There is an old adage about not mixing business and family, the theory being that one cannot survive the failure of the other. If the business goes belly up, family relations can become strained; if family relations become strained, the business is less likely to succeed.
On the other hand, if the family members are able to successfully separate business roles from their personal lives, the family business not only survives, it thrives. The following families have been able to make the distinction and have created businesses that have stood the test of time. Their recipes for success? Several large servings of honesty and trust, combined with a healthy dose of mutual respect, mixed with a good sense of humor and sprinkled liberally with love.
Owner, Homewerks and Oreck Stores
When it comes to running a family business, Denise Sanchez says you must walk a fine line. “It can be difficult because business decisions often have emotional ties,” says this former New Braunfels contractor. “Maintaining professionalism without emotion is hard.” When Sanchez joined her family’s floor care company in 1986, her first order of business was to create different divisions and grow the business by offering more than just vacuum cleaners. She and her husband added central vacuuming systems, home automation systems, security systems, high-end appliances and more from top-of-the line, premium brands. The company grew to the point where a name change from Vacuums Unlimited to Homewerks was necessary to encompass all that the business now offered. And although her parents are still actively involved in the business they began in 1974, this company is no longer a mom-and-pop operation. “We had to start behaving like a big business even though we were a family-run operation,” explains Sanchez.
Big business means big decisions, including restructuring and finding the best players for the company team. “I had some siblings in the business that didn’t work out,” Sanchez says matter-of-factly. And along with those decisions comes the enormous responsibility of knowing that the welfare of her family rests on her shoulders. When the opportunity came to open the Oreck boutique stores, Sanchez saw yet another opportunity to secure that welfare, and she enlisted her 30-year-old daughter to manage the Oreck stores, resulting in three generations of Sanchez family members working in the family business. “I’m a mother to some, a daughter to some, a sister-in-law to some, a wife to one and a general manager to all of the employees,” she laughs. She juggles those roles with grace and credits the fact that she comes from a very close-knit family who share the same vision as one of the main reasons for the business’ success.
“I consider my mom and daughter my best friends,” she says with a smile. “And my husband and I get along beautifully because we don’t relate as husband and wife during the day,” she adds. Sanchez will allow that things are not always perfect, and there have been some hurt feelings along the way. However, she doesn’t allow herself to get bogged down with petty disagreements, and she says she isn’t one to hold grudges. “I try to see the big picture, and every day I think, ‘If something happened tomorrow, how would I feel about this situation?'” she says. And although hers is a story of success that spans three generations, Sanchez warns that getting into a family enterprise may not be for everyone, and there are many things to consider before jumping in.
“Sometimes people will take advantage of you just because you are family,” she warns. “You really need to think carefully.” She also recommends making a conscious effort to separate business from family time away from work — something that is easier said than done.
“We used to always talk business at family dinners, and my daughter hated it,” she says. “Now we make a concerted effort to focus only on family.”A strong family with good solid relationships built on honesty should be able to survive the challenges of the family business, and as Sanchez points out, there is one distinct advantage to working with those closest to you: “When you have a good working relationship and everyone is working toward the same goal, whom can you trust more than your family?”
ROSE MARIE FLORIO
Owner, Florio’s Pizzeria
Florio’s pizza is a favorite among San Antonians who love authentic New Yorkstyle pie. This family-owned and operated business has been serving up what is arguably some of the best pizza in town since 1989, when Rose Marie and Joseph Florio closed their New Jersey pizzeria, sold their limo and trucking business and moved to San Antonio to be closer to their eldest son and his family. “I came for 12 weeks to help my son when his wife got hurt, and I have been here ever since,” laughs Florio. She and her husband ran a pizzeria in New Jersey for 10 years, and it was there that they perfected what is now their award-winning pie. “I learned how to make the pizza from a man from Sicily named Nino,” she recalls, and it is famous top secret Sicilian dough as well as the highest quality ingredients that have made Florio’s an enormous success. This local pizzeria changed location several times (and was even the first vendor in the Alamodome) before settling down in the heart of Alamo Heights, where it is always filled to capacity — especially on the weekends.
Florio’s has become a local hit so quickly that Rose Marie and Joseph enlisted other members of the family to move to San Antonio to help. Son Stephen makes all the dough and the sauce, while daughter Patricia makes the cakes and serves as cashier. The youngest Florio, Jeffrey, assisted with the build-out of the Alamo Heights restaurant, and the eldest son, Joseph Jr., helps his dad with deliveries. Rose Marie takes orders, handles the books and makes sure things are running smoothly. But when you are making 300 pizzas on a Friday night, all bets are off!
