Lessons From a Family Business That Thrives In the Heartland
Lisa Troyer runs Bunker Hill Cheese Co, Inc., .a family business in Millersburg, Ohio. She has 70 full time employees plus more than 200 Amish families that supply milk to make cheese without artificial growth hormones.Her family purchased the business from her Uncle Crist in 1948, but the factory was established by another family business in the late 1890s. Her father, Peter, became a naturalized US citizen in 1957 at the age of 21 and assumed the business from her grandparents, John and Lili.
Lisa has quite the family history and family business. I wanted to learn more about the lessons she's learned. Here is what Lisa shared:
The phrase "know thyself" does not apply to family business. You operate in a unit and the other members of that unit will impact performance and productivity. Her job as a family business owner is to know the strength of each family member, how their skills can improve the business and how each can be used to develop the family business mission.
Lean on your elders
Lisa draws on the experience of her elder family members. "There’s a special measure of confidence when you know that you are loved unconditionally," Lisa explained. Respect the wisdom and experience of parents and grandparents whether they are entrepreneurs or not. Learn from, and avoid, their mistakes. Lisa treasures the wisdom of her elders while blazing her own path. It gets tricky though, because you don't really get to leave your parents when you're in a family business. She doesn't always agree with her parents, both now in their 70s, but she values the parental bond and tries to honor them.
Learn to manage stress
Lisa does not like the stress that comes when you cannot truly separate family and business issues. She admits, "Business is stressful. It impacts every area from child rearing to intimacy to how we pay our bills. It’s not easy." You must have mutual respect and be willing to allow your spouse to exercise their gifts and talents in the context of a family business. Then, it can be very rewarding.
Related: The Tax Benefits of Family Employees
Bring your children into your family business
Lisa knows firsthand what it's like to work in a family business as a youth. She and her sisters worked in a retail and wholesale food business. She did clerical, janitorial, customer service and other age-appropriate duties. She answered phones, waited on retail customers, demonstrated new flavors of cheese that her dad created. She helped her mom stuff envelopes with payroll checks, gave tours to visitors and ran errands.
Lisa shared that children can learn valuable lessons on developing people skills and a strong work ethic when you incorporate them in your family business. Make sure that they are interested and equipped to do the business tasks that you assign. You also have to make it clear to them that they must respect the chain of authority that has been established in the business. Teach them to listen to and learn from adult supervisors, and not to run to mom or dad for every incident.
Customers want to hear the family story
Lisa engages her customers by sharing her family story. They like to hear about the close family behind the business and the journey of bringing quality food to the market. They enjoy hearing about the creativity it takes to run a family business. Stories sell and family stories sell even better.
You're not entitled to anything. Lisa feels strongly about avoiding an entitlement mindset when you're involved in family business. Teach your children when they are young to work hard and respect the authority you establish in your business. You're not entitled to anything from the business simply because you're a family member.
I wanted to know if family business should be a priority for more of us. Lisa explained that family business owners are the backbone of our economy. They teach respect and how to value multi-generational contribution. It's an excellent opportunity to learn problem solving skills, and how to apply them in real life.