Family Business

Family Businesses: How to Run Them Strategically

The Hartford

When we hear the phrase “family business,” we often think of a company that has been passed down from generation to generation, by a parent to their offspring. But while this might have been a common scenario in the past, we are beginning to see more and more instances of the reverse situation occurring, with adult children who are inviting their parents to join them in their new business ventures.

In this episode, Jon Aidukonis, along with Chris and Kevin Carpenter, the Owners and Operators of Prism Specialties of Jacksonville Daytona Beach, Gainesville and Ocala, share their journey as a father and son business team and offer strategic advice for opening a family run business.

Podcast Key Highlights

  • Why Should Parents and Their Adult Children Work Together as Business Partners?
    • Because of their preexisting relationship, most parent-son or parent-daughter business owners already have a clear sense of how to work well with each other.
    • Starting a business with a family member is one way to realize your dreams of financial independence.
    • As a small business owner, you have the opportunity to be your own boss.
  • What Is the Best Advice for Parent-Son or Parent-Daughter Duos Who Want to Start a Business Together?
    • Go for it and don’t overthink the process.
    • Select a business that compliments yours and your business partner’s backgrounds and passions.
    • Save extra money for the difficult times.
    • Be prepared to make mistakes.
    • If you are buying a pre-existing business or a franchise, remember that you are not only buying the name, but also all the systems that go along with it.
  • How do I Maintain a Balanced Parent-Son or Parent-Daughter Work Dynamic?
    • Make sure each co-owner has a clearly defined set of roles and responsibilities.
    • Keep open communication at all times.
  • How Do I Ensure a Smooth Recovery Process if Disaster Strikes My Small Business?
    • Create a list of every single item that you own or simply walk through your property and film a short video of all your possessions on a yearly basis.
    • Develop a series of preventative measures that ensure the protection of your belongings.
    • In the event of a fire, turn off the air conditioner and close the doors behind you as you leave to stop soot from spreading into other rooms and onto your belongings.
    • If you experience flooding, try to turn up the air conditioner. Extremely cold temperatures can prevent mold from growing on your walls until a professional can perform a dry out.

Links

Transcript

The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.

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Jon: Hey, good morning everybody. And thank you for joining us for another episode of Small Biz Ahead, the small business podcast presented by The Hartford. This is Jon Aidukonis, and I am running solo today from a hosting perspective, but I am joined by some special guests. Today with us we have Chris and Kevin Carpenter. They are the owners and operators of Prism Specialties of Jacksonville Daytona Beach, Gainesville and Ocala. Chris and Kevin, welcome to the show.

Kevin: Hello.

Chris: Thank you.

Jon: Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us today. Now you guys have an interesting story. So we’re here today to talk a little bit about what it’s like to work in a family business. And I think when most people think about that, you think about kind of growing up in the business or going to join your parents, but you guys did it a little bit differently. So Chris, you’re the son, you’re the young entrepreneur, and you brought Dad in.

Chris: Yes, exactly. I studied electrical engineering and because of that, I’ve always had a passion in electronics. And that’s kind of what inspired me to get started in the restoration industry, primarily because of electronics. And that’s what I had an interest in. I had a master’s degree in finance as well. I always had an entrepreneurial sort of kick and wanted to try something new and do something a little different than maybe just sitting behind a desk and working on an Excel sheet.

Jon: It’s true that the spreadsheets can get you. I’m right there with you. It’s funny. So Gene, our co-host, he is a CPA by trade, and we definitely sit on other ends of the spectrums there. So yeah, you kind of always felt like you wanted to own your own business, it sounds like.

Chris: The dream is to obtain a level of financial independence, and it’s just something I wanted to give a try. And the idea of sort of being my own boss really just appealed to me and something I wanted to do.

Jon: Awesome. So tell me a little bit about Prism Specialties. You are a restoration recovery company, correct?

