When Courtney Smith suggested to her father that their family’s grocery store carry locally produced goods beyond just the North Carolina-grown vegetables that it always has offered, Brink King Jr., was hesitant.
“That’s where the market is,” Smith told King, who owns King’s Red & White in Durham with his brother, Ronnie King.
The Kings let Smith test her theory with Counter Culture Coffee. It was a home run with customers, and the store followed up with local milk, eggs, bread, beer, ice cream, honey and other offerings. With each addition, Smith made an announcement on the store’s Facebook page.
In multigenerational family businesses, a healthy give-and-take between older and younger family members, and a recognition on the part of each generation of what the other brings to the table is important, local owners said.
Nüvonivo children’s clothing store in downtown Raleigh is the result of a collaborative, dynamic working relationship that Ray Malouf has with his parents, Abdallah and Joanne Malouf.
The store is the first retail endeavor for Abdallah Malouf, who owns a wholesale clothing distribution company that was founded by his father in Lebanon in 1966 and operates mostly in the Middle East and Africa.
Ray Malouf never intended to go into the family business, but when he couldn’t find work after graduating from college in 2009, he asked his father for an internship.
After about two years of traveling and working with his father, he decided to stick with it.
Abdallah Malouf didn’t want his son and his family to endure the same international travel schedule that he experienced, so he decided it was time to pursue his son’s idea for a retail store.
Nüvonivo opened as an online store in 2012 and expanded into a storefront last summer. Joanne Malouf manages the shop and writes online product descriptions.
Ray Malouf likes the challenge of running the shop. He’s still involved in the family’s wholesale operation, as well. Nüvonivo, which is funded by the wholesale company, also gives the family an opportunity to enter the U.S. market.
Abdallah Malouf said his son brings energy and renewal to the business and helps him be a better leader.
“The next generation keeps the previous one in check,” he said.
Trusting the children
Wayne Rivers, president of The Family Business Institute, said that the major challenges facing the older generations include a desire to micromanage, difficulty letting go, and learning new roles relative to the younger generation.
The parents’ identities are intertwined with the business, and they often lack confidence in their children’s ability to keep things going. Finances usually are the last thing they let go of and teach their children about, he said.
This problem is compounded when the younger generation won’t suggest changes or disagree with their parents about business matters, something that would help show they would be competent owners.
“They love and revere their parents so much that they won’t stand up to them,” Rivers said.
Children who are planning to eventually take over the family business benefit from taking a break from the company to attend college or work elsewhere, he said. The experiences give them confidence and credibility among employees. They’ll also bring back new skills and ideas.
Challenges for the younger generations include communicating, learning to make shared decisions and reinventing the company. In general, when a business doubles in size it needs to reinvent itself, Rivers said.
And a major common mistake among family businesses is not pausing to work out a clear long-term vision, he said.
“They don’t take the time to sit back and put their feet up and think about the future,” Rivers said.
Barbara Hansen, who founded MH Nursing Service in Raleigh in 1971, is gradually handing the reins to her daughter Lynn Barney, who has worked with her mother for about 20 years. The process has been going smoothly, and good communication and respect are two reasons for that, they said.
MH Nursing Service provides health care assistance, nursing aides and companions to seniors and the elderly. Hansen still does the scheduling and hiring, and her daughter Bobbie Williams keeps the books. Barney handles everything else, considering her mother’s advice along the way.
“She listens, because she knows I’ve been in it a long time,” Hansen said. “It may not be the advice she wants to hear, but she can make up her mind.”
Sometimes they have heated arguments, but they’re able to say what they think and move on, Barney said.
“I have to keep in mind that she started this business from scratch, and I need to give her the respect she deserves,” Barney said. “She knows a lot more than I do.”
Hansen has let Barney try new things, such as advertising and marketing methods, including social media and making changes to their website.
Passing down the business
Passing down a business requires forethought and objective thinking on the parents’ part.
Attorney Anthony Klish of the Raleigh law firm Klish and Eldreth said older generations usually are set on giving their businesses to their children rather than selling them, even if it isn’t practical or profitable.
The younger generation may not have the skills to operate the business profitably and easily could run it into the ground. Or, even if one child is committed and able, siblings could complicate the matter, Klish said.
If some of the siblings don’t want their share of the business in the form of a percentage of profits, family strife could ensue.
“There has to be a lot of soul searching to figure out if that may cause more harm than benefit,” Klish said.
Smith expects that she will one day become the owner of King’s Red & White.
She has more of a passion for the business than her brother, and is the most outgoing of the cousins.
She enjoys getting to know customers, something the King’s staff is known for.
Smith has been bagging bulk candies and stocking produce since childhood, and now she’s accruing business wisdom.
“You get the work ethic and you get knowledge” from the older generation, she said. “You can always learn something.”