Small business success - it's a family thing
So many FedEx Small Business Grant Winners and Entrepreneur Advisory Board (EAB) members come from entrepreneurial families that we couldn’t help but wonder if the unique resilience, determination, and spirit that drives a person to open a business is part of their DNA. Whether that drive can be traced back to their gene pool, a creative-minded environment, a stalwart work ethic, or a combination of all these factors, it’s clear that having a parent who runs their own small business makes a lasting impression on a child.
Not surprisingly, we learned from talking with several of our FedEx Small Business Grant Winners and EAB members that their experiences as a child of an entrepreneur influenced their own decision to open a small business as an adult. They each shared special, detailed memories of the values and traits they observed and learned at a young age, including the importance of commitment, hard work, and critical decision-making abilities — resulting in the confidence and grit to follow their own passions. Though their backgrounds cover the entire spectrum, a common thread among this group of business owners is the pride they feel over growing up in a family business. Read on for some of the ways that the owners of SWISCO, Buckle Me Baby Coats, Booze Dogs, and Weighting Comforts believe that their families set them up for success.
Paul Pallas, a member of the EAB, is a great example of having grown up in a family that has owned a small business for three generations. Hear Paul reminisce about the store and how its history shapes its future.
Buckle Me Baby Coats
Small business owner Dahlia Rizk credits her success to work ethics modeled for her as a child, resulting in the instincts about hard work and tenacity that she has today.
A conversation with Joe McGowen, owner of Booze Dogs, includes learning about his beloved great-grandfather, Frank Hofbauer, a Hungarian immigrant who was an entrepreneur and a role model for Joe.
Donna Durham, owner of Weighting Comforts, has been surrounded by entrepreneurs throughout her life, before becoming one herself to provide Christmas presents for her family in 2014.
Redefining the future of a legacy company
Paul Pallas, a member of the EAB, is a great example of having grown up in a family that has owned a small business for three generations. Paul’s grandfather, father, and uncle owned a mom-and-pop hardware store, SWISCO, in Camden, New Jersey. There is joy in his voice as Paul reminisces about the store and describes Camden as a charming small town that brings Norman Rockwell paintings to mind. In the 1970s, the longstanding store was the answer for area homeowners who were seeking advice and hardware for home repairs. Paul started working in the beloved hardware store around the age of 12 and has fond memories of being in the store, working with the hardware, and helping dedicated local customers.
Today, Paul is an example of a savvy business owner who saw that change was necessary in order to take a long-standing family business and help it evolve with today’s technologies. When Paul realized that the store could not survive on bricks and mortar alone, he led the change that resulted in far more than just survival–SWISCO is now a booming e-commerce business that experienced explosive growth. In fact, the business that developed from the original mom-and-pop hardware store grew 80% over 5 years, and Fortune magazine included it in its 2015 list of the 100 Fastest-Growing Inner City Companies.
Selling online can accelerate growth but as many e-commerce entrepreneurs know, it takes more than simply putting your products online and waiting for the orders to come in. Paul explained that the success is based on the most important feature of their website, which is also the foundation of the original family business and the secret to its legacy: SWISCO’s dedicated attention to customer service. The online company still sells hardware and helps novices handle home repairs. And it replicates their in-person customer relations with the digital-age equivalent, including an impressive family blog complete with direct communication with their customers, detailed instructions, and supportive video tutorials. Another benefit of going online is the unlimited reach, so SWISCO is no longer a small-town business. Paul explained that, thanks to “FedEx making shipping internationally a breeze, there is no reason to avoid international markets.”
“Focusing on necessary changes can be critical to a company’s success”
Paul knows first-hand the benefits of a childhood spent surrounded by extended family, and also understands the challenges involved with positioning their business for new generations. His advice to other entrepreneurs: “Change is extremely hard, particularly with a family business, but focusing on necessary changes can be critical to a company’s success.”
Buckle Me Baby Coats
Small business owner Dahlia Rizk credits her success to work ethics modeled for her as a child, resulting in the instincts about hard work and tenacity that she has today. “Both of my parents emigrated from Egypt with nothing. Once they settled here, my dad had multiple side businesses — on top of his day job as a medical engineer working in product development — and was a proponent of do-it-yourself work at home. I feel like I was exposed at a young age to the entrepreneurial spirit,” Dahlia explained as she described mountains of papers she saw nightly where her father did serious work in a makeshift office, otherwise known as the kitchen table.
Sheer determination in the name of safety
Propelled by these entrepreneurial values, Dahlia pushed forward with her vision for a coat specifically designed to be kept on children while they're being buckled into a car seat in cold weather — a solution to a common struggle among parents of young kids. Sheer determination kept Dahlia from backing away from the challenges of developing and manufacturing a new product, driven by the reality that this innovative coat design is far more than a matter of style — it’s a safety issue. The coats were crash tested and Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) approved, representing the seriousness of the product. Much more than just a brand, Buckle Me Baby Coats is a business built upon Dahlia’s passion for doing the right thing for the safety of small children.
Though the business consumes most of Dahlia’s time these days, it’s not her only career. She is a licensed clinical mental health counselor, and her counseling clinic is still going strong. She explains that the team of seven clinicians were, like her, mothers who needed flexibility in the workplace in order to take care of their families.
Her young children, who were her inspiration for Buckle Me Baby Coats, are now older and help with the family business by setting up the trade show booth and handling photography, video, and even shipping. Even her youngest child helps. Dahlia proudly shared, “It’s a team effort!” It is evident that Dahlia learned about business from her resourceful father and now her children are following in her footsteps, possibly destined to become entrepreneurs themselves. “The kids used to be shy and hang back, but at a certain point at tradeshows, they even started talking to our customers.”