Chris: Yes, essentially what we do is after a disaster, so fire, flood, or vandalism, smoke, we come in, and we restore all of the specialty stuff inside of a home. Now specialty in our case means electronics, artwork, and textiles. So we’ll come to the home, and we’ll take, for example, your appliances, your electronics, your Xbox, anything that counts as artwork as well. So anything from fine art all the way down to photos, we do photo restoration, and for textiles, we’ll do anything from clothing, bed, sheets, drapes. And we take all of that back to our facility, and we restore it. Now, restoring electronics can mean anything from sort of opening it up to cleaning it out to potentially actually having to fix something. Maybe it’s switching out a power supply. Artwork is a lot more involved because it depends on what we’re dealing with, but we’ll do. For fine art, we’ve done tears and paintings, reframing, color matching.

Chris: And then, we do digital restoration of photos as well. And textiles we’ll take everything back to our facility. And so we have to dry clean stuff, wash, dry, and fold. We do all of that. And actually it’s quite interesting because I originally got into this business mainly because of electronics, but I kind of find the art piece to be more interesting now because often you’ll talk to a homeowner, and the most valuable thing in their home is not their fancy Samsung refrigerator with a touch screen or their fancy laptop or computer. It’s the last photo that they have of their grandmother. And it’s amazing to be able to help the homeowner restore their most valuable possessions and possibly even the last photo that they have of a family member.

Jon: That’s awesome. Yeah. I guess you don’t really think about that all the time like what things really mean a lot to you sometimes till you’re forced to realize they could be gone. And yeah, that must be a very rewarding kind of practice to be able to be a part of. Awesome. So, okay. So Kevin, you’re Chris’s father. How did you two kind of decide to get into this together?

Kevin: When we were looking at businesses, what we wanted is something that was a fit. So Chris is an electrical engineer. I actually, aside from my MBA, my undergraduate degree is in material science and engineering, which really works well with this industry because at the end of the day, all of this with regard to restoration is material science. It’s a lot of chemistry and physics with regard to how to decontaminate the electronics. Kind of adding to what Chris had said, we also do commercial work. So in addition to the residential piece that Chris was talking about, we’ve done everything from a Hardee’s Restaurant to a laundromat to we’ve even had calls out to psychology labs and ophthalmologists.

Kevin: So a wide range of stuff, not only residential, also commercial with regard to some of the other things that we do. I agree with Chris that art is probably the most intriguing. And as I get more involved in the business, I’m particularly interested again in the material science piece of that, especially when you start dealing with the things like paintings and pigments and starting to understand that the pigments in paintings have changed over the years. And by their nature, they let’s say weather in a certain way. So again, I’m really, really these days more excited about the art piece.

Jon: Yeah. I can see that being fascinating. And it is interesting. I go back to my college days where I actually went to school for art originally out of high school. And we used to have to mix our own glazes in ceramics class. And you start to realize how to make something kind of out of a whole bunch of other things. It was the first time I think I ever really found chemistry exciting, right? And then you kind of see it more as an adult more and more, but you don’t often think about it when it becomes the final that sits on your shelf or your wall. Kevin, did you have a business of your own before, or is this your first kind of jump into owning your own place?

Kevin: Yeah, so I’m 54. So this is my first foray into entrepreneurship. I have often thought about owning a business. And finally now with Chris doing this, this is helping me to realize my dream as well, because it’s something I always wanted to do. I’ve been 30 years in industry after I left university. And the past 20 years, I’ve been with a major power generation company working on gas turbines and gas turbine power plants, and modernizing gas turbine power plants. It’s really nice to be able to work with my son. I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

Jon: Chris, so what kind of made you reach out to your dad when you were starting about doing this? So was it the breadth of science and kind of know how that you guys brought together? Have you guys always been close? What was kind of like, this is my partner?

Chris: Well, this is something that we’ve been talking about for a very, very long time, probably since I’ve been even middle school. One thing that my father kind of always talked to me about is how great it would be to not have to work for the man.

Chris: And that’s something that really appeals to me, especially after I got a taste of… I actually used to work in finance. I used to work in Germany, actually. I got my master’s degree in finance. I went to the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. And while I was there, I had this internship at this asset management firm. I guess that was sort of my first foray into having to deal with workplace politics, kind of an office environment. And after that, I kind of made a determination that I’d love to get out of there in any way possible. That’s really what made me want to kind of talk to my dad more about this idea, look at what we could do. Actually, we first started by there’s this website that we went on called what, Goldcrest? But anyway, there’s this website where it’s basically businesses for sale.

