Family business owners shared tips for success and discussed the pros and cons of putting a family name on the line during a Wake Forest University Family Business Center forum Nov. 2 at the Graylyn Conference Center in Winston-Salem.
Keynote speaker Wendy Yuengling Baker of the D.G. Yuengling & Son, America’s Oldest Brewery, told the audience about the history of her family business and strategy for longevity. The Yuengling family started brewing beer in Pottsville, Penn., in 1829 to serve thirsty coal miners. The business survived the Prohibition Era by selling “near beer” and operating a creamery, dance halls, and restaurants. “When Prohibition ended, we promptly packaged a truckload of beer to send to President Roosevelt the very next day in support of the 21st Amendment,” she said.
Today, Yuengling has three plants and sells $2 million barrels of beer per year in the 13 states along the East Coast. The company employs 250 people and is pursuing opportunities to expand westward.
Yuengling Baker is one of four daughters of current president, Dick Yuengling. “When asked if the company name would ever change to DG Yuengling & Daughters, my father always says ‘never’ it’s too long to fit on the label!” she said. After going away to college and working in the advertising industry, she returned home in 2006 to work in the family business. She highly recommends work experience outside of the family business. She also stressed the importance of networking through programs like the Family Business Center.
Leaders of several local family businesses joined Yuengling Baker for a panel discussion about the pros and cons of branding the family name.
Brad Bennett of Wildfire Ideas served as the panel moderator. Bennett said when he and Mike Grice started their marketing and communications company, they needed a name that reflected the creativity and passion. “Bennett and Grice just sounds lame,” Bennett said. “We wanted to come up with name that calls people to ask, what is that? Over the years, our name has come to stand for how people can come to us to generate ideas and bring them to fruition in the marketing and communications space.”
Like Bennett, the family behind the soft drink, Cheerwine, does not use its name in the company brand. Cheerwine CEO Cliff Ritchie is the great-grandson of company founder, LD Peeler. “During WWI there was a severe sugar shortage so my great grandfather started experimenting with different things for sweetness and came up with a formula for Cheerwine,” Ritchie said. Family legend is that the soda earned its name because its appearance.
The TW Garner Food Co. carries the family name in its corporate banner, but not on its most-popular product line: Texas Pete. “We haven’t leveraged the family name in the hot sauce category because our market research showed that family owned and even being around for 80 years isn’t necessarily important in the consumer’s mind,” Glenn Garner said. He said leveraging the family name was more important with the former product line of jams, jellies and preserves because the name reflected homemade style, tradition and family values.
Andrea Neese of Neese Country Sausage knows what it is like to not only to leverage the family name, but to also serve as its spokesperson. After appearing in television commercials, she often gets recognized by strangers throughout the Carolinas asking her if “she is the sausage lady.” Neese is part of the family business’ fourth generation. She said as the family kept getting larger, they made a strategic move to minimize the “hands in the pie.” In 1992, several family members bought out the others’ shares. “It was probably our biggest decision to be made since the founding of the company,” she said.
Bill Parson explained the value of branding the family name at Carswell Distributing Co., a commercial outdoor power equipment wholesaler. Parson’s father-in-law, Bob Carswell, started the business in 1948, selling electric water pumps for wells. Through the years, Carswell Distributing sold everything from toys to home appliances. “We market the Carswell name not to the consumers, but to the dealers. The dealers buy from us and know the name carries a sense of commitment, value and integrity.”
Beth Monaghan says her family name stands for a commitment to carry out promises. She owns the Monaghan Group, an accounting solutions firm. “I consciously decided to put my name out there because that meant something to me,” Monaghan said. She cautioned that customers often request to deal directly with you when your name is on the company.
Roger Beahm, Wake Forest University Schools of Business professor and CEO of Beahm & Associates, advised family business owners to consider leveraging the family name if it provides a valuable point of difference, positive and desirable brand image, supports claims, and contributes to brand knowledge. “Consider the needs and wants of your customers, does familiness align with their needs?” He cautioned using a family name if it dilutes the brand focus, creates a weak or ineffective image, or distracts from what is most important.
Forum attendees were treated to a luncheon featuring the products of family-owned businesses. The menu included Yuengling beer cheese soup, Texas Pete Chicken, Neese’s Sausage pasta, beef with a Cheerwine demi-glaze, and a wide variety of Golding Farms salad dressings and sauces.
“We had an incredible turnout for the event,” said Kathy Baker, director of the Family Business Center. “The opportunity to hear other family business owners share their stories is highly valued by our members. Which makes sense -- because the heart of the value proposition of the FBC is the opportunity to participate in a true peer group.”
The Family Business Center, established in 1999 under the Angell Center for Entrepreneurship in the Wake Forest University Schools of Business, addressed issues faced by closely held and family firms. The member-based organization uses the capabilities and educational resources at Wake Forest, in the community and beyond to provide closely held and family firms the assistance they need to grow and succeed from generation to generation.