by Julia Paulus Ogilvie
Continuing To Develop Its Niche Expertise - Gene Young | Western Wire Product Co.
For more than 100 years, one business has been part of the Young family. It began in 1907 when the uncle of Western Wire Products’ founder developed a machine that made woven wire fabric. Five years later, the family inventor, Ira J. Young, applied for a patent on a machine for forming split pins, later to be known as cotter pins. Ira began to manufacture cotter and split pins under the name of Wire Manufacturing Co. He soon sold his interest in this company to his brother, Harry M. Young, and Alvin L. Bauman, a nonfamily member who was a partner.
After surviving the Depression, the company, which came to be known as Western Wire Product Co., Inc., continued to develop wire products to meet changing demands. In 1957, Harry’s son H. Melvin “Bus” Young Jr. became the acting president of Western Wire. Today Gene Young, the family’s third generation to join the business, is at its helm. “I am the youngest in my family, and my father made it clear that only one of his children would lead the company,” says Gene. “By the time I graduated from engineering school my siblings had headed in other directions, so I started to think seriously about the family business.”
As the general manager of Western Wire, Gene stays close to the inner workings of the business, still spending part of his day on the shop floor. “Most businesses of our longevity have gone through as many changes as have we,” he says. “However, we are still operating some equipment patented and developed by my great-uncle 100 years ago. At the same time we have a significant investment in some of the most recently developed CNC wire-forming machinery.”
To combat the erosion of the U.S. manufacturing base, Gene has invested in new capabilities to serve smaller niches and extended his company’s product line, and he looks to continue to align with more strategic partners in the future.
Sharing Her Customer Service Instincts - Nancy Friedman| Telephone Doctor
Starting a business happened accidentally for Nancy Friedman. While running the customer service department of her husband Dick’s company, Weatherline, a dial in weather service still operating, she had to make a call to their insurance agency. “The customer service people were so rude to me I told our rep, Michael, ‘Drop all my policies,’” she says. “He asked why and I told him that his customer service people stink. He then asked if I would come into his office and explain what they should be doing. I did and told them to say ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ etc. They all took notes like it was their first time hearing this. It is instinct to me but apparently not everyone.”
Soon after, Nancy was speaking with the editor of a newspaper in Davenport, Iowa who was a Weatherline client. He asked whether she would come in to train his news staff. “I wrote and delivered a four-hour program,” she says. “On the spot the editor said, ‘I am going to call you the Telephone Doctor.’”
Today the Friedman family’s company, Telephone Doctor, which is also known as serviceskills.com, is one of the most effective customer service training companies in the country, producing all types of material with more than 90 modules of online training. Nancy is president, but demand for her as a keynote speaker at large meetings and events has meant she is often working outside the office. “Thankfully David, our son, is vice president now and runs the basic sales and daily operations,” she says. “I ran the business at the start, and then David came in after he graduated from college. He wanted to join the family business. I told him he should go work elsewhere for a year because it’s different working for ‘Mr. Smith’ than for the family. So he went and worked at another company for a year and then came back to start working in our sales department. I love how he’s running the entire company now.”
Keeping All In Reach For Clients - Dawn Weinhardt | Weinhardt Party Rentals
When Dawn Weinhardt’s grandfather founded Weinhardt Party Rentals in 1946, it was a catering company. Soon though, with the acquisition of tables, chairs, china and other typical party rental items, his company began to unexpectedly expand. “Other caterers heard my grandpa had the equipment and began to call to borrow it,” says Dawn. “He thought, ‘Why should I let them?’ So he began to let them rent the items for a fee. He accumulated more and more inventory over time.”
By 1973 Weinhardt’s grandfather’s health was poor, and her dad knew he needed to come up with a plan. He needed to either sell the business or take it over. “My mom was already helping part time in the business,” says Dawn. “She saw an opportunity to own the business and they took it over. My parents continued to get more rental equipment even though it was a struggle financially. They worked a lot of long hours and earned bigger events like Washington University’s graduation.”
Like most children who grow up in a family business, Weinhardt went through a phase of not wanting anything to do with it, she says. Despite that, after she returned to St. Louis from college to help with the business, she joined full time in 1991.
As vice president, Weinhardt today wears hats ranging from marketing to HR and has helped her family business evolve into strictly party rental.
In addition to offering good products at fair prices and doing the best work possible no matter the size of the job, Weinhardt continues to grow the family business by offering products that clients might see in magazines. “These are usually trends coming from the East and West coasts,” says Dawn. “And we do so at great prices, especially for weddings or big events because you can’t spend $1 million. We keep things in reach for everyone.”