Chris: We just kind of had a look around, and we looked at some very obscure stuff. We even looked at a dog grooming business. Eventually actually my father found out about ERS and art. At the time it was called electronics restoration services. And that’s something that really appealed to me mainly because of my background in electrical engineering. That’s what we went with. And now we’re known as Prism Specialties. So it was a national rebranding, but yeah, that’s really kind of how I got into it and how me and my father got involved in this business.

Jon: That’s really interesting, especially kind of the motivation of independence and kind of how you sourced your start. Were the former owners or kind of the business leaders when you two took over, being kind of both of your first jumps into entrepreneurship, were they like coaches to you? Or were you kind of like when you signed that deal, you were kind of all in and it was kind of just time to figure it out and make it work?

Kevin: So to maybe explain, we’re a new franchise. So we’re part of the Prism Specialty system.

Jon: Got it. Okay.

Kevin: We own the franchise basically in north Florida, and we’re based out of Jacksonville. So the support we have is from the national headquarters that Neil and the rest of the gang there. And they’ve been really, really supportive, helping us to get started. It hasn’t been easy. I mean, a startup, when people hear the word startup, they think of some IT company, but in our case, we’re a startup as well. We have the good fortune of having bought a franchise. And the reason why that’s important is because buying into a franchise is not only buying the name, you’re buying all the systems along with that. And also all of the know how that comes with it. And particularly in the especially, contents restoration business, a lot of people do not realize, again, going back to the physics and chemistry of it, how sophisticated it can really be.

Jon: No, I imagine there’s a lot to learn, so it’s great to probably have those resources right at your fingertips. So tell me a little bit about what it’s like to work as father and son together. How do you keep your relationship as family, as partners? That must be an interesting dynamic. I feel like most people, when I was in college, were trying to get usually as far away as they could, right, to set kind of a path on their own, and as adults sometimes still. But you guys seem to make it work, and I’m interested in what advice you might have for other folks who are kind of in those situations.

Chris: Yeah, sure. So basically we have a very interesting dynamic here. My father actually lives overseas right now, so I’m kind of more of the boots on the ground. And really the way that we kind of coordinate that every day, well, the day before, I let my father know what my plan is. We talk every single day. So we’re always in communication. We probably call once or twice a day at a minimum and really just kind of update each other on what’s going on. My father handles more of an administration role right now, and I’m kind of coordinating. I’m actually on a job site right now sitting in a truck while guys are packing stuff in the back of the truck.

Kevin: Just to add, I think what works real well is first of all, very early on, we came up with a division of responsibility, again, going to the engineering background, right. That’s kind of the way we’ve done things. So we’ve divided things up pretty well. And to Chris’s point, I do a lot of administrative things. I also do some marketing things. But really because of my location overseas, I keep the marketing to things that can be done remotely. So that will be anything from email blasts to LinkedIn posts and things of that nature. But the day to day business is really, it’s run all by Chris, and I’m here to help. I mean, one of the things that I can’t say enough, how lucky I am to work with my son.

Kevin: He’s a good kid. And, yeah, there are times where I might get a little bit more stressed, probably more stressed than Chris does. Chris is a lot more even keel than I am. We make it work. And I think part of the reason, at least from my standpoint is I’m just incredibly proud of my son. There’s not too many 27 year olds that you throw into the deep end of the pool like this, with some sharks and throw some blood in the water. And so far he is been swimming. So I’m just incredibly proud of him.

Jon: That’s awesome. And yeah, I can imagine that the role chartering or kind of areas of responsibility helps kind of keep respectable boundaries.

Kevin: Right, right. I mean, that’s important. Where projects go wrong is always at the interfaces. Right. So if you have things pretty clearly defined who’s handling what, then the opportunity for misunderstandings is actually quite small.

Jon: Now, do you guys come from a big family?

Kevin: I have two children. My daughter who is 30, she’s an attorney in Florida here. And then of course, I’ve got Chris. My background is actually is very blue collar. I come originally from the Chicago area. My father was a union boiler maker, local number one. And my mother was a cashier at Sears. And I was one of four kids. And because I was the last kid, I got the college education.

