» Subscribe Today!
More of what you want to know.
The Daily News

Forgot your password?
TDN Services
Research millions of people and properties [+]
Monitor any person, property or company [+]

Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 125 | NO. 168 | Monday, August 30, 2010

Taking Care of Business

Family-run companies survive amid unique challenges

MICHAEL WADDELL | Special to The Memphis News

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Comments ()

A diverse mix of Memphis businesses is defying the odds and finding success spanning multiple family generations. Grant & Co., Champion Awards, Jim’s Place East, Barden Stone and Broadway Pizza are among the Memphis institutions thriving under second- and third-generation ownership and management.

Similarly, Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation is looking to third-generation leadership as it celebrates its 50th anniversary funding local organizations throughout the area (see sidebar, Page 20). Only one-third of family owned businesses will survive into the second generation and only half of those will make it to the third, said David Doyle of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center.

“In order to make a successful transition to the next generation of ownership, there should be early planning that includes education and training, along with a solid business plan for the transfer,” said Doyle.

Chris Crouch of DME Training and Consulting thinks “transfer of passion” is the key to a business’ success when moving from one generation to the next.

“Passion drives a person to success,” Crouch said. “A company’s second, third and even fourth generations must be willing to go the extra mile to see the business succeed. Whether it’s working long hours or making other sacrifices, the person must treat the business like it’s their baby or child.”

Rock solid

Three generations of the Barden family have worked at Barden Stone Co. Bob Barden and his wife, Brenda, took over the family’s stone business in 1986 after buying out his brothers, John and Will.

Regarding partnerships, Barden suggested businesses have a total of three partners versus only two.

“A third partner acts as a tie-breaker when the other two are deadlocked and need a decision,” he said. “If there are only two partners and they strongly disagree, things start to break down.”

Bob’s father, Erlewood Barden, bought the business, then called White Stone Co., in 1951. Bob began working with him around the shop at age 10 and became an experienced craftsman by the time he finished high school. Bob returned from the Marine Corps and Vietnam in 1970 and entered back into the family business.

Bob and Brenda now work alongside their three children. Their oldest son, Darren, handles outside installations, while their younger son, Billy, works for the company at its plant in Byhalia, Miss., overseeing the fabrication side. Their youngest child, Nancy, is the company’s interior designer and sales manager in Memphis.

“It was challenging sometimes dealing with brothers and sisters because there was always the tendency to try to keep things even for each of them,” said Barden. “I think it works best when there is some separation within the company, whether it’s a separate company, a different division or just a different building. Then everyone can meet once a week for discussion. This way everyone can apply their own work ethic or personality to get the job done.”

Working with their children has allowed the Bardens to travel and focus on the importing side of their business. Barden expects that his children will fully take over the company in the future. He has begun early succession planning by attending seminars and reading several books on the topic.

Award-wininng success

Mike Bowen, president of Champion Awards, believes working with family can be rewarding but not without difficulties.

Bowen’s mother, Susan Bowen Lane, started the apparel and awards company in a barn off of Shelby Drive in Southeast Memphis in 1970. She was not happy with her income from working as a seamstress.

“My motivation was simply to make money. I loved sewing, but there was no money in it,” she said. “I decided to start a company where the profits were better. Within no time, I was making four times what I had made as a seamstress.”

Champion grew and eventually her sons, Mike and Kenny, entered the business and became partners with their mother and father. Having essentially four bosses sometimes put a strain on family relations as well as the business. So Mike bought out his father’s share of the company in 1996, and then he acquired his mother’s share in 2000 and his brother’s in 2002.

“None of it was a pleasant experience,” Bowen said. “Each buyout was very difficult. But in the end, I was able to get my family back by not being partners anymore. Now the business and the family are thriving and more functional than ever. You can walk away from a company, but you can’t walk away from your family.”

Lane, a former chairwoman of SCORE, agrees that working with family can be difficult. “Family members will disagree, especially on how the business is run,” she said. “It’s good to have one person in charge. Everything runs smoother that way.”

The company now screen prints and embroiders as many as 10,000 pieces per day. Some of Champion’s local clients include FedEx, CellularSouth, the Memphis Redbirds, the University of Memphis, Stax Records and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Mike Bowen now works with his sons, Colby and Michael. The oldest son Colby has worked within all of the company’s nine divisions and is currently manager of the Champion’s Beale Street Gift Shop. Younger son Michael works for Champion in accounting and plans to attend law school after finishing undergrad studies at the U of M.

Building family bonds

Third-generation homebuilder Grant & Co. looks to circumvent some of the problems that often arise when businesses are passed down. Their philosophy of independent ownership allows each new generation to be successful in its own way. Instead of simply inheriting a piece of the company, each sibling creates their own independent building entity.

