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The Legacy of the Family Business

Reflecting on being a part of a wonderful industry

As a part of a small town family business, this writer has long enjoyed finding songs that he thought related to the trade. The group, Alabama, has a song that was released many years ago which was titled, "Down Home". Through the song, they talk about longing to go home where people still know your name. They talk about the local stores, and the folks who work in them. You get the feeling these singers all came from small Alabama towns, and that they had pleasant childhoods.

Kenny Rogers also has a couple of songs that talk about retailing. One is titled, "Twenty Years Ago", and in this song he mentions by name several of the local stores, and the folks who worked in them. His other song was titled, "Through the Years". And while it does not mention family businesses, this writer wonders who else could he be talking about as he sings the words, "Through the years, you never let me down. You've always been around."

In 1999, Alan Jackson released a song, "The Little Man". This song leaves no doubt it is for the family business. It talks about the local stores on the courthouse square, the gas station owner that we all know on a first name basis, and the strip stores and other forms of businesses that exist today. Being the fourth generation of our family to participate, I can tell you the emotions are greatly stirred inside me every time I listen to this song. The song does not paint a pretty picture of a family business; instead, it tells of the stores that come to town and put the 'little man' out of business.

I hope Alan Jackson will write and sing another song about the same topic. I hope it is the song telling the story of the family business and how there are still hundreds of thousands in existence. If a Cadillac or a Lincoln is the finest of American made cars, then surely these people are the Cadillacs and Lincolns of their respective trade. Just like the Cadillac or Lincoln having the legacy of being the best, the same is true for the family business. Why is this so?

For many of us, the answer lies in the legacy of the family business. For this writer, it started as a young child who remembers being in the store that was owned by his grandparents. It was at the same location as was the business owned by his great-grandfather. When my father was discharged from the military, he went to work in grandfather's store. And thus the third generation of retailing started. Eventually, my father and mother bought their own store in a small town about an hour away.

What happened in my grandfather's store also began to happen in my father's store. There were many customers who you knew by name. I remember my grandfather walking through his store, waving an arm and saying "Hey neighbor", to every customer. And there were many customers, who upon seeing my grandfather from across the store, would go rushing to him with a, " Hello, Mr. Brown".

To this day, I can still go back to that town and can be remembered as, "You're Buster Brown's grandson". With my father, one of my fondest memories was his explaining to me about the family that was shopping in our store one December afternoon. All of the children were fitted with new shoes, shirts, winter coats, pants, socks and underwear. Perhaps, a new pillow or other household need was selected. As this was a larger than average family, the bill was sizeable by 1960's terms.

The father of the family, a farmer, signed the ticket. This was a transaction that was repeated every year between this man and my father. My father explained that by next Christmas, the man would have paid the bill in full. My father went on to explain that this was Christmas shopping for this family, and the things I took for granted were special to this family.

My Dad would make a point to shake this man's hand, not lightly, but with smile and a sincere, "Thank you". Dad explained this is what created Christmas for our family. It was the beginning of the legacy. The legacy of the family business, and although I did spend a lot of years away from it, I remembered with great fondness all of my experiences with family stores. I choose to believe in the legacy of the family business.

I went to college; decided I wanted to be a social worker. I was the prodigal son who left the family business. It was a short experience with social work. And soon, as I was looking to make a career change, a family friend said he knew someone who was looking for an employee with my qualifications. He said he would have the business owner call me that same day. And within an hour, the phone rang.

The man on the other end said he was looking for someone, and asked if I would like to come talk to him about a job. My answer was, "Yes I would. Thanks for the invitation, …Dad." The prodigal son was returning, although my parents had since bought a business of a different type in a different state. I returned to the family business in 1973, and enjoyed my early adult years working with my family. It was something about the legacy of a family business, for now I choose to receive the legacy of the family business.

Since that time, the father, mother, and son combination worked together until 1992, when my parents retired. I kept the business for another five years, at which point I decided to listen to the comments made by friends and advisors. Comments which said, "There are many people, in all types of businesses, who could profit from your experiences, enjoy reading your stories, and participating in your seminars as they work to improve their business. Why don't you go and help them?"

Today, this writer is busy working with the independent in the United States and Canada as they work to continue their legacies. Some of my work is through multi-generation businesses, and some is with corporate job holders who have longed to have the experience of owning and managing their own business. The great thing is seeing the number of people who are starting or buying their own business. The independent business is alive, well, and growing.

Perhaps you are one of those who has grown up in a family business. Just like the Christmas shopping taken for granted, the pleasure and satisfaction of having a family business which reflects your personality is something multi-generation business people, too often take for granted. With this story, the writer only hopes you take a moment to pause, reflect and appreciate what you have experienced, and continue to experience.

Whether you are truly a one-person shop, or a business that has multiple locations with many employees, you are a part of the legacy of the family business. As you continue to operate your business, and hopefully grow your business, you are going to have an opportunity to fulfill the third part of the legacy. And, that is to leave someone the legacy of the family business.

Whether it is the next generation of your family, or someone else who now wants to be in the business you have been a part of, the legacy has come full circle. Of all the experiences you have had from childhood; things that no longer exist or are available, this is surely the legacy that should continue. There may not be a second song that tells the story of the positives of the family business. But we know it does exist today and will continue to as long as people are believing, receiving and leaving a legacy of the family business. And, as Alan Jackson says with the last line of the song, "Long live the little man. God bless the little man."

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
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