Feature from the Editors: Family Owned

 


Focusing on the many similarities, challenges and goals of family retail operations, we have asked a number of family-owned manufacturing companies their experiences in the mattress industry. With answers from first, second, third, and fourth generations, it is interesting to note that while the products and operations may change throughout the years, the family-owned missions and focuses remain close to home.

1. At what age did you first become involved in the family business?

At the age of 16, I started working in the shipping department on my summer break from school. It was in between football periods and was great for helping me keep in shape at the time. I also worked in the foundation department and a little in the office through high school and didn’t start full time until after college. —Shaun Pennington, Vice President, Diamond Mattress, Fourth Generation

Starting first in the retail furniture business, owning eight furniture stores, I joined Fabrictech in 2005 and partnered with a Sam Chaise to bring more of an infrastructure and a marketing approach to the company. With my son David onboard, the company began selling as a family business. Arnold Hersbain, CEO, Fabrictech International, First Generation

I had been in the mattress industry for sometime before joining Fabrictech in 2009. My son, Sean, who had worked with me previously, joined the firm in 2010. —Jeff Bergman, President & COO, Fabrictech International, First Generation

I was born into the family business and the mattress industry. Being involved in a small family business, there was no distinction between family and business. At the age of 12 I was accompanying my father to trade association events; I was expected to be working in the factory during school vacations. Working with my father I learned at a young age about the mattresses and futons produced and how Gold Bond was developed. —Bob Naboicheck, President, Gold Bond, Third Generation

I started on the Shifman factory floor at the age of sixteen. My work experience prior to working at Shifman was all about speed—how much can you produce and how quickly? At Shifman I was taught by the workers that had made mattresses for decades to slow down and focus on making the best product possible. I remember being amazed by the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into the making of every Shifman mattress. —Bill Hammer, President, Shifman Mattress Company, Second Generation

Officially at 37, but we all helped out growing up. —Greg Wright, President & COO, Wright of Thomasville, Second Generation

When did you first realize making mattresses would be your profession?

After working at Diamond for about a year following college it finally dawned on me. One day I just realized, wow, I really like this. It was great working with the people and being able to apply my creativity and computer skills to help the company develop new products, marketing materials, and implement new technologies. —Pennington

After college, before attending graduate school, I came back home and was immediately sent on the road; traveling to different retailers, providing sales training onsite and showcasing Gold Bond’s mattresses and futons. I found that I enjoyed travelling, enjoyed working one-on-one with our retailers and actively wanted to continue working for the family business. —Naboicheck

I was no different than most kids and always thought I’d “do my own thing.” The case studies in my business classes at the University of Massachusetts exposed me to the challenges many companies face. I quickly learned that the most important principle is to have the best quality product, and that of all the challenges companies face, quality is the hardest to achieve. It requires dedication and a complete company focus. The understanding of Shifman’s commitment to superior quality paved the way for an easy transition to my family’s business. —Hammer

I went on a separate path growing up. I got a degree in business and was involved in the hospitality industry for several years. After my father passed away, my brother invited me to join the company helping out. I am able to use my business and service experience in servicing our customer's needs to brand and market their product. —Wright

Anything you'd like to share specifically with the family-owned/operated retail store?

Customers want to buy from you. People like to shop local and work with family-owned businesses. It’s a lot of hard work because you have to create a great presentation, know your products and build relationships with your customers and people in the community, but it can be a rewarding way to make a good living. —Pennington

The greatest moment about working with family is seeing David every day. While he has a different function and way of doing business, knowing he is in close proximity makes all the difference. —Hersbain

We did not start as a family business; it came out of necessity. We wanted to surround our company with people who had the vision we shared and the drive we needed to succeed. When we saw the potential and the skills our children possess we knew the best option was bringing them onboard at Fabrictech. —Bergman

I think the family-owned business is still significant in our industry and is a different environment compared to publicly owned manufacturers and retailers. Our business model and tight-knit environment gives us a unique edge in the industry. —Naboicheck

My best advice is to stay true to your values and offer the quality and service that customers expect from a family-owned business. These qualities are what make you unique and will help you succeed. It is also very important to work with manufacturers that will protect you, which will allow you to maximize your sales and profits. —Hammer

You really have to work on understanding business is business and family is family. There, of course, are wonderful things about working with family, but the decisions made have to be based on the business needs first (with a hint of compassion). If you have many family members, try to live separate personal lives. It allows you to have down time. Though you don't have to have an outside Board of Directors, get one. —Wright

 Anything you'd like to share specifically with the family-owned/operated retail store?