Providing Care In Her Grandmother’s Memory - Kit Whittington | Seniors Home Care
In 1987 Kit Whittington was a working single mom with two kids who was also caring for her paternal grandmother who had breast cancer. “I hired private people out of the neighborhood paper,” she says. “Before I would pick up my kids, I would go to visit my grandmother. I would find her slumped over in a chair or find that she was never taken to her chemotherapy. That’s when I quit my corporate advertising job to work as my grandmother’s caregiver.”
After her grandmother died, Whittington realized she could start a business as a caregiver in her memory. “After five years I realized that I needed more formal training,” says Kit. “I saw that many of my clients were going from doctor to doctor with the same ailments and receiving conflicting medications. That’s when I decided to go to nursing school. I received a four-year Bachelor of Nursing degree. I majored in geriatrics.”
With her education and caring nature, Kit has grown Seniors Home Care into a business serving people all over St. Louis City and County. “We help people stay in their homes by providing quality caregivers,” she says. “I have over 175 people who help others with the activities of daily living from personal care to transportation.”
In 2008, Kit’s son unexpectedly approached her to ask whether she would be willing to let him work in the family business. “He said he could see how meaningful it was, and he said he would start anywhere,” says Kit. “He joined the business as a caregiver on a trial basis. After two years he transitioned to working in the office while still working as a caregiver. Now he is in his second year as a business partner and is becoming an owner. My husband, Mark Whittington, joined us four years ago.”
In the future, the Whittington family hopes to continue to provide meaningful jobs and quality service to people wanting to remain in their homes for the rest of their lives.
Building A Customer Focused Firm - Shawn McBride | Affiliated Insurance Agencies, Inc.
Like many entrepreneurs, Joseph C. McBride Jr. started his business, then McBride Insurance Agency, in a garage in 1959. However, his was not the typical home garage situation. “His brother, Richard (Dick) McBride, was running McBride & Son Construction at the time with their father, Joseph C. McBride, and they shared a tiny little building in Ferguson, Mo.,” says Shawn McBride, Joseph Jr.’s grandson. “My grandpa took the space that was formerly a garage. You can say that my agency was started out of a garage.”
Incorporated in 1962 as Affiliated Insurance Agencies Inc., the McBride family’s insurance agency is now in its third generation, with Shawn as its owner and president. Although when he was a teen Shawn’s aspirations were set on soccer, when he blew out his ACL his junior year of high school, he had no choice but to set his sights elsewhere. Since beginning to work for his grandfather’s firm in high school, he hasn’t looked back.
After taking ownership of the firm after his father’s retirement in 2006, Shawn has guided the direction of the business. “Affiliated was primarily a personal lines agency for 40 of its 54 years,” he says. “Now 70% of the agency is commercial lines. We still do a ton of personal lines and it is an important unit for us but, we are growing faster in commercial lines.”
While Shawn continues to grow the firm, the focus of Affiliated, as in years past, remains on its customers. In order to maintain this focus, Shawn made the strategic decision to join his agency with a larger agency, The Warren Group. “TWG takes away all the HR and agency management stuff off my plate so I can do what I do best – write and retain clients,” he says. “I like being an insurance man. I still go on appointments to people’s kitchen table.”
Shawn believes in educating each client through the process. “We critique the current coverage, identify flaws and fix them,” he says. “Our retention has been over 90% for 25-plus years because we do what is best for the client regardless of the commission. Some would even say we are overstaffed, but that is OK because we sweat the small stuff.”
Today Affiliated serves more than 500 businesses and 1,700 families with a total premium volume over 12 million.
Keeping The Family Business In the Family - Jason Shupp | Ferguson Roofing
When Jason Shupp left St. Louis after high school to pursue academics and his career, he had no intention of returning to join his family business, Ferguson Roofing. However, as circumstances changed, the importance of keeping the family business in the family took precedence. “My grandparents ran it out of their house in Ferguson, which is where the name Ferguson Roofing comes from,” says Jason. “Our present office is two miles from there. My grandparents had four children, but none were interested in the business. But my father, who married one of their daughters, was interested. He worked with my grandfather, and the business eventually transitioned to him.”
When it came time for Jason’s family to determine how to transition the business to the third generation in the early 2000s, it became clear that if it was going to stay in the family, Jason, who had honed skills in business management, would need to be involved. “My older brother Brett always worked in the industry on the production side,” says Jason.
In order to keep the business running successfully and in the family, Jason joined in 2003. “My father retired in 2007, and Brett and I now run the company.”
Today Jason and Brett’s main focus is on continually improving service to current and potential customers. “We use technology to improve our processes and the quality of installation for customers,” says Jason. “Our biggest focus going forward is on growing the commercial division and establishing ourselves as a main player.”
