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Retailers straddle the line between family and career

January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16
By Nicole Murray

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 11.47.10 AMIn today’s hustle and bustle world, many people often struggle to balance their responsibilities at work and their family obligations. Owners and operators of floor covering businesses are no different. In fact, these challenges are very common in this industry where proprietors often take a hands-on approach to running the business on a day-to-day basis. The key, many owners say, is finding a happy medium.

Learn to say no. “The most important thing to keep in mind is that time is finite,” said Scott Appel, CEO of Touch of Color Flooring, Harrisburg, Pa. “I could very easily work my life away and miss out on my kids’ childhoods. But you must be fair to yourself, your family and your business. One way to do that is by learning to say no. The thinner you spread yourself, the harder it will be to give quality work or be present when spending time with the family.”

Leverage technology. Appel, who also serves as co-CEO of Floors & More and co-founder and co-CEO of Big Bob’s Outlet in central Pennsylvania, leverages technology when juggling his personal life and work responsibilities. “I am very lucky that I can work anywhere with Wi-Fi, so it adds an extra component of flexibility that I can use to my advantage. The idea of working the typical 9-to-5 day has become so skewed because everyone is so reachable through emails and cellphones.”

Pick your battles. Appel is not alone. Catherine Buchanan, co-owner and showroom manager, Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland, Mich., faces similar challenges on a daily basis. “It can be very time consuming to keep my staff motivated and ensure my showroom looks amazing while maintaining a cohesiveness among the family involved within the business as well as a strong relationship with my family outside the business,” she explained.

To help deal with these issues, she tries to follow her golden rule: “When I get home, I leave my stress at the door so I can spend time with my family as opposed to being distracted with worries I cannot do anything about at that moment. Of course, there will be times that work and family overlap and you have to take a call while getting the kids ready for school in the morning, but it is important to pick your battles because someone will always want your attention somewhere. I have definitely made mistakes over the years when it comes to choosing between work and family, and those mistakes were all used as learning experiences.”

Rely on your staff. It also helps to have people you can depend on when you can’t be on the job 24/7. “A major asset that can make or break this type of situation is your staff,” Buchanan said. “I am so lucky to have an amazing staff that is more than able to handle the business if I am not around.”

Communication is key. Balancing work and personal life also requires managing the expectations of family members and co-workers alike, experts say. That’s something that Tommy Hughes, general manager, Kelly’s Carpet, Omaha, Neb., practices religiously. “I have always told myself that I would not miss family events that I cannot get back. It is important for me to be at work to support my family, but what good does that do if I am never around to help the people I am working so hard to support?”

There are times, Hughes notes, when work takes over more than he would like. In those moments, he relies on his wife to keep him abreast of what’s going on at home. “Communication is key in all aspects, especially when running a store while raising a family. You need to listen to what your family needs and also to what your employees need.”

Hughes tries to practice what he preaches by closing the store on Sundays. “This way our employees as well as management are given one stress-free day a week to spend time with our families.”

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 11.47.02 AMRespect. There are times, however, when family must come first. “I am in a situation where my personal life takes more of my time due to familial responsibilities,” said Barb Clements, vice president, Al’s Carpet Flooring & Design, Machesney Park, Ill. For Clements, the situation is made even more complex because she works with family members. “Working with my children only blurs the line between work and family even more, but family must come first because they are your primary support system. It is critical that my children and I respect each other as business people and that is where the family dynamics go by the wayside. At work, I am the boss and we discuss work-related issues; at home is where I am the wife and mother.”

Clements, like Buchanan, can turn to reliable managers and co-workers when necessary. “When my situation demands more of my attention, I am so thankful to have employees that can delegate the responsibilities that must get done,” she said.

Plan ahead. Whether it’s family or non-family-member employees, Clements encourages all employees to operate with similar values. It’s all part of the culture in her office. “We treat employees as if they are family and respect their needs when it comes to familial obligations,” she explained. “But part of that balance is having our employees do their best to plan ahead, except for sudden emergencies. This way everyone is given time to find coverage or make whatever arrangements are necessary for the business to continue on despite any hiccups going on behind the scenes.”

Establish priorities. At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping things in the proper perspective and establishing priorities. For some dealers it goes back to the “work to live” vs. “live to work” argument.

“My major piece of advice is family should always be made a priority, no matter the situation,” said Janice Clifton, owner, Abbey Carpets Unlimited in Napa, Calif. “When I must take time to be at the store, I always weigh that against what I am taking away from my family. When you own a store, you are going to have a 50-hour work week and there is no denying that. But it is about what you do with the rest of your time. For example, when our daughter was younger, my husband and I chose the hours that would work with her schedule which sometimes meant working before or after business hours. No customer is going to remember that I spent an extra hour with them, but my family will.”

At Abbey Carpets Unlimited, management encourages employees to make spending time with family a priority. “If they need time off for family issues, it is not even a question if we approve it,” Clifton said. It’s a policy strictly enforced especially around holidays. “We also are unlike a lot of stores because we are closed all of Thanksgiving weekend. The sales I am going to lose for that one weekend do not outweigh me bringing the employees into the store when they are supposed to be with their families.”

Carpet One’s Buchanan agrees. She said she stays grounded by stressing the fact that “it is just flooring and we are not involved in a business that is life or death. You can always find a reason to get pulled back into the store if you are looking for it, but it is imperative to separate personal life from work life.”