Chain Reaction

Open a store . . . open a store . . .and so on . . . and so on . . . and so on . . .

Fortunately for most people, a big family usually doesn't materialize overnight the way it did not so long ago for the McCaugheys of Iowa who one day had just one child--and the next had seven more. Big families generally develop over a period of years, with each new addition joining the bunch after the older ones are well on their feet and somewhat self-sufficient.

While it's never easy to juggle the needs of several children all at once, most parents eventually figure out how to manage. Some even find advantages to having a larger brood: Siblings can be each other's playmates, role models and even baby-sitters, lightening their parents' load.

For the entrepreneur hoping to expand one or two locations into a chain, there may be no better model to study than that of the large family. Indeed, entrepreneurs who have successfully gone through the process, as well as expert observers, all agree that growing a company into a chain is strikingly similar to raising a large family.

The key similarity between the two is this: "The more of them you have-- children or stores--the less attention you have for each one, so you have to empower them more and trust them more," says Earnest Edward Lacey, regional director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at the University of Memphis. "They won't all turn out to have the same personality, but if you raise them right, they'll each do you proud in their own way."

Dennis Rodkin is a business writer in Chicago.

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This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Chain Reaction.

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