Running a Family Business – Peacefully

Running a Family Business – Peacefully

Nestled on the corner of Northeast 45th Street and Latoona Avenue in Seattle’s Wallingford District sits Bedrooms & More, a retail shop with more than 40 employees.

The store is a Seattle institution, opened in 1972 by budding business owner Jeff Garfield. Jeff met his wife Wanda just months after opening. They married and had three sons, and Wanda worked as the bookkeeper while the boys—Thane, Blake and Drew—filled in during their high school years.

The three boys went off to college and were encouraged to pursue their own paths, but each individually came back to the business. Today, customers entering the store can expect to come in contact with several members of the Garfield family, including a daughter-in-law, son-in-law, and cousin (all in leadership positions).

Thanks to Jeff’s vision and resourceful thinking, business has thrived through several recessions, says Blake, now the store’s general manager. Product lines have expanded, the company now imports raw materials for other bedding stores and has robust wholesale and hospitality divisions. Bedrooms & More has grown organically to 2015 revenue numbers of around $6 million, all without outside funding.

“While business has always been strong, I’d say our biggest challenge as a group is internal; it is a struggle for me and my brothers to be adults instead of children with each other at times,” says Blake. “If I get in a fight with my brother, I turn into my 12- year-old self. I’m 35 years old.”

These struggles are common for family businesses. The Garfields address internal issues with frequent family counseling sessions. “It really helps to have a mediator,” says Blake. “Our counselor describes getting into family roles as ‘putting on old tapes.’ It is the old record you play in your head every time there is a conflict.”

The counselor, along with a consultant helping Jeff and Wanda transition out of the business, has helped the company establish a written mission statement and solidified roles for each member of the family. Having a clear division of responsibilities is incredibly helpful, according to Blake, as is clear communication even outside the counselor’s office.

“We hold a two-hour meeting just for the family every week,” he notes. “It creates clarity and lets everyone feel heard. We gather insights and listen to each other knowing that not just one person has the exclusive rights to good ideas.”

While separation of work and home life is important for some people, the Garfields don’t mind bleeding the lines. Blake says the family’s identity is wrapped up in the success and failures of the business, so it is normal to talk about work topics during family time. The business is closed only two days each year—Thanksgiving and Christmas—“so if a customer comes in on the Fourth of July, they will see us having a family barbecue,” says Blake. “That is just how we are.”

Growth is on the horizon for Bedrooms & More with a new showroom slated to open in 2017. The space is right down the street from the current building and Blake hopes it will increase the store’s visibility. “People will be able to see us from the freeway, so it should help us with marketing,” he says.

Entrepreneurs looking to start businesses with family members are smart to heed Blake’s advice of establishing clearly defined roles for all involved, communicate respectfully (consider hiring a mediator) and put egos aside.

“Acknowledge that you have each other’s best interests at heart and that you want the business to be successful,” he recommends. “And keep your integrity in everything you do. It is best when you can look a family member in the eye and know you are doing the right thing for everyone.”

Katie Morell

About the Author

@katiemorell

San Francisco-based, writes about business, travel, social justice and human interest topics. Contributes to Fast Company, Hemispheres, The Guardian, Consumers Digest, OPEN Forum, BBC Travel & others.

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