Many fathers hope their sons will follow in their footsteps. Especially if they own a business.
Take Gary Giller. Since he graduated from Emory University in 1980, he has worked for his father, Stuart, on two different occasions. First, he worked at his dads Coca-Cola Bottling Co. franchise in Detroit, then he served as president and CEO of Strohs Ice Cream Co., a distressed company in Detroit his father bought in 1990.
While Gary went off on his own between those stints earning an MBA degree from Case Western Reserve University and working for five years at Clevelands Nacco Industries Inc. he says he cant help but hope that one day his son will work by his side.
Its a special relationship working for your father, says Gary, 40. What greater mentor or role model can you have in business than your father or grandfather?
Gary Giller and his brother, Lee, 42, president of Macedonias B. Berger Co., a textile company Lee owns with his father, are an example of sons who work for their fathers but march to their own drummers. While many see a family business as destiny if not duty others take the business they grew up with in an entirely different direction when they take over, or use it as a launching pad to open a business of their own.
The Gillers buy companies that are in trouble, turn them around and sell them. But the sons took a few detours along the way. Lee, an attorney, practiced law in Akron for two years before leaving to work for his fathers Coca-Cola Co. franchise. In 1988, he returned to Akron to practice law for another two years. In the end, he says, I decided I would rather be in a family business.
In 1991, Lee and his father stepped in at the eleventh hour and bought the troubled B. Berger Co. with the goal of breathing new life into a corporation they knew had a great name.
Weve increased sales since then by four times, Lee says. We revived the energy in the company, and its back as one of the premiere companies for high-end textiles in the country.
Gary and his father enjoyed the same success with Strohs Ice Cream Co., founded in 1919 by The Stroh Brewery Co. After Stuart bought the company in 1990, he and Gary who served as president and CEO from 1996 until they sold the company last February made it the leading ice cream company in Michigan. But none of this could have happened if the father-and-son teams werent willing to learn from each other.
Its a two-way street, Stuart says. I give them direction, and they do a lot to keep me up to speed. I learned that I better get into the new millennium to become proficient with a computer. Im learning from them all the time.
Sometimes its not easy.
Phil Dannemiller, 56, always knew he would work for Cantons Convoy Inc., his fathers company that manufactures industrial containers, because Im German and dutiful, he jokes. But found that his eagerness to take the company into the future clashed with his fathers fears.
After I graduated from Northwestern University, I worked for a plastic container maker in England for a year, Dannemiller says. Europe was ahead of American plastics way ahead of us. I saw the future and came back ... But they werent quite ready.
Fearing that a foray into plastics would cannibalize the companys cardboard line, Phils father, Franklin, suggested they stick to what had made them a success. They decided Phil should go on the road and sell the product, not only to learn more about the market, but to give both of them room to breathe.
Its like cooking three meals a day with your mother in the same kitchen for the rest of your life, but its her kitchen, Phil says of working in a family business. If everything meshes the temperments and everything then its beautiful. But if theres a difference of opinion, its difficult.
While the company did integrate plastics into its product line throughout the 15 years Phil spent in sales, it didnt fully embrace the newest technology until he took over as president after his father passed away.
Theres nothing more difficult to change than a successful company, he says. We were very profitable, and he kept saying, If Im so dumb, why do we do so well? I kept saying, Its like bald tires on a car. Theyre all filled with air, but the tread is going down. I dont want to wait till they blow and we go over the cliff.
These and other reasons such as different interests contribute to the fact that many sons inherit their fathers entrepreneurial spirit but choose to work for themselves. Mike Schiltz, 30, co-owner of Massillons Milepost Production, a video and multimedia production company, always knew he didnt want to work for Liquid Control Corp., his father Bills Canton company.
But, he adds, When I worked for him as a kid during the summers, in the back of my mind I thought, Some day, Im going to do something on my own.
Mikes main inspiration? Seeing how happy his father was going to work every day.
He wasnt waking up every morning saying, Damn, I have to go to work, he says. Now he has a multimillion-dollar corporation employing 100 or so people with plants in different states, and I have a three-man operation in Massillon, Ohio. But Im doing what I love, and hes doing what he loves.
Mikes brother, Mark, 32, is also doing what he loves working as an applications engineer for his father.
I always knew I didnt want to work here, Mark says with a laugh. I saw myself working outside or moving out of the state.
