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Colorado Springs fathers and sons share business lessons

June 17, 2017 Updated: June 19, 2017 at 12:52 pm
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Jeff Dozier grabs some supplies out of the truck to help work on the sewer machine on Thursday June 15, 2017. Jeff and his father Bill Dozier own a family owned business called 'Father and Sons Plumbing and Drain' in Peyton, Colorado. Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette.

For some Colorado Springs-area businesses, every day is Father's Day.

That's because it's Dad's company. He's the guy who founded the business, built its reputation and - day in and day out - still sweats the details.

But in some cases, Dad no longer goes it alone; somewhere along the way, he brought on a son, daughter - or both - to help the business succeed.

A family-run business, however, can be tricky. Does a father's family relationship with a son or daughter help or hurt the business? How does Dad and his kids deal with business-related disagreements? And what lessons do they learn from each other?

Here's what three family businesses - all with father-son teams running the operation - say about how they work together and balance family relationships with company interests:

   

Father and Sons Plumbing and Drain

Bill Dozier, 65, started Dozier Plumbing in the Denver area in 1984, taking over his father-in-law's plumbing business. After Dozier was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, one of his sons, Matt, urged him to move out of suburban Denver and down to Colorado Springs for a less stressful lifestyle.

Dozier relocated in 2004 and relaunched his business as Father and Sons Plumbing and Drain; the company, which mainly handles residential service calls and plumbing for remodeling projects and additions, operates from Dozier's 40-acre home site east of Colorado Springs, in unincorporated El Paso County. Cancer surgery a few years after his diagnosis left Dozier in good health, and the business has done well over the years; his company was one of the few in that part of El Paso County and grew as the unincorporated Falcon area mushroomed with houses, Dozier said.

Jeff, his 47-year-old oldest son, worked for his father on and off for several years, and now has been back with the business for about a decade. Jeff lives in Parker, and over the past 1½ years has worked to build the Father and Sons Plumbing and Drain brand in Monument, Castle Rock, Parker and other fast-growing areas north of Colorado Springs. He comes to the Springs once a week.

Dozier's wife, Jo, serves as company president and a daughter, Emily, works as a dispatcher and bookkeeper. Matt isn't involved in the company these days because of health issues, Bill Dozer said, but the company also has three master plumbers.

- What are some advantages and disadvantages of a father-son relationship in the business?

For Bill Dozier, family ties guarantee Jeff will be on call whenever he's needed. "Sometimes jobs turn worse than they're supposed to be," Bill said, Jeff, he said, will "come and help you right off the bat so he can help you clear it up, and then go back to the job without leaving the customers at a disadvantage."

At the same time, Bill said, he was able to teach his son the importance of treating customers right - a big part of successful business.

Perhaps the biggest advantage: trust, Bill said. He knows what to expect from his son based on their father-son relationship.

"They just do everything like it's supposed to be done," he said.

Jeff echoed that theme; as a father and son, they're interested in the same things.

"You know that when it's family, it's hard to find people that you can trust and who are going to have your best interest in growing your company," Jeff said. "It's good to have family because you know that we're invested in the same thing. We're not going to take advantage of each other."

Bill and Jeff said they don't see disadvantages in a father-son relationship in running the business.

Having his dad run the show means the boss is more understanding about his needs as an employee, Jeff said. At the same time, Jeff said he's in tune with what his dad wants and needs to make the business run.

"I'm not going to do something that I'm not supposed to do because I'm only hurting myself," Jeff said.

- How do you handle disagreements?

In the plumbing business, Jeff said, he and his dad might have a misunderstanding over how much the company should bid to complete a job or the number of hours it might take to finish the work, for example.

But not surprisingly, Bill and Jeff say, talking over disagreements is critical. Those discussions often take place at the kitchen table, Bill said.

"We're not a yelling family," Bill said. "It doesn't take long. We talk about it and say, 'Will this work?' Or, 'I've got a better idea, this will work better.' And we just solve it at the kitchen table, over dinner or whatever. And it's over with, forgotten, dropped. That's it. There's too much going on in our minds now to do something stupid with an argument."

Added Jeff: "We don't holler and scream. We just say, 'This is what I think, tell me what you think.' And then we'll meet in the middle. We usually do."

- Advice for other family-run companies?

Set goals, but all family members must sign off on them, Jeff said. Whether it's targeting a sales mark or profit level, fathers and their sons and daughters must be on the same page, he said.

"As long as everybody understands each other, that's the biggest message," Jeff said.

At the same time, family members must have enough faith in each other to make the correct decisions, Jeff said.

"If you don't, that's when you get a lot of fighting," he said.

As a father, Bill said parents should make certain their kids truly want to be in the business.

