Like father, like son: How generational differences can enhance the business

Home Inside FCNews Like father, like son: How generational differences can enhance the business

January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16

By Ken Ryan

Old school, new school. The flooring retail trade is filled with multi-generational family businesses, many of them father-and-son combinations. Given the generational differences, there are bound to be disagreements. But more often than not, these father-son combinations have worked to the betterment of the business, with both father and son learning some valuable lessons from the other. Following are a few examples.

Rob Elder and Joe Elder
Hiller’s Flooring America, Rochester, Minn.
What have you learned from your father?
Joe Elder: He taught me to work hard for what I want in life and never just expect things to come without work. I started with Hiller’s when I was 15 as seasonal help and have been full time now for 13 years. What benefited me the most was that my dad started me in the warehouse and made me work my way up to where I am today [IT coordinator/commercial billing]. I learned the business from the bottom up instead of just coming in at a high level without knowing anything. He now trusts me more every day to do things on my own for him and the business without his guidance. It means more than he knows that he is letting me do this stuff on my own.

How has your son enhanced the business?
Rob Elder: He has brought us into the digital era by switching everything to the push of a button. All of our pricing is digital, and all the salespeople have an iPad, with dropbox pricing at their disposal. Implementing price increases that would have taken me hours now take seconds. Joe has the store active on Facebook, Twitter, Houzz, Google and probably many platforms I’m not aware of. We use RFMS and Joe understands it inside and out. As with many in my generation, it is difficult to learn new things or trust someone to make new, necessary changes. We have been fortunate to be able to work together for a number of years and I learn from him as much as he learns from me.

Andrew Wiebe and Rick Wiebe
Carpet Colour Centre, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
What has your father taught you?
Andrew Wiebe: Having worked with my father for almost 15 years, these are the truths he has taught me:

Learn to identify areas of weakness in yourself and make sure to hire people who are skilled in these areas. Surround yourself with people who are better than you are and motivate them toward ever increasing performance.

You’ll never have perfect information. At some point, you have to make a decision under uncertain circumstances and hope for the best. Choosing not to act to wait for more data is a decision in and of itself, and not always a good one.

Nothing is cast in stone. The world changes, and the business must adapt or risk extinction. Constant re-evaluation of the market, the competition, the customer and the company’s strategy is crucial to remaining at the top.

Good leadership is best practiced outside of your office. My dad spends the first few minutes of every day walking around the offices, speaking with every employee. Reviewing financial statements, responding to emails and returning phone calls are important, but not nearly as much as inspiring and listening to your staff.

Having a plan is good, but know when to correct course. Don’t be afraid to admit a plan is not working and a new direction is required. Don’t get so stuck in your budget or business plan that you miss opportunities.

Humility is the greatest attribute of a good leader. Never be afraid of the dirty jobs. Pick up the trash in the parking lot. Help the installers load their vehicles in the morning. Make the office coffee. Take the furthest parking spot. These are ways my dad inspires devotion and dedication in the staff.

How has your son enhanced the business?
Rick Wiebe: Andrew has improved the business by implementing a different management style where he involves the staff in most decisions. He sets up committees with the staff where they are given a problem or task and asked to come up with a solution. This has allowed more buy-in and participation from everyone in all areas of our business, plus it becomes a lot more fun to work with each other instead of having one person make all the decisions.

Also he has stepped up the level of reporting and analyzing substantially as he is more competent with RFMS and other programs that are out there; this has allowed us to be more proactive in our decisions. My management style is very different from his. I am more responsive, faster with decisions whereas Andrew is more thoughtful, likes to take some time to examine things from all angles and investigates to a deeper level. This mixture has added a new and better dimension to our business. We have become much better at running the business together because our qualities offset.

Andrew really wants to grow the business, either through opening new locations or buying existing ones. He just graduated from Cornell University with his MBA and has a broad educational base to draw from. We are looking forward to the next 10 years to see where our business will go.

Lee Courson and Drew Courson
Carol’s Carpet, Montgomery, Ala.
What have you learned from your dad?
Drew Courson: The first thing I learned from him is if you can’t sell, then nothing else matters. No. 2 was to find and keep good employees and treat them like you would family. Our employees are crucial to the health of the business—it is what separates us from everybody else. He taught me communication is the key to execution. Find a way to say the same thing two or four different ways because it might not click the same way in each person. Find a way to put it differently so everyone can grasp what we are trying to convey. But if I had to rank one takeaway from my dad it is that your reputation is your most valuable possession.