But when Mark got a job working at Cantons Rices Nursery after attending Kent State University, his father made him an offer he couldnt refuse.
I had just bought a duplex. I was pretty serious with a girl. And he was concerned about my financial well-being, Mark says. He said, Why dont you come to work for me? It was his approach that made me think about it and take him up on it ... Hes been a good teacher and friend all my life.
Today, Mark is working his way up in the company with the hopes of one day running the whole operation. But Akrons Mark DiFeo, 47, says he never planned on taking over DiFeo & Sons Poultry, his familys well-known Grant Street business which was founded in 1918.
As the oldest of seven children, I always thought a lot of people expected me to be the one, he says. But when I went to college, I thought, What can we do with this family business? Theres seven of us. How are we going to survive?
His idea? Cook the poultry and serve it inside.
Prepared foods. The wave of the future, he says.
His father resisted.
He was real leery about it, Mark says. He thought it might compete with our own customers. So for the first three years, it was a secret. We couldnt advertise.
In time, however, the business grew so much that Mark relocated to Fairlawn, where he says the concept exploded.
Theyd line up and order a half chicken and a pint of mashed potatoes, he says. Not only did they want it for lunch, they wanted it for organizations. Could you put somebody on the grill and cook steaks for us? Could you get someone to park our cars? Could you get someone to decorate?
After throwing a successful fund-raiser for then-Gov. George Voinovich, he says, I asked myself, Why am I continuing to do this day-to-day work when I ha ve clients that are willing to do these types of events?
In 1987, Mark founded Corporate Caterers by Mark DiFeo, and his business has been going strong ever since. So are his brothers.
Bob and Ed recently bought DiFeo & Sons Poultry from their father, Alfonso; brother Jim owns DiFeo Catering Inc. in Akron; and brother John operates DiFeos Chicken Carryout, which Mark started before moving to Fairlawn. Sister Lisa manages a health food store. The only sibling who works outside of the food business is Joe, 46, who started DiFeos Cellular Specialists in 1983 a GTE wireless cellular phone agent which last year was named the top agent for GTE in the Akron and Canton areas.
Asked why he didnt dig his heels into DiFeo & Sons Poultry, Joe says, It just wasnt in my blood.
But that was OK with dad.
I think my father recognized the fact that there were a lot of people who wanted to be a part of the business, and it wasnt going to be able to support everybody, Joe remembers. He realized that this was probably a good thing.
And sometimes, Mark adds, thats better for the family.
Its hard for one brother to take orders from another brother, Mark says. Its hard for one brother to be another brothers boss. Some work longer hours. Some work less. Some run businesses in a different way. This way, with each of us having our own business, we are able to share ideas.
Still, Joe adds, the reason each of them has that entrepreneurial spirit is because their father taught them to be independent thinkers.
We all want to do it ourselves, he says.
And it seems as if Alfonsos grandchildren will eventually want to do it themselves, too.
Asked whether his children will eventually take over his catering business, Mark DiFeo begins a slow laugh.
Theyre young yet, and in a way they like it, he says. But when people ask, Are you going to take over your dads business? they say, No. He works too hard.
How to reach: B. Berger Co.: (330) 425-3838; Mark DiFeo's Corporate Caterers (330) 869-8787; DiFeo's Cellular Specialists: (330) 773-6077; DiFeo & Sons Poultry: (330) 773-7881; Milepost Production: (330) 837-9251; Convoy Inc. (330) 453-8163."
William Seaton, a longtime Hudson resident and employee of the University of Akron, knew he loved the Internet almost immediately after his children unwrapped the computer he gave them two years ago on Christmas Day. But he had no idea he would one day plan his future around it.
After he got over the initial thrill of tapping into the mysteries of this unknown world, Seaton bought books about the Internet and learned. On weekends and at night, he pored over pages and tapped on his keyboard until he not only unraveled the Internets mysteries but figured out a way to become a part of the world as well.
Soon, he was designing Web pages, and, in time, attracted clients such as LifeCenter plus fitness center in Hudson. But it wasnt until he had what he calls a eureka experience that his business was complete. A subscriber to a number of Internet newsletters, Seaton read about someone who had an Internet site for a small town on the East Coast.
When I looked at it, I had the eureka experience, he says.
The 54-year-old college administrator at the University of Akrons College of Fine and Applied Arts had already been accepted for early retirement. This idea could round out his new life.
