Have you ever considered going into business with a sibling, parent or child? Does the thought fill you with anticipation or send an icy chill down your spine?
For some, family relations, a shared history, and old resentments and wounds might bubble to the surface when a combined business endeavor gets thorny.
Then there are the exceptions, like the family-owned Will Jewelers, and the sisters who own the Cookie Cottage. Both family-owned businesses have managed to succeed and thrive and, most importantly, to do so without ruining family relationships.
Owning your own company can also create additional stress among couples whose entire livelihood depends on the success of their business. Many put in long hours at work, leaving little time for meaningful interactions with each other and their children.
The University of Saint Francis has a Family Business Initiative that meets two to three times a year. It is an initiative of the University of Saint Francis/Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership for family or closely held businesses. The vision of the Family Business Initiative is to be a resource to support and grow family businesses throughout northeast Indiana. The goals of the initiative are to provide value through resources, including information, training and professional advice to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of a family business.
Shep and Wendy Moyle will be the featured speakers at the next meeting 8-9:30 a.m. Dec. 5 at the USF Business Center in the Historic Woman’s Club, 402 W. Wayne St. Registration for the free event is available through Eventbrite at https://fbi12052019.eventbrite.com.
Will Jewelers, two generations
Will Jewelers, which started in 1959, is an example of a successful family-owned business. Donald Will started the business, and eventually all 10 of his children owned a part of it and had part ownership in it.
At one time Will Jewelers had two stores in Fort Wayne and one in Colorado. “When Dad got to retirement age we were pretty much running the business,” said Doug Will, one of the sons. Although they had different roles in the business, the siblings were all involved in major decisions.
So was there family bickering? Control struggles? Fights? “I don’t think any more so than any other business,” Will said. “We all get along pretty well.”
“Oh, there’s been disagreements,” said Will, who is second from the youngest. “We talk it out or just drop it, one of the two.”
Three of the 10 have retired, and another is retiring at the end of the year. Right now they’re in the process of closing their store at 10146 Maysville Road and consolidating into the main store off Illinois Road at 7814 Carnegie Blvd.
Will Jewelers won’t be passed down to a third generation. Their father made it clear he didn’t want that to happen. It would be too difficult because of the size of the family. There are now 30 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.
Most of the siblings wanted their children to do something different anyway, Doug Will said.
At some point, the remaining siblings in the business may all decide to retire at once. In that case, they would sell their inventory and look for a buyer for their southwest location.
Sisterly bond at Cookie Cottage
This year sisters Maureen Madden and Theresa Kacmarik celebrate 30 years of their business, the Cookie Cottage.
The two are 13 years apart but have always been like two peas in a pod. Before their cookie business started they worked at Don Hall’s Factory together, and then they both cleaned houses together.
Despite the age difference they look like they could be twins, and they even dress alike at work. And they share the same birthday.
They started out with truly humble beginnings. Each got a $2,500 loan, and their first location was a tiny house on Crescent Avenue that was only big enough for two people to fit in at a time.
“We didn’t take pay for four years,” Kacmarik said. Those first years were tough, with the sisters working 18-hour days. “My kids were raised at the shop,” Madden said.
When one would get down and be ready to give up the other would provide the needed pep talk that kept them in business. “Luckily we had each other,” Madden said.
Their worst memory was of Valentine’s Day their third year in business. By then they had moved to a bigger shop on West State Boulevard. Their reputation for baking scrumptious cookies had spread by word of mouth. To keep up with demand, the women were up for three days straight.
Over the years they have gotten testy with each other from time to time, but never has their bond been broken.
“If (the business) ever came between us we’d close the doors,” Madden said.
The business has grown to the point that the sisters were able to purchase their own building on Washington Center Road. They have 38 full- and part-time employees, including Christmas help.
Madden has five children who work there full time. Kacmarik has one child who works there full time and one who is there part time.
They don’t have any plans for retirement yet, but they expect that the children involved in the business will eventually take it over.