Customers want to buy from you. People like to shop local and work with family-owned businesses. It’s a lot of hard work because you have to create a great presentation, know your products and build relationships with your customers and people in the community, but it can be a rewarding way to make a good living. —Pennington

The greatest moment about working with family is seeing David every day. While he has a different function and way of doing business, knowing he is in close proximity makes all the difference. —Hersbain

We did not start as a family business; it came out of necessity. We wanted to surround our company with people who had the vision we shared and the drive we needed to succeed. When we saw the potential and the skills our children possess we knew the best option was bringing them onboard at Fabrictech. —Bergman

I think the family-owned business is still significant in our industry and is a different environment compared to publicly owned manufacturers and retailers. Our business model and tight-knit environment gives us a unique edge in the industry. —Naboicheck

My best advice is to stay true to your values and offer the quality and service that customers expect from a family-owned business. These qualities are what make you unique and will help you succeed. It is also very important to work with manufacturers that will protect you, which will allow you to maximize your sales and profits. —Hammer

You really have to work on understanding business is business and family is family. There, of course, are wonderful things about working with family, but the decisions made have to be based on the business needs first (with a hint of compassion). If you have many family members, try to live separate personal lives. It allows you to have down time. Though you don't have to have an outside Board of Directors, get one. —Wright

How has the company's focus, or operation, changed between generations?

Technology, Design and vertical integration. We are a much more technology and design oriented company today than when I first started 8 years ago. Top to bottom we have implemented new technologies such as ERP systems for planning and operations that gives us incredible insight into the company and our numbers, phone systems to improve communications, as well as designing new dynamic products, launching our new website this year and developing all new POP materials for our retail partners. On top of that we have become more vertically integrated by adding our foam cutting department, and individually wrapped coil department. Today we process, cut and covelute our own foam and make our own individually wrapped coils which gives us the flexibility and cost control to remain competitive and ahead of our competition.  —Pennington

Our sons bring the technical, IT, and organization capabilities that we do not have in our generation. The different skill sets bring innovation to the company, adding to our ability to market and grow our brand. —Hersbain

Since my grandfather started Gold Bond in the late 1800s, we have not changed our core principles. We have the same hands-on, customer-based focus we were founded on. We believe at Gold Bond that the answer is always “yes.” If a retailer needs a product or rush shipment we strive to accommodate the retailer and customer because it’s what we have always done, what we still do, and what we will continue to do. We go store to store with sales training because we understand that retailers have a choice and that by being in front of the sales associates answering questions, providing information, we are offering brand integrity and services they do not get from many other manufacturers. —Naboicheck

I have been fortunate to have learned the business from my father and he has passed on the importance of old-fashioned values and the principles of quality, craftsmanship, and fostering good relationships with customers, employees and suppliers. While those core values remain constant, we have made some important changes. Our products, for one, have improved significantly and our new program now includes the Masters Collection, our most luxurious line ever. We have also become stronger partners to our dealers and work hand-in-hand with them to maximize their business. We are selective and only choose to do business with retailers that share our values. Our resulting success has allowed us to expand into new markets across the country. —Hammer

The focus doesn't change. Our company objectives remain as valid as they did when written 40 years ago. The actual product/service is what changes. —Wright

 Any advice for the next generation?

