When you operate a family-owned salon you face challenges other salon owners do not, but you also reap special rewards. You enjoy job stability, share family values and trust, and aspire to the same long range goals.

“too many organization seem faceless and uncaring,” say John L. Ward and Craig E. Aronoff, authors of an article titled “Trust Gives You and Advantage” in the August 1991 issue of Nation’s Business. “Employees seem to come and go constantly. New management comes in or a policy is altered, and everything changes. People who make decisions aren’t around to implement them.”

John Hickox, who co-owns Hickox Salon in Portland, Ore., with his wife Sharon, and whose two sons also work in the salon, agrees that a family-run partnership is more stable than a business in which the coworkers aren’t related. “I was involved in a four-way partnership at one time that was not family,” says Hickox. The partners wanted to go off in their own directions. They had problems in their own families that were different from ours. That’s what broke up the partnership. Different values.”

Jan Studesville, who co-owns Just Nails in Madison, Wis., with her husband Al, says working with family promotes the success of a business. “There is more of a vested interest in a family-owned business. Family members understand what it takes to be successful in the business, and they have more at stake. All the members, depend upon the success of the business for their livelihood. And my husband had made it work for me. I couldn’t possible have gone into and maintained the business without his support.”

Ginny Burge, who works with her hasband Frank and son Frank L. in their family-run Day Spa Beautique Salon in Houston, Texas, says that when you work with family you become a team with a goal that is shared by each family member. “The bond is great and you are committed to not letting one another down,” she stresses. “Each one of us goes the extra mile.”

Luz Segovia, who co-owns Chicago Hair Design and Day Spa with her husband Alfonso in Chicago, says, “The best thing about working with family is that you share the same goals. With family you also share similar views.”

Trust And Family Values

Other important issues may prompt a family to start a business. Trust and being able to work in a setting where family values play an important part are two of those issues. Says Hickox, “We get along very well as a family, and trust and understanding contribute to the success of our business. I look at people who are in a business and their spouse is not. The spouse doesn’t understand why the other spouse spends so much time in the business. We travel together, attend tradeshows together. I think the salon business is one of those businesses that lends itself very well to being a family business.”

Larry Bergere, who co-owns A Perfect Ten in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., with his wife Nancy, agrees that trust is extremely important. “It is your family name and your reputation in the community that are at stake. You cannot afford not to do your best all the time. My wife would not do anything to harm my reputation in the salon and I would do nothing to harm hers,” says Bergere. “You can count on family more than on strangers,” he adds.

Jesse Briggs, who co-owns Yellow Strawberry Global Salons in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., with his wife Flo, believes family values contribute greatly to the success of his family-run salons. “You have to have a clean way of living,” he says. “You cannot run a family business without high moral standards. And self-respect among family members is crucial.”

Trust is also an issue with companies who do business with family enterprise. Ward and Aronoff say that trust reduces the cost of doing business. According to them, many businesses prefer doing business with a family-owned enterprise because the family-run one can be trusted. They say of family businesses: “They make commitments more quickly, and their commitments tend to be long-lasting. … We find that commitment to trust, reliability, and mutual benefit is exactly the kind of old-fashioned thinking that ideally positions family firms for the future. With the reputation of your family on the line, with your personal integrity behind every handshake, and with the economic future of your heirs at stake, owning a family business is not only a significant responsibility but also an opportunity for an increasingly valuable competitive edge.”

Keeping The Peace

Conflict arises in all situations in life and in all places of employment, and the family-run business is no exception. Common problems occur, such as employees playing one family member against another (“but your wife said I could leave early”), employees resenting special privileges a family member may receive, and family members bringing family problems to work.

How do family members work peacefully together in a family business? “I have some families who have drawn up a written code of conduct,” say Nancy Upton, director of the Institute for Family Business at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “The code of conduct says, “this is how we’re going to act no matter what and lays down the law that the family will wait until they are alone to discuss a conflict.” Upton says families can easily slip into family communication patterns and say and do things in the salon that they wouldn’t normally do in a professional setting with non-family members.

Briggs believes that open communication is the way to prevent conflict in a family business. “this worst thing about working with family is that when you have a disagreement with a family member, you wear it on your face,” he says. “If you have a conflict, meet later after everyone has cooled down. Voice your opinion, be totally open, but don’t be a domineering force.” Briggs says even though the family lives 30 minutes from the salon, they drive to work in separate cars to give each person a chance to be alone.

