The Secrets Behind a Successful Family Business

This article is actually from a good friend of mine, a man named James Outlow, about his journey with his family’s business. I asked if he wanted to write something for this blog, and he agreed. It shares an interesting level of insight, so please enjoy.

Running my family operated business has always been my goal. I grew up between pianos, guitars, and tons of music books sitting on the many shelves of our shop in the city’s suburb. My granddad was a piano tuner. He had been a piano player on a big cruise ship during the fifties and later specialized in piano maintenance, a stable source of income for someone who had a wife and three kids.


He opened up a small outlet, then, investing all his savings, decided that the time was right to try and open his very own piano shop. In 1960, you could still dream big, and it’s exactly what he did. During the years, his vision became a reality, which eventually grew to the point that now, after sixty years, my family is still keeping his dream alive.


Today, we own three music shops, and the business is still flourishing. We want people to feel welcome when they come into the shop so playing updated music as well as muzak, gives us a range. Almost every key element of the company belongs to the family. I think that, in a way, this is why we have made it through the periodical crises of the sector. In this article, I’ll share what has inspired us to create the perfect soil to grow a sustainable and healthy business.


Company Values

When people are hired by a company, it is important to adhere to their mission and values. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done. It’s not about agreeing or not on simple core values and policies, such as being kind to customers or keeping up good teamwork. I’m sure everybody understands that. The point is that we only know part of the story, as we have just “entered” the company and do not really know the reason behind the status quo or decisions being made. On the contrary, isn’t it true that, if we have been employed in the same company for many years, we often feel it as if it was our own?


In a family operated business, it’s easy to share company values. It comes from experience, from the constant sharing of ideas, from living together and struggling every single day to improve and to make the business grow. I’ve learned how to treat customers just by watching my mother and how to deal with providers and accountancy work out of my dad’s example. It wasn’t always a picnic; we had our ups and downs.


For example, when decisions were to be made together with my uncles (who managed the other shops), it’s wasn’t always easy to agree on everything. But, at the end of the day, we were family; there was still this strong bond that kept us together, no matter what. This is probably the key: if greed and interest take over, then a family business becomes just like any other business. In a way, even worse, because we don’t get to choose our associates, and it may be very complicated (and expensive) to fire or liquidate them.


From Father to Son: How To Keep Up to Date with the Market

At one point, I studied to become a violin maker: I wanted to keep the family tradition alive in my own way and become a skilled craftsman, on top of being a business owner. My sister, instead, preferred to get a degree in marketing. Today, I reckon that we are the perfect team to take our business to the next level.


New technologies bring up new challenges, that’s why we’ve decided to create an online shop, which sells our brand all over the country. I took advantage of my skills and developed my own range of instrument accessories. And we both share the responsibilities of accounts and orders.


The downside of a family business is that, on special occasions such as Christmas or celebrations, when we all sit around a table, sooner or later we end up talking about the shops. So, our gatherings end up being somewhere in between an intimate party and a management board meeting!


One last thing. My little brother began helping out in the shop, but soon we realized that this was not the life he had dreamed of. He wanted to become a scriptwriter for radio and TV, and we had to let him go and pursue his dreams. When that happened, the businessman in me had to take a step back. Not an easy one, for sure. But, despite anything else, I wanted him to be happy. And that’s exactly what a (loving) family is about.