You’re “Family Owned and Operated?” No kidding. Tell the REAL story.

At the small business level 99% of my clients are “family owned and operated.”  And that’s a very good thing.  These companies reflect a dream, are manifested out of risk and guts, and eventually solidify into something real for a variety of reasons.  The owner has vision.  The customer service is impeccable.  The staff reflect a culture based on ethics, loyalty, honesty, and skill.  The drive to succeed is relentless.  It has to be.  The market suffers no fools (at least not for long).

So why do people reduce their business brand or company story to something as empty as “family owned and operated” when they’re at the kitchen table?  Perhaps they assume that the customer understands the terribly hard work needed to actually BE in business in the first place.  Maybe they assume that the customer will connect the dots between a “family owned” business and a higher level of ethical conduct.  Maybe they don’t know what else to say!  Or, worse yet, they may simply feel the customer doesn’t care.

The fact is, any business–regardless how big or small–started with a Founder and a Founder’s vision.  His or her story.  And there’s value in it.  There’s differentiation.  There’s power in the fact that small business success is NOT accidental.  There’s nothing random about it.  And it should never be reduced to a one-line talking point.  For example:

A client in South Carolina started his business in 1964.  He borrowed money from his father-in-law, who allowed the young man to work out of a barn in the middle of his farm.  A barn.  A dirt floor.  Sheet metal tools.  And nothing else.  Over 50 years later he’s still in business.  Retired.  Wealthy.  He’s passed the business to his son-in-law.  He still goes to the office (when he’s not fishing!).  Last year he built a new facility for his company.  When it came time to decide a location he elected to put the new building exactly where the barn had been.  And in his own office he elected to leave an entire patch of exposed dirt next to his desk.  When I asked him why he smiled, sat back, stared at the ceiling and said: “Cause I never want to forget where I came from.”  We both almost cried.

I hear stories like this all the time in cities and states across the country.  They’re all different in the details but they all have a few things in common: An owner who had a dream, a busted down truck and a lot of early mornings and very late nights.  They’re all woven together with a thread of dignity and determination that has outlasted the original vision and has transformed into something greater.  Yet at the core is belief, faith, and guts.   “Family owned and operated,” yes, but the story is so much richer and important that it deserves to be told because of what it represents.

Unless you play the lottery success is not accidental.  Nor should a successful small business be reduced to anything other than what it truly is: heroic.  It’s’ time to put “family owned and operated” away.  Tell a Founder’s Story.  Tell a story about dreams, risk, work, care, pride.  Tell a story about determination, attitude, great people, and customer’s that help make it possible.  Go big with the story for it deserves that level of accolade and celebration.  Show your company for what it truly is–a manifestation of a vision, an expression of personal passion that burns like fuel every second of every day.  Never be bashful, never be shy, never reduce what’s hard-earned to that which is commonplace.  And never forget where you came from.

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