According to Gaebler.com, a leading online resource for business statistics and entrepreneurial advice, the American economy relies heavily on family businesses.
Family businesses, franchised and non-franchised, account for 50% of the nation’s GDP, 60% of the nation’s employment, and 78% of new jobs created. And that gap between employment and new jobs created suggests “family businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy.” However, despite their growth and prevalence, the generational transition often brings serious challenges for family businesses and it’s up to the next generation to extend and improve upon their parent’s legacy.
As Our Town America CEO, Michael Plummer, Jr., once told me, when it comes to the family business, “fate chooses you, you don’t choose it.” In Plummer’s case, fate intervened when his father and the founder of Our Town America, Michael Plummer, Sr., suffered his first heart attack and Jr. returned to the family business; leaving behind his career working abroad as an army medic. As he’d tell you himself, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him as he has been able to build upon his father’s legacy and lead the company to unprecedented success.
Terri Sniegolski, Co-Owner, and CEO of Creative Colors International faced a similar dilemma in the mid-1980’s. Like Plummer, she had a strong desire to pursue her own career path and develop her own identity outside of the family business. Her parents, JoAnn and Jim Foster, had launched J&J’s Creative Colors as a local Illinois vinyl and leather repair company in 1980 and there was little separation between family and business. At 18, Sniegolski found herself working for her parents 24/7 – talking shop at each dinner and taking customer phone calls until the wee hours of the morning. She admired her parents’ dedication and entrepreneurial spirit, but she left the family business because she was eager to pursue her own path and maintain a more stable work-life balance.
Five years later, Sniegolski found herself at a crossroads. She was on the path to becoming a paralegal and had created her own identity in downtown Chicago but she constantly felt trapped by the four walls of her office, knowing how much she could be doing out in the field with her hands. She found herself constantly asking herself the same question, “is it time to return to Creative Colors?”
She never had to answer that question because, as Michael Plummer, Jr. would say, “fate chose her” to return to her parents’ side. Her mom called her in 1988 with a crisis as one of their most talented employees had been seriously injured in a car accident and they didn’t know what was going to happen with their business. That was all Terri needed to hear to trade in the bright lights of the city for her family’s backyard chicken coop office.
Coming Home and Creating a Franchise
Even though she was only in her early twenties, Sniegolski quickly proved to be one of J&J’s Creative Colors most skilled salespeople and technicians. Her first job was to solicit business in the NW Chicago suburbs.She relied on her corporate experience to hone her sales skills and secure major accounts that were instrumental in the company’s early success. Additionally, she stepped in for the injured technician and developed a deep understanding of the business model and what was required to be successful on the local level. By the time she was in her mid-twenties, she was well versed on how to sell the business and do the work – setting her up perfectly to take the company to the next level.
By the early 1990’s, Sniegolski realized the company her parents had created was scalable and possessed the proven systems and processes required to replicate the model in other communities. Therefore, Sniegolski decided to use her legal background and years of field experience to launch a franchised-model of her parents' company, Creative Colors International, and give other blue-collar entrepreneurs the ability to create their own million dollar company.
Paving the Way for a Successful Generational Transition
Franchising the business has turned out to be an excellent decision for the family business as Sniegolski has worked tirelessly alongside her family to build Creative Colors International into a leading on-site repair and restoration franchise with 54 locations in 24 states. However, that growth and development have not come without its challenges as more and more family members have joined the family business.
Today, the Creative Colors International corporate staff includes Sniegolski, her brother-in-law, her brother, her sister, her husband, her nephews, and her daughter. Most of the time this arrangement works beautifully as each passionate and loyal family member is committed to extending the legacy of Jim and Joann Foster, growing the franchise company, and providing each franchise owner with unparalleled corporate support. However, there are times when it’s tough to leave the business at work and compromise on tough decisions.
The biggest challenge came in 2007 when the Fosters told Sniegolski they were going to sell J&J’s Creative Colors to her and her siblings. While very excited about the opportunity, Sniegolski knew the three would only be successful if they had a set of Family Policies and Procedures in place – a set of rules that consisted of voting rights, pay structures, and responsibilities of each owner. It was a long and arduous process that required dozens of meetings and shifted the closing date multiple times, but Sniegolski says these rules have been a key catalyst for their joint success.
A lot can be learned from Sniegolski’s journey from teenage employee to working in a law firm to the devoted employee to the visionary executive. The biggest takeaway, however, is that success is earned in any business, family or not, and nothing can be taken for granted. Creative Colors wouldn’t be where it is today if Sniegolski had not always been true to herself and came back to her parents business only when she knew she could commit herself entirely to its long-term success.
For anyone considering launching or joining a family business, remember “fate chooses you, you don’t choose it” and it can be the most rewarding experience under the right circumstances. Listen to your heart, you’ll know when the time is right to dive in and create or extend a legacy that can change the game for generations to come.
About the Author
Graham Chapman is a Senior PR Catalyst for 919 Marketing, a national marketing, PR and social media agency that creates and executes hard-hitting Social Relations™ programs on behalf of emerging and established franchise companies. Chapman is a passionate, driven and energetic account executive who has helped dozens of franchise clients share national and local stories that increase franchise sales lead flow and in-store traffic for franchisees. As a member of the 919 Marketing team, Chapman is part of a powerful collection of Emmy award-winning journalists, nationally recognized marketing strategists, creative content marketing gurus and savvy digital marketing analysts who have proven experience delivering powerful, revenue-generating results for emerging and established franchise brands.