Carl Grant began building and developing new homes in the late 1940s. His sons entered into the business in the early 1970s and created the Richard and Milton Grant Co. Richard’s sons formed Keith and David Grant Homes in 1996, while Milton’s sons, Cary and Kevin, started Grant Homes LLC.

All worked for their fathers during high school before building their first homes during college in preparation for starting their own businesses. In 2006, Keith and David’s sister, Kim Grant Brown, also formed her own company after completing college.

“Each business is free to operate at its own pace. We can grow our own company in our own way,” said Keith Grant. “Most importantly, we are not business partners, so we don’t have to worry about disagreements causing big problems. Everything would be a lot harder if there were always five or six partners to satisfy.”

Donny Lewis, center, operates a manual screenprinting press at Champion Awards & Apparel, a family run apparel and awards business that started in 1970. The business screenprints and embroiders over 10,000 apparel items each day.

At Keith and David Grant Homes, Keith handles land acquisition and David focuses on purchasing and day-to-day construction. The company expects to close on approximately 100 homes this year in neighborhoods across the Mid-South.

“Much of our success comes from each generation encouraging the next, while at the same time forcing them to learn the entire industry,” Grant said. “By the time we each started our own companies, we were responsible for everything, from coming up with our own business plan to applying for construction loans to designing floor plans to selling the completed homes.”

Enjoying a great family meal

Jim’s Place East also is under its third generation of ownership. Co-owners and brothers Dimitri and Costa Taras purchased Jim’s Place East from their father, charter owner Bill Taras, in the mid-1970s. Now Costa and his son, Bill, manage Jim’s Place East in East Memphis, while Dimitri and sons James and Sam operate Jim’s Place Grille in Collierville, which opened in 2006.

“The main thing here is that everyone gets along. We all love our jobs,” said Costa Taras. “I’ve definitely seen examples around town where family disagreements hurt businesses. We are blessed in that regard that we’ve been able to maintain our excitement about the restaurant over the years.”

Taras explained that his father did not initially want his two sons going into the family business. Until the late 1950s, Jim’s Place did huge business at its Downtown Union Avenue locale across from The Peabody hotel.

“They stayed open 24 hours a day, seven days a week back then,” said Taras. “Twelve-hour work days were common, and our father thought maybe we might prefer to go into a less demanding line of work.”

But his sons’ passion for the business won out. The brothers began working at the restaurant during the summers while in high school. They took a few years off during the mid-1960s to attend college, and then returned to help their father open a new Jim’s Place on Second Street in 1966. The restaurant moved east in the mid-1970s.

Following nearly 35 years in East Memphis, Jim’s Place East will again make a big move in early November, this time to a new location at the Poplar-Perkins intersection.

“We are excited about the upcoming change,” said Costa. “Hopefully the new location will thrive and carry Jim’s Place into a fourth generation of the Taras family.”

Pizzeria comeback

Third-generation pizzeria Broadway Pizza is enjoying a welcome resurgence thanks to the growing Broad Avenue Arts District. Owner Dewana Ishee and her sons are carrying the torch more than four decades after Ishee’s mother opened Broadway, in 1977.

Ishee became a partner in the business near the time of her mother’s death four years ago. Her staff now includes her three sons: Adrian, 21, Austin, 19, and Andrew, 17. Adrian has worked at Broadway since he was 14, while Andrew is just starting to learn the ropes. Austin, who suffers from cerebral palsy, helps out when possible.

Several years ago, business at the restaurant slowed tremendously when Sam Cooper Boulevard was rerouted away from Broad Avenue. Ishee saw many of her neighboring businesses close up. “At that point, we wondered if we would be able to stay open,” Dewana Ishee said.

But the growing arts district is helping revitalize the area, as evidenced by the popularity of The Cove bar and a new restaurant, Three Angels Diner, opening down the street from the pizza parlor.

Ishee’s passion for the family business is apparent. She has worked at the restaurant since she was 7 and knows a large number of her customers by name – and many times also by their food orders. She cites the loyal customers and long-time employees as the keys to Broadway’s success. The restaurant boasts two employees, “Dee” and Rose Thomas, who have logged more than 20 years in the kitchen.

“For us, working together has been great,” said Ishee. “The restaurant brings together a wide variety of people in a casual, friendly environment. It’s had a positive effect on us as a family. The last few years of renewed business have really been a blessing.”

PROPERTY SALES 40 220 16,417
MORTGAGES 28 85 10,172
BUILDING PERMITS 161 826 39,370
BANKRUPTCIES 29 136 7,733