For weeks, he researched and wrote and designed and thought. He could barely contain his excitement as he created HudsonOhonline.com, a Web site for the Western Reserve town with the clock tower, gazebo and the Main Street that looks like it popped out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
With offerings ranging from where you can go to church to where you can go to the movies to where you can shop to get that dress youve been dying to find, this Web site offers Hudson businesses and residents a one-stop shop for information that cant be matched anywhere else on the Web.
There was just one question. How was Seaton going to make money with this gig?
I didnt think about it until it was nearly finished, he says.
This kind of honesty may be unusual, but with Seatons money-back guarantee for advertisers who dont get the response that theyd hoped for and free sample sites to companies whod like to have a Web site but arent quite sure what they want, its clear that he does business the way people did long ago.
In this same spirit, Seaton has a number of ways that businesses can advertise free such as listing a business card or a calendar event or placing a classified ad. But he also plans to make money by selling ads in his Business Directory, which costs $100 a year, and Sponsor Pages, which also cost $100 a year and give users a handy link to a sponsors site.
More creative offerings include $200 ads that announce sales, holiday greeting cards for $15 that let businesses say happy holidays to their online customers and online discussion groups that for $100 enable the local mechanic, for example, to have live discussions with customers about oil changes and timing belts and knocks and pings anything the customer wants to ask.
Seaton is just one of many entrepreneurs who have dove into this new world and started swimming without knowing exactly where hes going to end up. While he will most likely stand out because of his tight niche and his commitment to customer service, hes entering a world thats as cutthroat as it is creative.
According to Kelly Mooney, director of intelligence at Resource Marketing, a Columbus company thats been in the technical marketing business for nearly 20 years, Seaton and others are fighting to not get lost in this vast sea of Internet space, she says. Anybody can have a Web site, but what we always say is, You can build it, but it doesnt mean theyll always come.
In other words, says Geoff Karcher, president of The Karcher Group, a Canton Web design company, Seaton wont rise above the pack unless he makes sure people in Hudson know that HudsonOhonline.com exists.
He has to promote the daylights out of it, Karcher says.
Reserving key words such as Hudson or Northeast Ohio or Western Reserve on search engines might steer traffic Seatons way, but with search results numbering in the hundreds even thousands Mooney says Web businesses have to figure out a way to get to customers.
Reach them in their real world, she says. [Get] into their home or, if theyre commuters ... advertise at the bus station or train station.
Unless youve been out of the country for the last three months, your nightly television watching has probably been interrupted by sights of thoughtful women talking about their health on ads for iVillage.com.
But to be a success, Web site advertisements have to do what every successful advertisement does: Reach an audience. iVillage.com, for example, has a message that says, Were the place where women come together [to] get advice and help manage their lives in these chaotic times, Mooney says.
If you have no room in your budget for advertising, however, you have to make sure that your Web programmer plugs you in to search engines in the right way so that your customer finds you. One thing Karcher stresses? Avoid business jargon.
If you use technical words that you know, that doesnt mean thats what your customer calls it, he says. Keep it simple, stupid. If you go by that principle, youll do well.
But none of this matters if a surfer finds you and is so bored he never logs on to your Web site again. Seatons taken care of that with lively content that answers virtually every question somebody might have about living in Hudson, Ohio. And thats the key.
There are three keys to an effective Web site, says Karcher.
Its got to look good. Its got to be easy to use.
But your most important piece is to have good content, he says. Allow the user to accomplish something by coming to your site. And youve got to keep something new there. Give someone a reason to take two seconds to log on to your Web site and check it out.
Web businesses can also do customer profiling to see who is logging on to their sites and ask questions such as, What do you like about the Web site? Why do you buy products online and How often do you eat dinner out each week?
They save it in a repository that builds on itself so that they can ... know what you might buy the next time or how they can get you buy more things, says Mooney. Its direct marketing at the heart.
With this data, Web businesses can also e-mail customers with news about subjects or products that they think the customer will want. Amazon.com made this tool famous.
Their belief is that it will pay off down the road because they will know [more] about their customers than anybody else, Mooney says.
But no matter how much marketing and e-mailing and profiling Seaton does or does not do, and no matter how much money Seaton does or does not make, he doesnt regret taking the risk.
I had to do this for a lot of different reasons, he says. I really believe in it.