Jon: So how does your daughter, did you think she’s trying to want to be in the business to? Or is she happy doing what she’s doing as an attorney?

Kevin: Right now, I think she’s happy doing what she’s doing, but she does help us out from time to time. I call her my in-house legal counsel.

Jon: Not bad to have one.

Kevin: Because at least I can give her a call and ask her some questions or send her a document. It costs me nothing. And I can get a response back now. If it’s something that requires a lot of legal work, well, then she can’t do that because she has certain agreements with her employer. But if that’s ever the case, then she will send me to somebody else. I do think though that she does have an entrepreneurial streak in her. So let’s see. She’s still young, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she eventually goes into business for herself. It would probably be on the legal end. But nonetheless, working in your own business is working in your own business, no matter what it is.

Jon: That is true. And that kind of brings me to my next question. So Kevin, you grew up working kind of for the other people. Chris, you were cautioned to not work for the man. What was the most exciting thing that you’ve kind of experienced since going into business for yourselves and what was the most surprising?

Chris: The most exciting thing about this business was really just kind of doing things that I have never imagined doing before. At least years ago, I would’ve never imagined driving a box truck or arriving to job sites and coordinating staff members to help take electronics and appliances out. Really, it’s kind of pushed me to see what I can do. And the most surprising thing about this business is some of the stuff that you come across, especially on the art side once again, art counts as anything that’s not only fine art, but also collectibles.

Chris: And sometimes we come across some very interesting collections. Actually the house that my father and I went to just this last Friday, the family of all of their daughters were going, I guess they attended these pageants, and they had all these tiaras and a lot of trophies. And before we got to a house, and it had a big collection of model trains. This guy had so many model trains. He even had a train that went along the outside perimeter of his fence. And you see some very interesting stuff that you would really not see anywhere else. Maybe in a museum.

Jon: Yeah. I would be fascinated by that. So I’m a big fan of buying, I don’t know. Like I love auctions and estate sales and just kind of the stories behind people and their things. So yeah, I think that would be my favorite part of the job is kind of getting to know other people through their belongings. I just think that’s an interesting way to tell a story sometimes.

Kevin: I guess from my standpoint, one of the things that I wanted out of this, other than some of the freedom of being a business owner is doing something good. Right. And doing something tangible that’s good. So when you go into somebody’s home after they’ve had say a fire, you have to remember, that’s probably the most traumatic experience that they will have in their lives, other than a death of a close relative. So it’s really important to understand that number one. And number two, be empathetic and think about, okay, how would I feel if my house had burned, and my things were in this shape and what would I be concerned with. Generally, if you go into things that way you find that people are actually grateful. And that’s really what I find to be most rewarding here is just doing some good.

Jon: Awesome. No, and I think that’s important advice. You never really know what’s going on that you don’t know with people. So kind of always assume good intent and know that they probably have more going on behind it.

Kevin: Yeah. I mean, think about, yeah people of course are very emotional, quite understandably. Sometimes I see in this industry people go about it’s a job, and they’re concerned about the job, right. But at the end of the day, you’re dealing with people and some of their most precious possessions that to your point about an estate sale earlier, right. If you put them out at an estate sale, maybe someone would only be willing to pay $3 and 50 cents for that item, but to the individuals that you’re dealing with, that item is priceless because there’s memories associated with it.

Jon: And that’s very true. So I guess kind of thinking about that same thing of things you’ve learned, if you were giving advice to someone who was thinking about opening their own business, now that you have been in it for a while, you’ve kind of been able to grow, evolve a little bit over the past couple years, what would that piece of advice be to someone who’s just thinking that they might want to strike out on their own?

Chris: What I would tell them is just to go ahead and do it. A lot of people often they’ll think about doing something, but they’ll never end up doing it. And obviously, that’s provided that you have a background and a passion that you’re interested in, and that’s something that you think you can use and create a business around.

Kevin: Yeah, I guess what I would say to that is on the more pragmatic side. You can have never have enough money or enough time in terms of how hard you’re going after work so preparing for something like this, I guess at the end of the day, you can prepare and prepare and prepare, but understand that you’re not perfect. And that there’s going to be some things that you miss, and you’re just going to have to figure it out along the way. And you’re going to have to trust in yourself and your abilities and the good Lord to help.