How has your son enhanced the business?
Lee Courson: He has enhanced profitability by taking over margin management and being more aggressive in how we price our goods on the showroom floor. He likes to push things to the limit like technology. He’s taken over our web design and all the information that gets on there. He handles all our social media platforms, and there are 10 or 11 of them. That’s great because I am 60 and not technically sound; he is very technically sound.

Adam Joss and Steve Joss
The Vertical Connection, Columbia, Md.
What has your father taught you?
Adam Joss: The lessons are endless…Make every customer your friend. Make them your partner through decision making. Take care of people. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Beyond the sayings and mantras there’s an attitude and a way of doing business that isn’t easy to put into words. Family businesses are difficult; all businesses are difficult. We’ve had our fair share of disagreements; our generational differences create differing viewpoints on many issues. I see differing viewpoints as a positive and a benefit to our business.

How has your son enhanced the business?
Steve Joss: The first thing that has happened with my son is bringing our business into the 21st century. He has totally automated our systems through computerization. A large portion of our marketing dollars is spent on digital. He has managed all the reviews, optimization and totally revamped our website. Adam has brought a lot of structure to our organization with respect to employees. I personally liked doing as much as I could do myself, but he has grown the business much more through additional employees and his hard work. All in all, the difference of two generations is much more of a benefit but requires many adjustments. With the help of my son, it has enabled me to work less and involve myself with more community activities.

Gary Brown and Tyler Brown
Carpet One Floor & Home, Springdale, Ark.
What has your father taught you?
Tyler Brown: The most important thing is the way he treats others. Everyone looks up to him as more than just as a boss. He really cares for his employees and that is a huge thing. We do company events several times a year to get people together outside of work. We wouldn’t be able to grow the way we have without the people we have. We are about to open our fifth location. Our business will be around 30 years this March. That expectation for success is something I have to live up to.

How has your son enhanced the business?
Gary Brown: Tyler helps streamline operations and ensures inventory control, handles all the advertising, helps train the reps, handles all social media. He is very tech savvy and I am a world away from that. He can take this business to a whole lot higher level than I ever could. My son started in the warehouse here. The reason is I expect more from my family than I do my workers. [My kids] have to earn respect. We leave the titles at the front door because we are all here together working for the same goal. Tyler has different ways to get there but our goals are the same—take care of our co-workers and our customers.

Palmer Johnson and Paul Johnson
Carpet One Tulsa, Tulsa, Okla.
What has your father taught you?
Palmer Johnson: One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from my father relates to making critical business decisions. When I have a difficult decision to make he has taught me to consider my duty to the business above all other considerations. This doesn’t always result in making the easiest decision, but I think it results in the best decision. As business owners, we must do what is best for our companies, not what is always best for ourselves, or those around us, at one moment in time. These guiding principles are important if you have a long-term vision and plan for your business.

How has your son enhanced the business?
Paul Johnson: Palmer has brought a new level of professionalism to our buying and merchandising. I probably bought more by gut instinct than by using metrics. Now before we introduce a new stocking item or display we evaluate how the product fits in with our current lineup. If it is going to be a stocking product we decide how we are going to display the product and in many instances we make our own samples. Then he creates a pricing strategy for the product—the normal day-to-day price and the sale price. Depending upon the product he will set up a product knowledge meeting for our sales professionals and store managers. With some of the new products we have installation training before the product launch. It is really a more professional and thorough approach. As an attorney by training, Palmer tends to be more thoughtful before making a decision. This has really helped in the office as it has created a culture of thinking through an issue before simply reacting to an issue.

Lonnie Presson and Mark/Luke Presson
Lonnie’s CarpetMax, Rockford, Ill.
What has your father taught you?
Mark Presson: My dad taught me to work hard because no one deserves a handout; to be honest and never cheat someone out of a dollar; to care about what you are doing because it will show in your work; that no job is less or more important to a company because without each other only half the job gets done; but most of all he taught me how to be a good dad to my daughter. I think that because of the person he is and because he cares about what he is doing and about the people who work with us, we have been very successful and have become a household name in our community.

How have your sons enhanced the business?
Lonnie Presson: Working with family, especially my sons Mark and Luke, has driven me to keep going, keep moving forward, keep striving for bigger and better. Knowing they will be there to carry on the legacy of Lonnie’s and our reputation in the community has really instilled in me the desire to create the best legacy I can for them. Having my sons working alongside me also helps foster the growth of our company on the technological front. Their knowledge of the new technology entering this industry is a benefit to an old school guy like myself who perhaps struggles a little with it all. They understand we have to move forward with technology and not work against it.

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