The Family Business

25 November 2003

There is both good and bad in working for a family business. I’m not sure what the good is, but the bad includes:

  • overfamiliarity with your co-workers
  • family holidays (such as Thanksgiving and Christmas) lose their significance
  • the familial bond is often overshadowed by the work relationship
  • bad feelings regarding business can translate into bad personal feelings

Custom Box Service is a unique environment. Nick, Tony, Jeff, and I are brothers (well, Nick is a cousin, but is as good as a brother). We’ve done our jobs so long, and we know them so well, that they take much less time to do than when we started (or if someone else were to do them). For example, it takes Jeff much longer to do a price quote than it takes me. Yet, it would take me much longer to organize a delivery schedule than it does for him. Also, I’ve written custom software for price quotations that is much more flexible and quicker to use than that which Dad wrote when he started the business. (I have an order entry program and an invoicing program, too, but I haven’t done much work with them for over a year — they’re in a beta stage and need to be completed.)

This price quotation program, coupled with various procedures I’ve developed and the organizational system I’ve erected, cuts my workload in half from what it used to be. My brothers have made similar adjustments in their areas of responsibility.

This increased efficiency, combined with the best crew we’ve ever had, allows us to ship more boxes than ever. Last month was a record month. This year will be a record year (~$1.25 million in sales).

Often, though, we’re dead. There are periods of days — or weeks even — during which our efficiency means we haven’t much to do. When this happens, we read, or play games, or write weblogs, or comb eBay for ancient coins, or read the lawn tractor discussion boards. Because we tend to talk about these slack times more than we talk about the busy times (there’s not much to discuss about work, really), some of our friends are under the impression that Custom Box is some sort of wonderland, that all we ever do is play.

Not true.

The environment here is much more relaxed than most businesses, but we still have work that needs to be done every day.

And sometimes we get swamped.

Against all odds, and contrary to prior history, we are currently swamped. November is usually a slow month, and the week before Thanksgiving an especially slow week. This week, however, we’re going to ship nearly $25,000. That’s a bit more than we’d expect to ship in an average five day week. What’s more, most of what we’ll ship this week has been ordered in the past day or two. Everyone wants their boxes now now now.

When the workload increases, tempers can flare. Things around here are mostly peaceful. We all complain about each other incessantly, but things don’t often build to a head — each of us recognizes our own complicity in this environment. Sometimes, though, one person will slack too much, or another will feel overloaded, and then trouble can occur. Jeff and I had a big shouting match in February 2002, for example.

There was another row this morning.

Stressor number one. Tony has been on his high horse lately, complaining that the rest of us don’t do anything besides spend time on the computer. (We, in turn, think he doesn’t do anything besides sleep in and then run errands for his in-laws.)

Stressor number two. I left at noon on Friday. I left one quote and no orders. When I came to work yesterday, there were several quotes and 22 orders in my basket, but nobody had bothered to work on them. That’s a huge workload to face on Monday morning.

Stressor number three. The phones were busy yesterday morning, yesterday afternoon, this morning.

Catalyst. Tony came in this morning with an order he wanted done for today, despite the fact that the guys worked til ten last night and came in at five this morning, despite the fact that we’re telling everybody else that we can’t produce anything until next week.

The shit hit the fan. We had ourselves a row. Tony thought he was right (and he was, in part), and I thought I was right (and I was, in part).

Nothing was resolved, but at least we’re not grumpy with each other anymore. I think.

Comments

On 25 November 2003 (12:57 PM),
dowingba said:

How does the Hierarchy work there? Who is the boss? From your description, I think I would like working at a place like that. I certainly sounds like hard work, but that isn’t what makes or breaks a job. What really matters is the atmosphere.

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