Grand Rapids is the home to many family-owned businesses. I feel really fortunate to work with my husband and son daily. It is rare to enter our business and not interact with a Nol family member. Most people that have been in our business eventually figure out the familial relationships.
When our children worked in the business when they were young, we asked them to call Jeff and I by our first names. It was admittedly an adjustment to have my kid’s call me ‘Debbie’ instead of Mom. There was a reason for it though. We felt that while they were our children, they were also our employees. It changes the dynamics when you are referring to your employer as Mom or Dad. We’ve always told our children that when your family owns the business, that means you work harder. You don’t get to skate by on your last name or go to Mom or Dad and expect special treatment. We knew that they wouldn’t always work for us and with Arie Nol Auto Center being their first work experience, we wanted it to set the tone for their future employment experiences.
Cameron still refers to us by our first names at work. We had an interesting conversation with a customer who felt it was disrespectful for our son to refer to us by our names. We explained our reasoning, stating that it allowed him to stand on his own as an employee. It was an interesting conversation and I respected the fact that she questioned it. It was an opportunity to explain our philosophy and have her feel more comfortable once she understood our reasoning.
We’ve also worked to create a team work environment with our employees and having one of them refer to us differently than the others changes that dynamic. Looking at many of the family businesses in Grand Rapids that have grown and prospered shows us that it can be done well, but it requires thought and planning.
Having customers ask questions is always a good thing. It requires you to reexamine your reasoning and make sure your thoughts are still the same on your decision.
There are many pros and cons to working with family but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!