Is the business growing? Dahlia confirms that indeed it is. “Business has grown, in a year and a half, by 700 percent.” That rapid growth, though a sign of success, also plays a part in what Dahlia shares is her biggest obstacle as a small business owner. Her business is self-funded, which means that as she sells her inventory, she then makes more coats.
"You are the expert of your own business."
Dahlia offers this advice to those considering opening a small business: “Get in your mind what you want to do and how you see it happening. Keep going. Believe that you know your business best. You’ll hear a lot of advice, but nobody is a bigger expert about your business than you. It’s hard when you are starting out and have self-doubt, but never forget you are the expert of your business.”
A tribute to a role model
A conversation with Joe McGowen, owner of Booze Dogs, includes learning about his beloved great-grandfather, Frank Hofbauer, a Hungarian immigrant who was an entrepreneur and a role model for Joe. Inspired by just watching his great-grandfather’s gift as a positive “people” person, Joe shared, “He learned to speak more than 10 languages while cold and hungry as a runaway boy, wandering Pre-WWI Europe. He never met a stranger.” Having only a third-grade education, Joe’s great-grandfather was a prolific inventor, credited for around 80 patents. He built an industrial manufacturing company called Mohawk, in Ohio, with a campus in Ireland. He adventurously traveled the world, visiting 33 countries and all 50 states. Joe said, “As a child, I watched him make friends with everyone he met, and I was inspired by his gift with people and business, especially for someone without a formal education. He figured everything out on his own and was a problem solver. Booze Dogs is a legacy to him.”
Booze Dogs makes and distributes bratwurst infused with bourbon, rum, or gin, selling nationwide. Proud of the company’s growth, Joe shares how grateful he is to have won a grant from the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. During the contest period, an investor for Booze Dogs had to back out for personal reasons. The grant money that Joe won saved him in the nick of time and allowed him to then get through the seasonality of the product by building a support base for wholesale buyers through the next year.
The gift of relationship building
Sharing his great-grandfather’s gift of turning strangers into instant friends, Joe is expanding Booze Dogs by constantly developing new relationships that fuel growth. In addition to his social talents, Joe has a business and finance background that is helping him focus on the food industry. His approach to this is calculated and deliberate. How does he conquer the challenges that come with entrepreneurship? Joe believes that “no matter how big the mountains look, be confident and climb one step at a time.”
Joe knows where he wants to head within the industry and is wisely taking his time to get it right by learning the best way to make his dreams come true. With an eye on growth, he recently completed his strategic plans for 2019, which reflect specific milestones with conservative forecasting. Product expansion for 2019 includes the addition of hot dogs, burgers, and sliders. His advice for other small business owners: “Continually reinvest in income-producing opportunities, and leverage your assets to mitigate your liabilities in order to multiply your return on investments.”
A tradition of entrepreneurship
Donna Durham, owner of Weighting Comforts, has been surrounded by entrepreneurs throughout her life, before becoming one herself to provide Christmas presents for her family in 2014. One of Donna’s grandfathers owned his own tar truck in order to work independently; her father-in-law, a CPA, is also a small business owner; her husband is a freelance videographer; and her father was a role model for starting a business. “My dad owned his own business, Louis Williams and Company. They were manufacturers’ representatives, mostly of hardware and lawn mowers. I can remember my dad talking about making a choice to be in sales and own his own business so he could provide well for his family. And indeed he did. It was my dad’s dream to pay for each of his kids to go to college. His dream came true. May 8, 1993, I was his fourth and final child to graduate from college. He had put money in a 401(k) when I was in kindergarten to make it happen.”
As a constant reminder of her father’s strong influence on her future as a business founder, she shares, “I keep two pictures of my dad in my office. One, from college graduation day in a frame that says, ‘Thank you!’ And another picture of him smiling in his own office. They mean a great deal to me. ”Donna is continuing this trend of business ownership with her son, as together they build Weighting Comforts. What started as a favor that Donna did for her college advisor has grown and evolved into a successful venture and a family business. As soon as Donna Durham’s son, Josh, learned what his mother was doing (making weighted blankets to help people with anxiety and sleep issues), he realized that the potential for a business was huge. With awards under Josh's belt (Forbes 30 under 30 and 2018 Nashville’s Next Awards Young Entrepreneur of the Year) and his background in digital marketing, this mother/son team is a dynamic duo. In fact, Donna shared, “It’s a gift to work together.”
Another gift is their sewing staff, known as Sew for Hope, which is comprised of a team of refugees who have made Nashville their home. Through a faith-based organization that provides training, participants receive a certificate, sewing tools, and a new sewing machine so that they can be employed in a sewing-related field, an endeavor that allows Donna to be a positive influence on the next generation of these families as well as her own.
"Go for it."
Weighting Comforts has experienced steady growth as their team creates close to 100 blankets daily to meet the demands. The expanding product line includes a duvet for the their most popular product, COOLMAX® Weighted Blanket. Business has grown and in 2018, their revenue tripled. Donna and Josh work with a small company that will help them have consistent growth instead of the sudden bursts that can feel like riding a roller coaster. Donna shared her outlook for those interested in opening a small business: “You’re 100% going to fail if you never try it. You have the opportunity to go for it.”
The growing community of FedEx Small Business Grant Contest winners and EAB members is comprised of entrepreneurs who are energized, giving, and inspirational. As they each experience all of the ups and downs inherent in owning a small business, their mutual respect and understanding often leads to lifelong friendships. They openly share advice and wisdom with each other and with the FedEx small business audience, helping others benefit from their unique experiences. If you own a small business, consider entering the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest for your own chance at joining this special group of leaders.