Reflecting on being a part of a wonderful industry
There are many songs that are about small businesses. The group, Alabama, and Kenny Rogers had two great ones. 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 we all knew on a first-name basis, and then tells of today and the strip stores and other 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.
While the song tells the story of the demise of small 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.
For many of us, the answer lies in the legacy of the family business. For me, it started as a young child who remembers being in the store that was owned by my grandparents and passed on to my grandfather. When my father was discharged from the military, he went to work in the store and married the boss’ daughter, and thus the third generation of retailing started.
There were many customers whom you knew by name. I remember my grandfather walking through the store, waving an arm and saying "Hey neighbor," to every customer. Customers responded with a "Hello, Mr. Brown." In my hometown, I am still, "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 a new wardrobe. Perhaps a new pillow or other household need was also selected.
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 a smile and a sincere "Thank you." Dad explained this is what created Christmas for our family. It was a part of my legacy—the legacy of the family business. I choose to believe in the legacy of the family business.
I was the prodigal son who left the family business. Fortunately I cut my other career short. 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 and within an hour, the phone rang.
The man on the other end 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; I returned to the family business in and enjoyed many 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.
Our family worked together until my parents retired. I kept the business, but later decided to heed the comments made by friends and advisors—comments that said, "There are many people, in all types of small businesses, who could profit from your experiences and stories. Why don't you go and help them?"
I continue to help small businesses as they work to continue their legacies. The great thing is seeing the number of people who are starting or buying their own businesses. The independent business is alive, well, and growing.
Perhaps you have grown up in a family business. Just like the Christmas shopping taken for granted, the pleasure and satisfaction of having a family business that reflects your personality is something multi-generation business people too often take for granted. Through reading this story, I only hope you take a moment to pause, reflect and appreciate what you have experienced, and continue to experience.
Whether you are truly a one-person operation, or a business that has multiple locations with many employees, you are part of the legacy of the family business. As you continue to operate—and hopefully grow—your business, you will have an opportunity to fulfill the third part of the legacy. 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 of which you have been a part, the legacy comes full circle. 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 as long as people are believing, receiving and leaving a legacy of the family business. And, as Alan Jackson says in the last line of the song, "Long live the little man. God bless the little man."