he said.

Working with family is ingrained in Rainville. The family helped out with his grandparents' dairy farm and, as a teenager, he pumped gas after school and on weekends at his parents' general store.

"And so it was kind of a natural, this is now the focus of the family," he said. "The cows are gone, the store is long sold and this is where we all gather now."

But Alex Sokol Blosser, never dreamed he'd end up working for the family's vineyard, started by his parents who planted the first vineyard on the land about 30 miles southwest of Portland, Oregon, in 1971. Now the 87-acre estate in the Dundee Hills produces Pinot Noirs ranging from about $40 to $80, as well as an $15 Evolution Red, and a line of white wines.

He saw how hard his parents worked. But after college, he missed the farm and realized, "Hey, that's not so bad. That's good living."

He worked in neighboring vineyards and with a Portland wine wholesaler before joining the family business full time in 1998 while earning an MBA degree. His younger sister also earned an MBA and went on to work in public relations before returning to the family business in 2004 as director of marketing.

Today, Alex oversees production as winemaker and grape grower. Alison handles sales and marketing.

But the familiarity of family can also have drawbacks. Any drama or tension among siblings or parents needs to be checked at the door, which is something they learned from a business coach and from family business counseling from the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University.

"Without our business coach and family business counseling we couldn't have made the transition" from one generation to the next, he said.

Like the Sokol Blossers, brothers Charles and Arthur Anton also grew up in the family business, Anton Cleaners, based in Tewksbury, Mass. Their grandfather started the business nearly 100 years ago.

When the economy soured, people were dry-cleaning their clothes less often, he said. But like the Rainvilles and Sokol Blossers they didn't resort to laying off employees. They cut back hours.

They strategize constantly about where they want to be and their five-year plan, said Arthur Anton, Jr., chief operating officer.

"I think a lot of people in our business don't look at that, he said. "They're just day-to-day operators who don't look to the big picture or the future."

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

In this Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, photo,Hattie Brown, the grandmother of Mike Rainville, works at the Maple Landmark Woodcraft factory in Middlebury, Vt. Rainville works with multiple generations of his family at the factory. Experts say family businesses are more resilient when times are tough because of relative’s commitment, passion and knowledge of the business. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

  


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