"I would sit down and ask them if this is what they really want to do," he said. "They're going to be riding with you because you've got to train them. ... If it's good and everybody's fine, it's a great career and I think that would be a proud moment. ... A father and son working together, or daughter, there's nothing prouder than that."

   

Wenco Industries (Midas Auto Systems Experts)

Wes Westland moved his Midas franchise to Colorado Springs in 1975 with son-in-law Ron Genuario joining him, operating two locations. Genuario expected to stay with the business for a couple of years but became a minority partner in 1977 and bought the business in 1989 after it had grown to seven locations. Ron's son, Jeff, moved to Colorado from Seattle in 2003 and became a store manager, bought a share in the business in 2007 and bought out his father in 2013, replacing him as president.

Ron, 68, still is involved in the business as a consultant. Jeff, 42, formed a partnership in 2013 with Judd Shader, owner of five Midas and four Big O Tire locations in the Denver area, to acquire 30 Midas stores in nine Midwestern and Eastern states from Midas Corp. The partnership now operates 55 stores in nine states with more than 500 employees.

Ron and Jeff have tried to keep their roles in the business well defined. Whoever is company president makes the decisions. Ron admits it took him about a month to realize "you can't have more than one boss at a time. If you try to run the business on a 50-50 basis, it doesn't work. One guy has to have the final say." Jeff said his father is "still learning that one, and so am I."

- What are some advantages and disadvantages of the father-son relationship in the business?

Ron said the family relationship helped because "Jeff grew up in the business. He knew what he was getting into. Sometimes you buy a business you know nothing about. He came into the business and did the same thing I did. He learned the business by working in the shop and had to decide if he liked it. It's not for everybody." He said family ownership gives long-term employees and customers confidence that the way the business is run won't change.

Jeff, meanwhile, said the family relationship helps because family members "can be more candid with each other. Nothing is off the table." But one the disadvantage of family-owned business is that the business can intrude on family gatherings: "Don't talk about the business at the Thanksgiving dinner table. It is not an easy thing to do when there is a common thread."

- How do you handle disagreements?

Ron said he had to realize "I didn't own the company anymore and I had to let him (Jeff) do it his way. It took me about a month to figure that out." Ron said there were generational differences and Jeff had to repay him money borrowed to buy the business, but said his son has "done a remarkable job."

Jeff said he must ultimately make the decisions about the business, but he will take his father's opinions "under consideration. Normally, we are able to negotiate a reasonable decision on both parts."

- Advice for other family-run companies?

Ron believes family members shouldn't bring business matters home and should keep the business separate from the family. "My father-in-law and I spent a lot of time at the dinner table talking about the business, and we quickly learned you can't take it home with you. It's not good for the family relationship." Jeff said it's important to have children learn the business from their parents "from the ground up. No favors should be paid because you have the same last name. I had to learn the business from the ground up by sweeping the floors, cleaning the bathrooms and stocking inventory. It makes you a stronger leader."

   

Holt & Associates LLC (Holt Auction)

Ray and Gerry Holt started the auction business in 1976 and their then 16-year-old son Kevin joined the business, helping with set-up and loading trucks. Three years later, Kevin entered the military and served for nine years, returning to the auction business in 1990. He went to auction school in 1995 and has managed the business after his father began semiretirement several years ago. Ray, 81, remains company president, but Kevin, 57, handles day-to-day operations and has led a shift in recent years to online auctions at www.holtauction.com.

The company does 14-15 auctions a year and has two employees.

Ray says Kevin handles daily operations, while he looks after long-term issues, and he and his wife and son discuss concerns. Kevin said his father makes key decisions for the company, including how to deal with clients, though Kevin draws up sales contracts, catalogs items to be auctioned and determines what is sold and what is held out of auction. He keeps his father involved by consulting him frequently by telephone.

- What are some advantages and disadvantages of the father-son relationship in the business?

Ray said the family relationship helps the business because all three members share a common interest and can quickly devote special attention to problems. Kevin said family ownership sets Holt & Associates apart from its competitors, giving customers a sense of security that the company has been operating for 41 years under the same ownership.

- How do you handle disagreements?

Disagreements, Ray said, "always go my way. I am still the president of the company, I will take it all under consideration, but when push comes to shove, I have to make the decision."

Kevin said he handles disagreements by listening and identifying what direction is needed to solve the issue. "We just talk. He is still my dad, and he is an amazing person. We talk so much that we come up with a plan before a disagreement can happen."

- Advice for other family-run companies?

Ray said it's important to teach children in the business the ability to adjust and "utilize those things from the past that can be applied today and into the future. What doesn't change is a willingness to be upfront and honest." He also says business owners should "remember there is a different relationship between a father and a son and business owner and a manager. You have to keep them separate."

Kevin recommends that family members "respect their elders and listen to what they have to say. They have already done it and can keep you out of trouble. Most of the time they have already tried it."

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