“This is our time for ourselves,” he says. “Driving home alone gives a person a chance to cool down.”

Bergere says the most difficult thing about working with family is holding your temper. He advises thrashing out disagreements in private, never in front of other employees. “When you hash things out in the salon, it becomes your living room instead of a business. That goes for body language and rolling your eyes. Keep it out of the salon. Arguing in the salon is poor advertising.” Bergere says that if family members argue in the salon, employees feel they can argue among themselves.

Hickox has found a way to keep resentment from non-family employees to a minimum. “Our two sons, 18 and 16, work here. We have 44 employees. Our sons get no special favors. In fact, they work under more stringent standards than the other employees and they don’t work under us. Our older son works under our front desk manager’s direction and the younger one works under the direction of the salon manager.” Hickox says he treats his sons like any other employee. “I sit them down, discuss the situation, and help them find the tools they need to do a better job.”

Maintaining Separate Roles

According to Upton, conflict in family businesses occurs most often when job duties aren’t clearly delineated. “As family members in a business together, we have multiple roles: mother, daughter, spouse, president. What role am I in and what should I do? Is a frequent question,” Upton says. It takes good communication to define roles and once defined, family members should not make decisions in another member’s area of responsibility.

Hickox believes that the way to avoid most conflict is to agree that one person will make the final decisions. “The other family members have to go along with it and live through the mistakes and enjoy the successes,” he says.

In Briggs’ view, working with family can be difficult because everyone wants to be the boss. But he has found a way to cure the problem. He advises that family members sit down at a table and plan a business strategy. “Assign each person to a major department. Clearly define the separate roles. My wife is artistic director and I’m the CEO and visionary. We used to throw brushes at each other. Now we work in separate rooms,” he says.

Ginny Burge says her family’s salon has 62 employees, and the family employees keep the peace by maintaining separate roles. “Frank is president of Beautique and he functions as CEO. Frank Jr. managers all salon operators. Each on of us has an area of expertise and we seem to not run into one another’s jurisdiction,” she says.

Conducting Regularly Scheduled Business Meetings

Sticking to a policy of holding regular businesses meetings helps keep families focuses on conducting themselves as professionals. Upton recommends that families have weekly meetings. “Have an agenda,” she advises. “If you have a good family business meeting it keeps business discussions away from the dinner table. It helps you separate family and business. Rotate leadership for the meeting: wife one week, husband the next, daughter the next.”

In a chapter titled “The Family Council” in his book Working With the Ones You Love, Dennis T. Jaffe, Ph.D., says that families need to establish a council early on in the business. From then on, the council needs to stay active. “The council needs a regular structure, with meetings, minutes, decisions recorded ongoing communication about issues, and roles for individual members. … [Family councils] form a vehicle for family members to learn management skills and take on business and professional responsibilities,” he writes.

A Matter Of Economic Survival

Today, with world economics steeped in recession and people around the globe out of work, the family business is a way to survive the economic downturn. “there is no job security now,” says Upton, “and there is a great shrinkage of jobs. Two thousand jobs a day are being lost in the United States alone. I’m seeing a lot of people in their 30s and 40s starting their own businesses.”

In an article in the June 1993 issue of Working Woman “Till Debt Do Us Part,” author Mary Granfield says that family businesses are growing by leaps and bounds: “According to the Small Business Administration, husband-and-wife teams now represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the business population. Between 1980 and 1989, the number of such partnerships jumped 66%. Today, the National Family Business Council in Lake forest, Ill., estimates that there are 1.8 million entrepreneurial couples.”

Grounded In History

Historically, working has been a family affair. Businesses were family-run and passed down through the generations. The phenomenon of strangers working together at a place of business is a relatively new one. Says Upton, “With the Industrial Revolution, work shifted outside the home. But this trend really set in after the Great Depression. People had lost their businesses and were forced to go to work for someone else.” The trend shifted again, says Upton, after World War II. Thousands of family businesses were started at that time.

Far from being a recent innovation, the business and family mix has been the rule rather than the exception throughout the centuries. The benefits of flexible schedules, an atmosphere of trust wherein all family members share the ups and downs of the business, understanding of why a spouse must work overtime, increased family bonding through daily reinforcement of family values, and having something to pass on to heirs are some of the reasons many salons today are family business has many, many benefits. Why work for someone else?”


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.