“Keeping it in the family” takes on a whole new meaning when that family runs a business. In the first of a two part series, WNPR’s Harriet Jones visits two very different family businesses here in Connecticut.
In an ordinary looking house in an unremarkable street in Bridgeport, an extraordinary enterprise is being carried on.
“I’m Beverlee Dacey and I am second generation of the family business….”
The Dacey’s four person, all in the family business is Amodex, a stain remover that was invented by Beverlee’s father in the 1950s and nurtured into a successful business by him and his wife. Their product now is sold from the shelves of Stop and Shop and endorsed by Oprah and Martha Stewart, but it’s all formulated, manufactured, packaged and distributed from this apartment and double garage in Bridgeport.
“This is our storage area…..”
Peter and Alexander Dacey are twins, 26 years old, younger brother Nick is 23, and the sons still live at home with their mother Beverlee as well as doing business together. So don’t those family relationships sometimes get in the way?
“Somebody at some point during the day is a jerk. That’s pretty common."
"That's part of the way our family works, the dynamic. We sometimes butt heads at home, so if that happens here we know how to talk through issues, and even if it gets heated, how to immediately get past that and quickly get back to business.”
This successful blending of family and business relationships between the generations is a relatively new development for Amodex. Beverlee Dacey says she didn’t start out her own career with the company.
“I came in for a period of time to help my Dad out, when he needed some help with the company, and we just locked horns. And rather than see that relationship erode, I knew it was better for me to just leave.”
But then, things changed very suddenly.
“My father and mother had no succession plan and never really thought that much about it. And you can’t really wait until it’s a crisis. In 2005 when my father became ill, several months after he became ill, we lost my mom to a drunk driver, so we literally had a crisis.”
Beverlee stepped in, rescued Amodex and began to build it up. As the company grew and she needed more help, each of her sons chose to join after college. Alexander says it felt very natural to become a part of it.
“On our walls over there, we’ve got pictures of my grandparents. We’ve got great grandfather working with his shoes off, coming to America a hundred years ago or so, working in a mill, and the education he afforded for my grandmother, which she brought here, and the two of them based on their immigrant experiences founding this business."
" And it can sound a little like hyperbole, but it’s nice to be the next generation in a product of the American dream. That’s really what it is.”
Family businesses, just like families, come in all shapes and sizes. But all of them keenly feel that weight of legacy.
“Our forefathers settled Guilford in 1639. Current location of the farm actually was purchased by our direct descendants in 1871”
Keith Bishop is co-CEO of Bishop's Orchards, in Guilford.
"We’re now in our packing room, and we’re running our own apples over the grading line…."
Keith and his second cousin Jonathan Bishop were the fifth generation to take over this family business in the 1970s, and since then they’ve expanded it from a small seasonal enterprise, into a tourism destination with a large market and extensive pick your own operation.
“So we’re now in our cider mill ….”
The wine enterprise, begun by Bishops in 2005 another innovation by the family.”
In fact, Keith and Jonathan Bishop are in charge of one of Guilford’s largest employers – right now at high season in the fall they take on as many as 170 people. And even at low season the business still has almost 100 employees, the majority of them in the market and the back office.
“Our family name in the Guilford community and even outside in Southern Connecticut is fortunately well known.”
Being well known is great for business, but for younger family members it can come with a downside.
“We’re sort of then in a fishbowl of a lot of people know and recognize you. Ourselves and then your kids growing up through school, then everybody knows you as a Bishop kid and you can’t get away from that.”
Cognizant of the pressures of being a Bishop kid, the company has put in place a written policy that children of the enterprise must take time out.
“That next generation has got to work for at least two years outside in some other experience, before they’d be able to come back in our business and work full time.”
Keith’s daughter Sarah did that, but then came back. She’s now marketing director for Bishop's, and Keith says she may not be the only one of his kids to return. The company also has an advisory board of non-family members that gives guidance and balance to family decisions. Keith Bishop says careful planning and professional advice are key as he protects his family’s legacy.
“nitely in our situation, having six generations in the family at this point and the seventh generation being young. Pressure of continuing it on, to a certain degree. There’s that pressure to not have a fail, to put it bluntly.”
And Bishop's is unusual in having made it so far down the generations. In the second part of our series, we’ll hear how and why most family business are never passed on.
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.