Imagine owning and operating a company along with those closest to you.
No, not that guy sitting to your left. Your family! Many out there, including store owners, may not need to imagine it, because they already live it. But for the rest of us, the dynamic can be interesting to ponder.
Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, grandparents and all manner of kin can be involved when a family owns a business. Those relationships, for better or for worse, are embedded in the company's ethos, and sometimes determine its direction. The occasional tension and conflict that all families endure can be detrimental to a business, but just the same, the bonds of family and the clarity of purpose that such likeminded people can achieve may make all the difference between failure and success. Not to mention that family-owned businesses tend to be high on integrity. Family owners are often aware that their company's reputation may reflect back onto them, and they work hard to make sure this reflection is a positive one.
Throw in the natural products industry's special brand of idealism and its unique perspectives, and the stories of these family-owned businesses become both fascinating and instructive. In the midst of these insights and company histories lie important lessons about both business and family ties. Beyond covering the industry in which they work, WholeFoods Magazine shares another connection with these companies. Our very own Heather and Howard Wainer know what it is to combine business and family, a task in which Heather's mother and Howard's wife Sandra Wainer joined them for many years. So, we commend these fellow family businesses, along with all of the others within the industry which we weren't able to cover here, and hope they continue to flourish.
“Large Enough to Serve,
Small Enough to Care”
Much of the “feel-good” halo surrounding family businesses is due to the perceived distinction between this model and the corporate one, says Steve Palko, CFO of Palko Services, Michigan City, IN. He believes “corporate” entities are sometimes associated with largeness and an unforgiving rigidity, while family-run businesses are often viewed as small, flexible, hard-working, ethical and caring.
Whatever the broad differences may be, treating customers, suppliers and employees as people instead of numbers, Palko says, is what allows his family business to grow. “We at Palko are constantly promoting a win-win-win philosophy, where every member in the supply chain benefits from the transaction (the manufacturer, the distributor, the retailer and even the consumer),” he says.
These transactions can be traced back to Steve’s father, Jim, who Steve says was born to sell. He sold everything from insurance to batteries, before setting out on his own and founding Palko Services in 1984. After humble beginnings, with just one product line sold in five states, Jim built his new company into a nationwide distributor of leading natural products. Work-ethic was fundamental to this success, as Steve details: “If you ask him how to run a family business, he would say, ‘You only have to work a half day, and it doesn’t matter which 12 hours you work.’” From day one, he says, the company adhered to a simple motto: “Large Enough to Serve, Small Enough to Care.”
Currently, the company employs Jim, his wife, Debbie, their daughter, Sally Jo as sales manager, Steve as CFO and Steve’s wife, Michelle, in HR. But the family ties extend further, as Michelle’s sister, Natasha, is a Palko sales rep, and her husband, Austin, is an assistant warehouse manager. Austin’s father and brother are also with the company. “We also have two sets of sisters who work for us and numerous friends we consider to be part of the family. We like to think of our stores as part of the family as well. With so many family members, Palko plans on being family owned for generations to come,” Palko says.
Though seemingly every day brings another buyout of a family-owned or independent business, Palko sees reason to hope for the continued existence of the model, and believes in its importance. “Our industry needs those independent businesses that have a genuine concern for their customers’ health and well-being,” he says.