Luconda Dager officially had been president of her family business, Velvet Ice Cream Co., only a few months when a major crisis reared its head.

An important customer with 600 stores wanted to dump the way it had been doing business with her company in favor of scanned-based trading ? basically, consignment selling. The leaders at Velvet were more than a little steamed up.

But Dager was able to remain cool-headed.

When dealing with a gut-wrenching issue like this, which meant spending $200,000 to buy back the inventory and then getting paid for what was scanned out the front door, there has to be a partnership, Dager says.

“When you have a good customer, a true client relationship, it should be a win-win,” she says.

A key early step is to stay focused. Conversations, meetings, and deliberations ? they are all important to inform senior management how this was going to affect the operation.

“We really felt it was important for us to go back and have a few more meetings, face-to-face, one-on-one,” Dager says.

The first thing you need to do when handling a controversial issue is take the emotion out of it. Consider the pros and cons carefully. Look at the advantages, and don’t dwell on the disadvantages.

“We tried to make the best business decisions and not make an emotional decision because this was such a big part of our business,” she says. “We still feel this issue favors the retailer but at the same time, we’ve tried our best to look at the whole program.”

Look at the numbers first. The numbers will tell you which way to go, especially if you are feeling price increases from all your suppliers.

For example, fuel costs may be a factor. Transporting products to market poses some serious concerns for many businesses and it may even mean re-evaluating markets.

“Do we need to bring in our footprint a little bit because we’re having to drive a half-hour, 45 minutes, out of our way to get to a customer, or several hours away to get to a certain market?” she says. “Is it a profitable market? Can we absorb the fuel increase?”

Put a strategic-minded team together to study the issue including senior level people such as the director of distribution and the CFO.

For issues that impact employees, a decision may involve more than just looking at numbers.

“If it’s something we’re going to have to do, like submit layoffs, and it’s going to involve affecting people’s lives, we would look at it a little differently compared to ‘Is it just about pulling out of a market because we can’t make any money in that market?’” Dager says.

Make the employee feel valued. Make them feel important. Include them in as many company meetings and activities as possible.

“They’re extended family; that’s not just lip service,” she says about her 125 employees. “If you look at the statistics, it’s not money that motivates them or anything. It’s really just making them feel valuable, and patting them on the back, and giving them a simple thank you.”

Set up an off-site meeting, full of energy, and they will be riding high. Dager organized a meeting at the Ohio State University Union, with speakers such as President E. Gordon Gee and former football coach Earle Bruce ? and a couple of OSU cheerleaders.

“We had 75 staff members at our sales meeting, and really pumped them up. We expressed our goals and objectives so we’re all united and all on the same page. That helps motivate them.”

How to reach: Velvet Ice Cream Co., (800) 589-5000 or

Bench strength

Careful business succession planning can make the difference between prospering or failing.

“We’ve just been very fortunate with great leadership in this family, and it’s the way you hand the business down that is key,” says Luconda Dager, president of Velvet Ice Cream. “My father and my uncle ? they both did an excellent job together.”

The brothers hammered out a succession plan for the business started by their great-grandfather in 1914, knowing that one would retire before the other. What made the hand-off easier was that there were qualified people ready to come off the bench.

“It really even starts before the succession plan; the way Dad rooted us in the business, was key,” she says about herself and her two sisters who now lead the company.

Have your successor learn the business from the bottom up ? not the top down. Work in as many capacities as possible; it will build respect and trust among employees. Another rule to follow is to have had employment outside the company after college graduation.

“That way we know what it was like to have a boss that’s not your father,” Dager says. “We could bring something back to the business, so we had a different perspective.”

How to reach: Velvet Ice Cream Co., (800) 589-5000 or

Published in Columbus