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  • Family First

    The Retail Florist

    Since 1988, Luanne Santrach and her sisters, Mary Ann Eagleson and Joanne Gutierrez, have successfully combined family and business. In fact, the three sisters represent the second generation of floral professionals in their family. Their shop, Rosemary Duff Florist in Escondido, Calif., has been a family affair for 25 years.

    Time to Take Over

    The floral connection began when the sisters' parents and their Aunt Rosemary took over an established flower shop back in the 1970s. In one capacity or another, Luanne and her siblings were involved in the shop from an early age.

    As the children grew, so did their responsibilities. It came as no surprise when, in 1988, Luanne's parents offered the business to Luanne and her sisters. By then, the sisters had been basically running the shop for years while their parents pursued other interests and opportunities.

    When the time came to make the transition, the sisters were ready. At ages ranging from their late teens to their early thirties, they found themselves owners of a thriving floral business.

    To Each Her Own

    The words "family-run business" inspire images of the corner mom-and-pop shop. In the case of Rosemary Duff Florist, those images don't exactly mesh with reality.

    The shop is among the top five in the Escondido area. With about $1.2 million in annual sales, it is much larger than the average flower shop. In addition to fresh flowers, it offers a large selection of gifts along with superb customer service.

    Rosemary Duff Florist is a complex operation that is difficult to run. Luanne says she wishes she and her sisters had given more thought to the potential challenges and each person's role before taking over.

    They purchased the shop with no clear understanding of what their individual roles would be. Luanne says it took three or four years of making adjustments before they finally worked things out.

    Today, Luanne handles the delivery end of the business. She is also in charge of human resources, meaning she settles disagreements between employees and handles much of the hiring and firing. Mary Ann works with the designers and does the shop's gift buying, merchandising and advertising. Joanne, the financial person, does the books.

    It's a comfortable arrangement, based on each sister's individual strengths and interests. But it took a lot of time — and more than a few tense moments — to get there.

    All for One

    Despite the fact that the sisters have individual roles, they make all major decisions as a team. In fact, they often run even relatively minor issues by one another before making a decision. On paper and in practice, the sisters are partners. They treat each other as equals.

    The sisters also work hard to present a unified front to employees. Even when there are personal or professional disagreements behind the scenes, employees never know about it. The sisters strive to keep dinner-table issues away from the shop — and vice versa.

    In fact, if there's a secret to the sisters' success, it seems to be that business is business and family is family. Even during difficult times — including the rocky ownership transition — Luanne, Mary Anne and Joanne have always kept the two worlds separate.

    Opting Out

    When the sisters took formal control in 1988, a fourth sister, Rozanne Reguly, was also a partner. About four years ago, however, Rozanne's severe asthma forced her to retire from the partnership.

    Even though Rozanne's retirement was necessary, the decision to leave was an agonizing one. She felt like she was abandoning the family. And the other sisters certainly hated to lose her, but it had to be dealt with.

    Interestingly, Rozanne recently returned to the business on a limited basis. Although her health problems preclude full-time partnership, she helps out during the holidays and other busy times.

    The Best of Times

    Family has always come first for Luanne and her sisters. Even as children, the entire clan traveled cross-country each summer to spend long vacations with their many cousins and other relatives. Togetherness and teamwork were a central part of their family life.

    A strong family foundation brings a greater chance of weathering the inevitable storms every business will face. A family-first outlook has certainly worked for the sisters. The best part about working with her sisters, Luanne says, is that they are always together. Not many people get to enjoy their families the way they do.

    On the other hand, the worst part is… they're always together. According to Luanne, it's easy to lose sight of your individuality when you're always part of the family team.

    And things can get sticky when one partner wants to change something or take the business in a new direction and the other partners don't agree with the decision.

    What should you do when such disagreements arise? Talk it out, the sooner the better, Luanne says.

    Don't let issues escalate to squabbles and squabbles into all out wars. Your business — and your family — deserve better than that.

    All Aboard

    Even today, the three sisters aren't the only ones involved in running Rosemary Duff Florist. Rozanne and Aunt Rose help out when things get busy. Dad does most of the accounting and is always there to lend help and advice. And Mom still enjoys her visits to the shop.

    There's a place for everybody at Rosemary Duff Florist. For the most part, each family member remains happily in his or her place. Family members do what they're good at and what they love best. Only rarely do they step over into one another's territory. When they do, they do so with respect.

    And what about the next generation? They're around, Luanne says. If and when the kids want to come on board, they'll find a place waiting for them.

    Uniquely Challenging

    Taking over a family business is one of the easiest things in the world. Sign the papers, pay your money and it's yours.

    However, operating a family business successfully definitely isn't easy. It takes planning and communication — and the willingness to separate "personal business" from "business business."

    If a family business is something you're considering, follow Luanne's advice. Decide early on who will do what. Hash out financial issues, such as salaries, before they become problems. Work out a plan for family members who may later want out of the business.

    When your family relationships are successful and secure, your business will follow suit. Like Luanne and her family, you'll be building a strong foundation that can last for generations.

     

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