Thursday, April 12, 2012

Family-Owned Business of the Year?

I don’t know when I first became involved in a family business. It may have been 1969, when Barry, Craig and I jointly scavenged for pop bottles to claim the five cent deposit, or maybe a year later when Barry, Cindy and I ran a lemonade stand at the Blanding Little League Baseball field. In any case, my involvement in family enterprise has a long and storied past.

Steve, Barry, & Craig

As anyone who has ever been in business with their mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, cousin or other relative will confirm, such endeavors are not for the faint of heart. Family relations are always complicated, and when you add commerce to the mix, the result is flammable, combustible and unpredictable. As Bonnie Tyler sang in the 1980s hit song Total Eclipse of the Heart, it’s like, “Living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.” One never knows what might precipitate an explosion or what damage the eruption might engender.

In order to survive, you must be patient and forgiving, but mostly just plain lucky. When we organized William W. Simpson Enterprises Inc., which originally did business as Twin Rocks Trading Post, Blue Mountain Trading Post and Bluff City Trading Company, Daddy Duke, Momma Rose, Sister Sue, Brother Craig, Brother Barry and I were all involved. Later Sister Cindy and Brother-in-Law Amer joined the fray. At that point one had to be saint, psychologist, religious scholar, entrepreneur and first aid specialist just to get through the day.

Over the years, Cindy and Amer split off to form Desert Rose Inn, Sue retired early and Rose and Duke happily withdrew from the venture with a guaranteed pension. That left only Craig, Barry and me to soldier on under the banner of Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe. While it has gotten noticeably better with fewer people involved, from time to time the sparks still fly in this organization.

So it was several months ago when we three survivors were locked in Barry's office having a animated discussion about how things were proceeding in the businesses situated at the foot of the Twin Rocks. At one point or another, each participant offered up his ownership interest in favor of a modest buy-out. We had been down this path several times, so everyone understood that in spite of the raised voices, things would likely be okay in a few hours, and would, in all probability, be back to normal in a day or so.

As we exited the battle, our blood still up, a page came over the intercom, “Steve, Buddy Redd is on line three.” Buddy is a good-natured individual who directs the Small Business Development Center at the Utah State University campus in Blanding, so I was compelled to take the call. “Hey Steve,” Buddy said, “we want to nominate Twin Rocks for the SBA Georgia Jeffrey Buntland Family-Owned Business of the Year award.”

As it turns out, this prize honors family-owned businesses which have been passed from one generation to the next and have been operational at least 15 years. I found it more than a little ironic that Buddy’s call came at that particular moment, and I could not help wonder whether the honor had ever been awarded posthumously. With the overwhelming number of small family businesses failing in the first few years of operation and almost none making it into the second generation, I had to wonder if there were many eligible candidates.

In any case, completely unaware of the tension at Twin Rocks, Buddy happily prepared the nomination and sent it off to the SBA. In the ensuing months all was forgiven, business continued apace and the application was forgotten. Last week as I checked my e-mail, I noticed a message from Buddy. Imagine my surprise when the note mentioned we had won, and that Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe had been named the Utah Family-Owned Small Business of the Year.

Maybe we received the award because we were the only eligible nominee, or maybe because we were the only survivor in the pool of applicants. In any case, open the champagne, and let the sparks fly.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team


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