Wishes don’t Work: The story of 3 family owned businesses.
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1 August 2016 - 22:18, by , in Uncategorized, No comments

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I met three family-owned businesses during my 2016 Summer vacation. I fear only one will survive. 

Cook’s Mens Store has operated 51 years on the town square in Memphis, Missouri. But according to John Cook, the 83 year-old founder, 2016 may be its last. Why? Because wishes alone don’t work. John told me that he wished his daughter would someday run the store. But that’s unlikely. She’s in her 60’s and has a good job at a university were she’s worked for decades.

Gardner-Collier Jewelry is a fifth generation family-owned store on the town square in Kirksville, Missouri. Mr. Gardner told me that he wished one of his children or grandchildren would have interest in becoming the 6th generation to run the store. None are interested. This year may be Gardner-Collier’s last. Why? Two reasons. First, the store and its inventory looks like it did when my grandmother shopped there in the 1960’s. Second, wishes alone don’t work. The Gardner family has no written strategic plan to grow the business and has no succession plan.

The future will not just happen if one wishes hard enough.  It requires decision—now. It imposes risk—now. It requires action—now. It demands allocation of resources, and above all, human resources—now.

This statement by Peter Drucker is especially relevant and important for leaders of family-owned businesses, like Mr. Cook and Mr. Gardner. Wishing the next generation will take over the business is not enough to make it happen. It requires performing specific activities.

Survive & Thrive

Now to the 1 of 3 family businesses that is thriving and will survive. It’s a 4th generation family business. Through a series of questions I asked Chuck & Debbie Kigar, I learned there are 3 primary reasons the Kigar family business is succeeding:

  1. Diversification. The family business started in the 1920’s as a family farm. As a strategy, the 3rd generation, Chuck and Debbie, added installation of video security systems and a Bed & Breakfast to the family business mix. Many of the camera systems have been installed on local farms.
  2. Experimentation. The family purposely experiments with new technologies in the old farming operation. This year they’re trying a new method of baling hay in white plastic wrap. “Baleage” has reduced harvest from 4 days to 1 plus provide animals a higher protein content feed during the Winter.
  3. Invitation. Chuck & Debbie purposely invited, not forced, the 4th generation to work in the business. Their son attended his freshman year of college on a sport’s scholarship. He opted out of his sophomore year to return to the family business, including the B&B. He WANTS to work hands-on in the business.

Conclusion

I did not go on vacation with the intent of interviewing family business owners. But because I am a family business advisor, I am by nature inquisitive. I returned home both discouraged by two and encouraged by one. I hope both perspectives encourage you chart a path for success.

If you need help with a strategic or succession plan Contact me.

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Tom Pryor
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