“Everyone here does every job,” says Florio. “We are all working toward the same purpose. There is a different work ethic when it is for the common good.” She explains that theirs is a simple business, and that, combined with the fact that it is also a money-making machine, makes it easier to cope with the day-to-day challenges. In fact, the biggest challenge Florio says they face is finding time to take off from work. “When you take time off from a business like this, you know that someone else has to carry your load,” she comments. In order to make sure everyone does receive an opportunity to take a vacation, Florio’s closes for two weeks in August and one week during Christmas. The rest of the year it is business as usual. “You are married to this business,” she says. As with any marriage, there are ups and downs, but Florio maintains that there is always respect. As for any family thinking about starting a business of their own, Florio offers this advice: “Don’t do it!” she says with a hearty laugh. “Seriously, the absolute best way to run any kind of business is to have the respect we have from our children. Your trust is right there.”
KATY BROCKMAN AND RACHEL DRANSELKA
Owners, Bless Your Heart Giftique
Leave it to a couple of stylish sassy women to find a way to parlay a love of shopping into a family business venture. Sisters Katy Brockman and Rachel Dranselka have been shopping with their mom since they could walk, and today the three women still enjoy shoppingtrips together — only now they refer to it as “research and development.” The Dranselka family has always been entrepreneurial, with father William Dranselka opening his own construction business in the 1980s. Family matriarch Dale Dranselka entertained notions of opening a restaurant or a shop, but it wasn’t until her daughters were grown that she was able to turn that vision into a reality. “Our mom found this spot in Bracken Village and called me and my sister to see if we wanted to go into business together,” explains Brockman. “It was as much her dream as it was ours.” Brockman, a manager of the Mary Engelbreit store in Dallas, and Dranselka, a senior at Texas A&M, jumped at the chance, both moving back home in order to pour all of their time and resources into growing their dream. Today that dream supports them.
Bless Your Heart began as a gift shop that became so popular that the girls decided to add a shoe and clothing boutique, Soul Sisters, next door. Two years ago they combined the two into one large shop that they now call a “Giftique,” where you can find all kinds of sparkly, girly-girl accessories, shoes, clothes, home accents and more. As the business continues to grow, the family’s roles have become more defined. “We all have things we like to do more than others,” says Brockman. “We both love merchandising and buying, but I do more of the marketing, and Rachel is really good with people and managing the employees.”
The senior Dranselkas are still involved, with Dale serving as bookkeeper and “Starbucks runner,” while William refinishes the charming furnishings the sisters use as displays. The family also credits an excellent staff, whose dedication to the business has allowed the sisters to focus on the details, such as ordering, setting up displays and, of course, “research and development.” So how do these siblings (only 16 months apart) manage to avoid any of the usual rivalry that can stem from working together day in and day out? “Rachel and I always joke that we have the same brain,” laughs Brockman. “If one of us doesn’t like something, we just move on,” adds Dranselka. This close-knit family is also not afraid to respectfully voice its opinions. “I think just being in a family creates honesty and intimacy,” explains Brockman. “Because we are able to be so honest with each other, it keeps us from making mistakes. And we don’t have to worry that being honest will get us fired!”
It doesn’t hurt that the girls are doing something they love with the people that they love. “You must be able to have fun,” says Brockman, who adds that the family still enjoys traveling together. “If you lose the excitement or it quits being fun, well then, that’s not good.” The girls (who have since moved out of their parents’ home) also enjoy active lives away from the business. Brockman is married and recently gave birth to her own girly-girl, Lily, while Dranselka enjoys spending time with friends and hosting a weekly Bible study. Even in the high-stress retail times, these girls know that they can always count on each other and the rest of their strong family for support. And it is that support system that creates a safe place for the business to operate. “There’s enough to worry about in business without having to worry about getting along,” says Brockman. “Even if you make each other mad, you still have that commitment to each other as a family. You still love each other.”
CEO, Plant Interscapes
The year 1983 was an important one in the life of Karin and Mike Senneff. Not only did the young husband and wife welcome twin boys, they also gave birth to a new business. The boys were christened Joshua and Jonathan and the business, Plant Interscapes. Now, 25 years later, both the Senneff family and the business have grown by leaps and bounds. The company has expanded to include markets in Austin, Dallas and Houston, while the family has expanded to include two more children, Daniel and Sarah. All four children helped out with the family business as they grew up, but it was the twins who decided to make it a career.
“It was sometime during their junior year of college that the twins approached Mike and me with their shocking expression of both respect for the family business and their interest,” recalls CEO Karin Senneff. “Just one week after graduation from Texas A&M for Joshua and St. Edward’s University for Jonathan, the boys joined the family enterprise.”
