Thursday, November 18, 2010

Family Businesses. . . Becoming Antiques?

I own a family business called Country Roads Antiques and Gardens. And the one thing I love about advertising in the Plaza Review is that most of its advertisers are like me, owners of their own businesses, family businesses so to speak. As time passes, and we see more and more of the “big box” stores and businesses moving into our neighborhoods, the family business is slowly becoming a thing of the past, like the antiques I sell and love. I’ve watched some of my favorite little book stores disappear to the Borders and Barnes and Nobles. And I can’t tell you how sad it was to see Dietrich’s be sold to Starbucks in Old Towne Orange. Especially when there already was a Starbucks across the “circle” on the other side of the street! The big corporations, at times, make it tough to compete. Let me tell you why those of us that have family businesses do what we do.

It is a unique opportunity to work with family. You will notice I used the word “unique” to describe this experience because working with your family is like a ride on a roller coaster. You scream, you get scared, you laugh and at the end you leave with a good feeling of accomplishment that you survived! It isn’t always easy. When I first starting building out Country Roads in November of 1992, Brande was 12, Katie was 10, and Bryce was 8. I had a customer a few weeks back that was looking at pictures of Katie’s baby, Riley, and commenting on how she remembered when Katie’s brother was chasing her through the store with a lizard years ago! These are memories that you don’t get from the big box businesses. I love Country Roads and would pretty much do anything to keep it going. In one way or another, I work my business seven days a week. It is my life, it is my family, and it is my passion.

When you do something you love, it isn’t work. That store has carried me through some of the toughest times in my life, like a best friend would. I remember back in the late 90’s when I was going through my divorce. It was Country Roads, and my passion for it and my work that helped me through it even when I had to hand over a big chunk of change to keep it. I remember when the second Country Roads store I opened in Long Beach went upside down after 9/11. It was the original Country Roads that was there for me again. The times that my son has struggled, or my parents died, or other hardships, I have always had Country Roads to turn to. It is the constant in my life, my passion and my work that kept me going!

As you know, my kids have grown up at Country Roads. At one time or another, they also have all been fired. It’s just the way it works in a family business. I will never forget one Saturday when Katie was around sixteen. She decided she would drive us to work. And looking back, I don’t even remember what she did or said, but it was enough to fire her. I was so angry and to say the words, “you’re fired” felt good for at least a couple of minutes. Katie came to a screeching halt in the store driveway barely giving me time to get out of the car. At that moment I was proud, I thought to myself, “fine, now she has no job”. And as she sped back down the street leaving me standing in the driveway I started to thinking, “yep I really let her know who’s the boss”. And then I starting thinking to myself, “look who is driving home and look who is standing alone in the driveway with no car to get home, and now will have to work harder because she just fired her own kid”. And don’t think because my kids are older now that they still don’t have their moments. A few years back when Brande was building out Johnnye Merle Gardens, named after her grandma, she had Bryce help her. It was quite the day. Brande and Bryce had an argument in the garden and he came up to the counter, not in the best mood, to get something. The next thing I knew he and Katie were arguing. And of course this is in the middle of the day with customers everywhere. Bryce stomped off to go back in the garden and I should have just let it go. But no, I went after him and I started yelling at him outside. But, an hour later we were all fine. I just remember thinking at the time that I really hoped our customers KNEW we were family, not random strangers arguing in the middle of the garden! That’s what a family business is, very full of life!

I’ve been blessed to work with the same group of people for years, my extended family. Sue Kruse has been a part of our family since the day the store opened. And her daughters Sarah and Holly are such a big part of my family. Watching Sarah and Holly grow-up has been a pleasure. They don’t yell like the Jackson’s do! Carol Castillo started working with us over ten years ago, and her sister, Yesi, started working when she was around thirteen. Pam Richardson started coming into Country Roads when she was five while her mom worked at the store, and now Pam too is a part of our Country Roads family! And Carol, Yesi, and Pam don’t yell either! These are the things, the memories, my family, that give me the passion for this business. They encourage me, they support me and they too love Country Roads like I do. That’s one of the pluses in owning a family retail business. Your staff and many of your customers are always there for you. They celebrate all the new babies we have (Riley, Arianna, and Josalyn) and know all to well that they will be the next generation at Country Roads!

I never in my wildest dreams thought I could fall so much in love with something. But I did. Country Roads is so much more than just a store. And I know that all of you that own your own family businesses must feel the same way I do. Or at least I hope you do. Even when you are having a customer flip out, or cringe when you have to deal with the City, or some other disaster has happened during the day, you still go home at night and are glad you have tomorrow to look forward to working with the family you’ve been working with for years! I hope we can all remember to continue to shop family owned businesses when we can. This is the only way we can all compete with the big box stores. My family appreciates all your support over the years and hey, at least Bryce isn’t chasing his sisters or Carol through the store anymore with lizards or spiders. I think he is waiting for Riley to start walking! Life is good.

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