To do so, the Shupps have concentrated on hiring good talent. “Part of that is empowering our employees so I can get out of their way and they can shine,” says Jason. “This has meant moving to a more transparent environment and sharing our vision and financial drivers. It has fostered our talent to connect the dots of what we’re trying to accomplish as a group and company at large.”
Evolving With An Industry For More Than 150 Years - Robert Wunderlich Jr.|Wunderlich Fibre Box Co.
Founded in 1860, Wunderlich Fibre Box Co. was one of Missouri’s first 100 incorporated businesses and is still going strong today. “My great-great-grandfather started making wooden barrels, casks and kegs near the north St. Louis levee at what is now Monroe Street and North Broadway, near where the large Native American burial mounds were leveled,” says Robert Wunderlich Jr. “The family members expanded into the barrel stave business, building stave mills down through the Ozarks as far south as northern Mississippi, where Missouri’s oak wood staves have become famous. Our part of the family remained in the packaging business here in St. Louis at the same location for the past 154 years. We began making corrugated fiber boxes and packaging sometime shortly after the turn of the century.”
Like his father, Wunderlich grew up in his family business, working odd jobs around the factory. After college he accepted a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps to fly and did that for more than 10 years, but with the corrugated boxboard industry in his blood, he was drawn home. “My brother-in-law, who joined us not long before I left for the Marines, had a long career in manufacturing already, and he and my dad really transformed the place while I was gone – major updates and new machinery and buildings,” says Wunderlich. “This has made my transition much easier.”
Rejoining the business also meant adjusting to major evolutions in the industry, like the use of the cardboard box as the sales and marketing tool, not just the protective part of shipping a product. “We have gone full speed ahead into the point-of-sale display graphics aspect of corrugated packaging, which everybody sees at a grocery store or at Wal-Mart,” says Wunderlich. “The innovative uses of our product are amazing – far past the square brown box. Several major universities now have popular packaging engineering programs, where my nephew is currently enrolled.”
Emphasizing Customer Satistaction And Employee Success - Dan Merrifield, Matt Merrifield | Lakeside Exteriors
Shortly after college, during the early 1990s, Matt Merrifield co-owned a home improvement business. In 1993 he made the decision to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, and upon honorable discharge in 1997, Matt knew just what he wanted to do. He began to quickly lay out his plans to own and operate his own home improvement business. He founded Lakeside Exteriors that year. “I invited my brother Dan Merrifield to join me in my venture, and he joined the business as a co-owner in 2000,” says Matt. “During the early years, our focus was on traditional exterior home improvement products. After much deliberation, a decision was made to transition to top-of-the-line products with much more emphasis on customer service and satisfaction. A company culture was built around those tenets.”
In order to fulfill their focus on customer satisfaction and find success, the Merrifields turned their focus inward, specifically to their employees. “New employees are carefully screened, and they are retained because of a fair-pay structure and there are paths for career growth.”
With satisfied employees come satisfied customers. “When expectations are exceeded, it results in referrals being the No. 1 lead source, and this has provided a steady increase in sales over the years. Our over-100-page testimonial list is validation of our quality service and satisfaction.”
Lakeside Exteriors’ success hasn’t come without challenge, like the economic downturn, but by lowering overhead to allow for more competitive pricing, the company was able to sustain profitability, and it is now on a path toward further expansion. “We plan to expand the geographic area we service and are even looking at expansion into other major Midwestern cities within 500 miles of the St Louis metropolitan area,” says Matt.
Position For The Future - Herb Golterman | Golterman & Sabo
Although Herb Golterman was always interested in joining the family business, Golterman & Sabo, his role in the business was not just handed to him. A family-instituted requirement to work outside the business for five years meant Herb gained valuable experience in a similar industry before taking a role in his family’s building supply company. In 1984, immediately after completing his five-year requirement, Herb brought his experience back to the business his grandfather had founded in 1946, and he hasn’t looked back yet.
Succeeding his father, Herb is now CEO and the third generation to join Golterman & Sabo, which has 70 employees. “The products we offer have changed somewhat, but we still sell to contractors and subcontractors,” says Herb. “We are now into manufacturing, and the business actually is made up of four companies. In the area, we are well-known as a manufacturer of acoustical wall panels and specialty wall panels and a supplier of building materials today.”
For Herb, the ability to keep growing and developing his family business has meant retaining good people. “Everything we do is custom, so it’s really important we hang on to people who are capable of doing the work,” he says.
With a strong team on his side, Herb’s focus is on the future, even during hard times like the recent recession in the building industry. “To get through, we had a real focus on what we spent, and we did a lot of business development during this slow time,” he says. “We have positioned ourselves so that when the building industry is growing again, we will have the capacity to do so also.”
With his company positioned for growth, Herb’s hope is to bring his family business from a $17 million company to a $20 million company in the next five years.
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