Jon: I think that’s good advice. Sometimes you got to take the biggest risk you can, which is betting on yourself. Well, guys, this has been a great conversation. It’s been nice getting to know you and a little bit more about your company and your journey. Anything else you want to leave our listeners with?

Chris: I was told that I would be asked about my perspective as, I guess I was called a Zoomer. I don’t know if I’m lumped into that category. I mean, people younger than me are using words that I have no clue what they mean quite frankly. But I would like to give some advice out to some younger people or people my age or younger. I actually had three things to say. The first one is, I think everybody should be really right after you graduate from high school, you should be developing skills or going to school or doing something. I say that mainly because there are a lot of people my age that are just kind of sitting at home and not doing anything which is kind of disturbing. Second thing is to enjoy life, socialize, try new things. And then the third thing I’d like to say is take a chance. I’m 27 years old and just try something new. I don’t have a family yet. I don’t have anything to lose. And really that’s what I have to add.

Kevin: Yeah. I guess the only thing I would say to that is if you lose your shirt, I can always buy you a new one.

Kevin: Right. And there’s always a spot on my couch if you need it, but hopefully we will get there. In terms of what I would say to people is I think speaking to people that may be confronted with one of these situations with a fire or flood, or vandalism or whatever, when you seek help really try to get to know who your restoration people are. There’s some good ones out there. There’s some not so good ones out there. And I think really you need to find the ones that have their heart in the right place.

Jon: I think that’s awesome advice and both on the practical and the life lesson side. And bonus question, actually thinking about it. So in the vein of restoration, most of our listeners are business owners and probably to some degree have some kind of property, whether it’s personal or commercial that they are thinking about protecting often. Is there anything that folks don’t do, but they should, that would make recovery from an unexpected event, easier? Is there any advice you might leave them in terms of like inventorying belongings, understanding kind of, I guess, in your world, what goes into maybe certain material or kind of the method or medium behind a piece of art? Is there something that you would wish like, oh, I wish people did this because it would let us kind of help them better.

Kevin: I’ll go ahead and answer some of that. I mean, certainly when you are looking at your insurance policies, you want to make sure that your contents are covered for their true value. So it would make sense to actually have literally a list of every single thing that you own. If you have fine art that’s valuable enough that should be scheduled on your policy. The other thing you can do is you can protect things, right.

Kevin: One good example is when we went to the ophthalmologist where they had a fire, it was very clear that office had been religious about putting a plastic cover over all of their optical equipment, which saved them a tremendous amount of money in the recovery phase, because the soot settled on the covers and not on the optics. And if you know anything about that optical equipment, it gets very pricey very quickly, especially optical lasers and things like that. So, I mean, really the two pieces are, make sure you have enough insurance, make sure you’re protecting your most valuable things for the time when maybe you do have a fire or a flood.

Jon: Awesome. No, that’s great advice because I think how many of us have the case to something at our house that kind of sits there because you use it enough and you put it down. You don’t really put it away. But I think it’s a good practice to keep in mind and probably would keep all of our homes a little bit cleaner and offices.

Chris: If you just made a short five minute video, maybe once a year, if you just walking through your house and just showing everything that you had, that’d be great. Also, another thing, if you have a fire, well first make sure you get out of the house immediately. Make sure everybody else is out of the house. But also if you could close doors behind you, that would go a long way at preventing soot from spreading and getting into other rooms on your items. Also, if you happen to pass your AC while running out of the house turn it off, and that would help a lot. For water, if you have like a flood, you want to turn up the AC… Well, you want it to be very cold to prevent mold from growing on your walls before somebody can come in and do a dry out. But that’s what I have to add.

Jon: Awesome. Those are great tips. And honestly, will probably help you save a lot on your heating and cooling bills too, just by closing doors and turning off your devices. Great. Well, Chris, Kevin, this has been a great conversation and appreciate you spending the time with us today. Listeners out there, thank you. Without you, we would not be here, and we will catch you on the next episode of Small Biz Ahead. In the interim, if you want to check out some blog articles to learn how to manage, grow, and run your business, you can check out SBA.thehartford.com. That’s SBA.the hartford.com. And we will see you next time.

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