With the economy still stuck in recovery mode, small businesses have been very hard pressed to survive, much less become profitable. As it happens, a small shop’s chances of doing both — especially in tough economic times — become greater if the enterprise is family-owned and operated.
Family businesses are more likely to be committed to a long run, and focus on long-term goals, and commitments to customers and employees. Family owners also tend to tighten belts and spend carefully, according to business professor Pramodita Sharma of the University of Vermont business school.
“What differentiates family from non-family enterprises is the significant influence of family in business and focus on the long term,” Sharma told the Associated Press. “They work not only for the current generation of the family, but also the future.”
Such is life for Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser, siblings who own the Sokol Blosser winery in Dayton, Ore. The Sokol Blosser “kids” assumed control of the business from their parents as the bottom was falling out of the economy in 2008. To keep the doors open, they had to pivot the business into a new direction while trying to maintain a cash flow, shifting their target market from high end restaurants — which took a hit as people stopped eating out during the recession — to retail.
The Sokol Blossers sacrificed short-term profitability to pour money into marketing and sales, and stayed the course because they view themselves as stewards of a family business their parents started in the 1970s. They told the AP that while they do have short-term goals, they also want to build a substantial business to pass along to their children.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Alex Sokol Blosser said to the AP. “When times got tough we realized, you know it’s OK if we take a hit to profitability because we know we’re going to come back.
“We’re looking to make it a better business.”
The Family Business Institute estimates that 90 percent of U.S. businesses are family-owned. Even giants like Ford Motor Co. and Wal-Mart started as family endeavors. Vermont-based wooden toy company Maple Landmark is not among the behemoths of the industry; instead it is more of a fighter and survivor in the battle against low-priced imports. Founder Michael Rainville started the business as an offspring of his childhood hobby making game boards from scrap wood.
“I don’t have grand expectations. I don’t have a Volvo payment before I pay my payroll. This is what we do. It’s my sandbox, I enjoy it, I don’t want to see it go away,” said Rainville, who employs his wife, his sister, his mother, his sons and his 93-year-old grandmother. The company, which makes jigsaw puzzles, wooden trains, blocks, checker and cribbage boards, was honored by the University of Vermont School of Business Administration for its long-standing success. Still, it has seen its share of rocky times. Between 2002-2007 Maple Landmark had shrunk by 15 percent. Rainville focused on efficiency as his last, best resort.
“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,” Rainville told AP.
In addition to battles against competition, family businesses can face their own internal problems. Family squabbles are naturally-occurring problems that must be nipped in the bud before the doors open, according to Alex Sokol Blosser. His family sought help in the form of business coaching and family business counseling at the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University. And he recommends the same for any families in business together.
“Without our business coach and family business counseling we couldn’t have made the [generational] transition,” he said.
Rathke, Lisa. “Building a Lasting Business – With Family“, 4-4-13.