Friday, March 12, 2010

Many Old Companies Are Family Businesses

An article recently appeared in the Muskegon Chronicle about a 100-year-old shoe store in Fremont, Michigan. The owner of Vredeveld Shoes is Lon Vredeveld - the fourth-generation of his family to run the store, which opened in 1909. In the article Vredeveld likens his and other independent stores to dinosaurs for their old-fashioned methods of customer service and community involvement.

But what Vredeveld characterizes as dinosaur behavior may just be a type of business-savvy wisdom passed on through the years. Family Business magazine has been researching old family-owned businesses and their research offers four lessons of survival:
1. Stay small
2. Don't go public
3. Stay out of the big cities
4. Keep the business in the family

Vredeveld says that the poor economy has hurt his store, but he thinks a niche for independent shoe stores like his will remain. "We're not getting to 100 years and stopping," he reports. Though Vredeveld has three grown children, he said he is not sure if any of them will every take over the business. He's hoping there is still plenty of time to figure out the future.

In a recent profile in the Holland Sentinel, Max Lokers (co-owner with his brother Tom of Lokers Shoes) also uses the dinosaur analolgy when describing their family shoe store as a dying breed. "I would call us one of the dinosaur types of businesses.....We're still in our brick-and-mortar building, doing what we've been doing for going on 100 years." However, within the last decade Lokers has added services, including some provided by Max's step-son, and he reports that he and Tom hope to continue selling shoes in downtown Holland for generations to come.

Since they appear to be following the advice given in the Family Business research, perhaps these "dinosaurs" will survive.

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