Insights

My Mother:  Lessons from a Life-Long Entrepreneur

I grew up in an entrepreneurial-driven family.  In 1972, my grandfather, after spending his life at Ford Motor Company, retired.  He decided it was time to become a business owner with support of my parents, along with my uncle and aunt.  And from here, Keck Hardware was born in Trenton, Michigan.

For over 40 years my family successfully ran the store (and even branched out to add a lawn mower sales/repair shop down the street).  Like all entrepreneurs, there were both good and bad years. Over the years they overcame the challenges thrown their way. They even weathered the “big box” home center wave in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Through it all, they enjoyed owning and running their own business.

My mother and I recently had a chance to reflect on those days.  And as I listened, it was apparent that there are some excellent lessons that current entrepreneurs can glean from the journey of our family business.

I’ve pulled together what I feel are the most important take-aways.

Hiring family can be the best – and the worst – decision you make. 

It was decided early on that this was going to be a true family business.  When possible, the family was going to hire cousins and other family members.  My mother reminded me of some of the great stories of working together with everyone and some of the bad times.

I asked her if she’d hire family again (fully expecting the standard – “Never Hire Family”) but she instead answered me with an emphatic “yes”.  She attributed the early success to family – and without them, it may not have been what it turned out to be.

The advice from my mother: just be clear with expectations and boundaries of duties.

Great people are key.

Hiring and keeping great people was the key to their success.  My mother ran through the key people through the years – Rich, Dean, Duane, Gus (and many more) – remembering how customers would come in and ask for those people by name.

Treating them as members of not only the business but the family was really important in keeping them happy and on board for years (some for 30+ years!).

The advice from my mother: understand the value of good people, take care of them and give them the freedom to do their jobs.

If things aren’t working – change.

As you can imagine, my family and its business saw tons of changes through the years.  When we started, we had a large toy section in the store (which was short lived).  Soon after, houseware items represented a large revenue percentage of the business, along with the sale of Kerosene heaters and lawn equipment.  Those pieces of the business all have been replaced by what is now called “hobbies” (radio-controlled planes, cars and more).

They were careful not to “fall in love” with one section of their business, nor to over-value something or a section of the store that customers no longer were interested in buying. Adapting to the trends and understanding the needs and wants of the clients was key.

The advice from my mother: know and listen to your customers.  Keep in mind that ultimate end goal is to run a profitable business that fills the needs of the customers you serve.

So the bottom line – would my mother do it all again? Would she start a family business from scratch and work to keep it going over the decades?  Without hesitation, my mother said yes.

She enjoyed the connections made with employees, customers, and vendors. And she found that the ability to solve problems and make the lives of other people even a little better was deeply rewarding.

She and my other family members involved in this business were true entrepreneurs.

I always enjoy hearing from business leaders on how they run their business and what makes them tick. And, I love to hear what has worked, along with the mistakes made and corresponding lessons learned.  If you’d like to chat, feel free to reach out to me – Bill Morrow – find me at bmorrow@thinkempirical.com or 610-310-6707. Or let’s connect on LinkedIn here.