Don’t Be Afraid Of Mattresses! I know many other factory owners and their children have no interest in joining the family business and becoming and “manufacturer”. I think that’s a terrible shame. Our country in many ways looks down on manufacturing, when in reality it is a great creative, challenging and interesting business to be in. Being able to actually create products that people spend a good portion of their lives using is fun and inspiring. I would say to the next generation. Before you write off manufacturing and the mattress industry check it out. I wasn’t planning on coming in the industry, but am glad I gave it a shot and found out how great it truly is. —Pennington

Listen. Learn from the people around you. The older generations have wealth of knowledge that can guide the future generations. —Hersbain

Don’t ever get comfortable with what you are doing. When you lose your edge, you allow the competition to surge ahead. —Bergman

How you treat the employee and the customer paired with the quality of the product always takes precedent to the profit on the sale. Like me, my son Skip has been actively involved in Gold Bond and the family business since he was born. When he takes over, he knows the core values of our company and to never lower our quality of product. By taking into account all aspects we can grow the business the way we have since the 1800s. —Naboicheck

I am proud of the legacy of the Shifman brand. I feel that I have a purpose to carry on the tradition of excellence that characterizes Shifman and hope my children will uphold those values and pass it on to their children and for many generations to come. My advice is to embrace the long-standing principles of the company and remain committed to the high standards that have been set. —Hammer

Follow your passion, work hard at it and do as much as you can to learn all you can about it. —Wright

What challenges do you think family owned companies face compared to publicly owned?

We have so many advantages. Our smaller scale allows us to change quickly and adapting to changing market demands and needs. Also, we get to build personal relationships with our customers which is so much fun and it also allows us to serve their needs better. The publicly owned companies have tremendous resources for marketing and advertising which means they will get a big portion of the pie, but as a family business we feed off that and use that to help drive customers into stores and convert them to our products which are made better and are a much better value. The industry needs both sides, the family-owned company that provides the quality, value, and flexibility to give customers products they want at a great price and the major brands that help drive awareness for mattresses and increase overall AUSP. —Pennington

Owning the company, we were, and are, more invested in its successes and have a better understanding of the respect and confidence needed to make a business thrive. —Hersbain

Working with your son or daughter and being a father you need to find the balance between mentor and boss. Leaving the lines between personal and work demands are challenging. When too involved as a mentor you have to take a step back and understand they have the capabilities to run the company and thrive.—Bergman

We are not in the position that national companies are to advertise and create a mass-awareness of our products. We work hard to show our features and products and must price our mattresses competitively. —Naboicheck

A major challenge for many family-owned companies is the lack of an established hierarchy and chain of command. It is important to determine who is the head of the company and each family member’s responsibility. I am fortunate that there has always been a clear division of responsibilities with my father at the helm. I learn from his vast experience every day.—Hammer

We recently hired an employee whose Grandfather was one of the first employees and his father currently works in job planning. It is not just one family's business it is many families that are involved. Families that you grew up with. It can be hard to discuss someone's job performance that was there when you were running around causing a ruckus at age 10. My assistant was my father's assistant and had to deal with me in High School and College.—Wright

How does being a family owned business separate you from your competition?

It shows people that we’re local and human. People like dealing with a company they can relate to and that they knows has good values, products and service. That’s what our company provides. So often customers are frustrated with the big corporate machine and having a local company that is providing great products at good prices is something their looking for and want to support.—Pennington

There is more investment, more motivation to work harder not just because you are related to each other, but because of the need to prove more to yourself. This motivation, and the unique work environment that only comes from being in a family business, puts you ahead of the competition.—Hersbain

You cannot trust anyone more than family. You can rely on family, trust them to deliver and support each other to achieve. With family values transitioning into our day to day lives we at Fabrictech have the ability to do more, learn more, and grow more than the competition.—Bergman 

We understand our niche market is the middle price range and offer mattresses and steel box springs at a $599 to $1,499 price point. By understanding our target customer we can provide quality, affordable products. Travelling and meeting with our retailers we have a hands-on approach, receive feedback from the industry and understand what the retailer and consumer wants and needs.—Naboicheck

Shifman is a unique company with a history of quality and value for our dealers and consumers. Unlike many publicly held companies, we do not consider our bottom line to be the primary measure of our success. It is much more important to provide the finest handmade mattresses because that’s what our dealers and consumers expect. Staying true to this philosophy makes both Shifman and our dealers very successful.—Hammer

Family owned companies are able to focus on a much longer vision than just the next quarter like public companies. It is not always about the bottom dollar. One of our primary objectives is for our employees, customers, and our suppliers to have a "Satisfying work experience".—Wright

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