Plant Interscapes is a business that provides design, installation and maintenance of commercial interiorscapes, patioscapes and holiday displays. “Essentially, through the use of gorgeous plant displays and seasonal décor, we optimize living and working space for increased morale and success,” says Senneff. But with so many family members working under one roof, how does the Senneff family maintain its own morale and success? According to Senneff, one of the keys to both family and business success is the fact that every member has a defined role and oversight in the company. “We have always believed in a structure that communicated a clear message of who supports and who reports to whom to all members of both the family and the work team,” explains Senneff.
Karin, as CEO, is the majority owner of the company and oversees the design concepts, the fabrication department and training of all of the seasonal staff in the fast-growing Seasonscapes division. Husband Mike is the president of the company and supportsall of the operational and sales efforts. Son Joshua is director of operations, while his twin brother, Jonathan, serves as the president of Foliage Direct, the green goods procurement and wholesale division.
In addition to clearly defined roles, the Senneff family operates Plant Interscapes with a focus on growing people while growing the business. “One of our key statements in our value statement is ‘to be a positive influence in the lives of others,'” says Senneff. “This seems to give our team a touchstone for every area of their lives and reminds us to serve our clients and each other with a servant’s heart.” That’s not to say that there aren’t ups and downs — especially when the husband and wife team are, as Senneff describes, “complete opposites.” She laughs, “Mike is the driver, the big picture guy, the financial whiz, the innovator. He thrives in a world of constant change and even creates change when it doesn’t happen on its own. I am the extroverted, altruistic, creative force.” So how do these two opposing forces find a common ground? “The secret for success in that arena is understanding yourself, each other, and communicating genuine respect for each other’s strengths,” she says. They also never involve employees in disagreements with family members, and the family makes a point never to argue or speak disrespectfully to each other at work. Most importantly, they set a time to meet and communicate. “Most of the time a disagreement is the result of poor communication in all relationships,” says Senneff.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Senneffs are a very close-knit family who genuinely enjoy being together and spending time having fun. Exercise is a big priority for the family, and the Senneffs can often be found golfing and bike riding as well as traveling together and simply hanging out in the backyard, cooking on the Weber grill.”It must be a Weber,” laughs Senneff. And during family time, everyone makes a conscious effort to leave business talk at the door. “No matter what kind of business you are in, bringing it home is a problem,” cautions Senneff. “Setting priorities for what is most important in your life and then living them is key.”
Co-Owner Cappy’s, Cappyccino’s and La Fonda on Main
Some of the best restaurants in San Antonio have one thing in common: the Lawton family. Suzy Lawton, along with her husband, Cappy, and son, Trevor, have been providing residents of the Alamo City with delicious meals since the opening of Cappy’s in Alamo Heights in 1977. Since then the family has added the bistro/bar Cappyccino’s and the ever-popular Mexican eatery, La Fonda on Main. Throughout the years, the Lawton family name has become synonymous with delicious food. “The restaurant business is one of constant growth and change, but our mission and purpose remain the same,” says Lawton. “We appreciate every guest that chooses our restaurants, we work to meet and exceed their expectation, and we strive to be among the best restaurants in Texas.” Lawton handles the menu editing and wine selections, edits the point-of-sale system and oversees the final training for the front-of-house staff, but she actually got her start in dishwashing. “After selling real estate for 14 years, I acted upon a suggestion of Cappy’s that I should know a little more about the business in case anything should ever happen to him,” explains Lawton. “I started with dishwashing and learned my way through the restaurant, back and front of the house. I was hooked.” Lawton retired from real estate and joined her husband in the business on a full-time basis, and soon son Trevor came on board as a chef and occasional manager. Daughter Avery also lent a hand for many years before pursuing her own career with H-E-B. “We speak in a kind of shorthand to each other,” says Lawton of working with her husband and son. “We maintain a focus on gracious hospitality, preparing great food, retaining a superior sales staff and providing a comfortable ambiance in which to enjoy any meal in any of our restaurants.”
Fortunately for this food-minded family, disagreements don’t occur very often, and when they do, the Lawtons handle them in private. “We talk it out and sort out the facts,” she says. The elder Lawtons also meet regularly with their management team and brainstorm ways to enhance the customer’s overall experience. “We are always fine-tuning, looking for opportunities, sourcing local seasonal products and reinforcing the importance of hospitality,” she explains.
But it’s not all work and no play for the Lawton clan. This is one family that knows how to separate business from pleasure by traveling, gardening and, believe it or not, cooking. In the fickle restaurant business, the Lawtons have set the bar high and shown, like the other families profiled, that business and family can mix — as long as you remember a few key elements.
“Make certain you really like that person,” advises Lawton. “Be certain you’re both passionate about the business, have a strong work ethic, look for the challenge, satisfaction and pleasure from it and are willing to make equitable contributions.”
Author: Bonny Osterhage