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Al's Column: Managing a family-run business

January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16

By Jacqueline Tabbah

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.49.34 PMThere are many issues facing floor covering retailers today, especially family-run businesses. For instance, how do you keep your business running smoothly and successfully when generations work side by side or begin the succession process?

How do you keep family and work balance? What is the influence of your corporate/family culture on business structures and policies?

I will be addressing many of these issues and more at Surfaces this week when I convene a panel of real-life members representing different segments of the stone industry Wednesday, Jan. 18, 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. During this presentation, “Managing a Successful Family Business,” participants will share their experiences and encourage attendees to share their own observations in this interactive town-hall style discussion.

In my experience working in a family-run business, I have found there is a fine line between respecting your family’s business that they’ve built from the ground up and being an innovator. This line can often feel like a tightrope, but once you make it to the other side, you will achieve a rewarding and meaningful career.

For instance, in many cases I have found working in a family business requires adapting to a system that’s already in place—and may have been for years. My advice is to embrace this system initially by trying things “their way” in order for you to earn and build trust. Over time, you can slowly tweak the areas where you think there is room for improvement.

Another issue to be mindful of is nepotism or the appearance of favoritism. I strongly recommend managers demonstrate proficiency at all times during office hours by communicating in a professional manner in the presence of employees and customers. The workplace is not the venue to make family jokes or have a heated discussion. Instead, set aside differences and work together respectfully. When family members who work together trust and respect each other, your employees will follow suit because they will see that you are taking your family business seriously.

After these fundamental concepts are established, you can start introducing your innovative ideas. My advice is to start with baby steps. For instance, you may want to upgrade your social media skills. It costs nothing and can really boost the company’s web presence. You can even reorganize your filing system by simply creating a shared drive or cloud-based system that everyone has access to at all times.

You may want to get involved in numerous local and national groups such as the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and the Natural Stone Institute (MIA+BSI), to name a few. Most of the national groups have local chapters. Start locally as your business is local, and people do business within their community.

Finally, I encourage you to broaden your scope and think outside the box. Successful family businesses thrive over generations because every person brings something new to the table. Each generation must adapt to fit the times. Learn everything you can from your fathers and mothers and build on that.


screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-4-09-49-pmJacqueline Tabbah is vice president of International Stoneworks, an active member of the Marble Institute of America. She also writes a weekly blog, which includes stone care tips, fun facts and product recommendations. Visit