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Family affair Featured

11:57am EDT August 31, 2005
In 1981, when Noreen Campbell and her two sisters, Bonnie and Sharon, took over the family business, they had plenty of experience, as they had helped their parents run the small food store since they were children.

Today, McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores has evolved into two specialty food stores, with locations in Monroeville and Brentwood, and a staff of more than 100.

Next year, the sisters plan to open a third location in Mars. Campbell says high demand for specialty food items is one reason for the growth; another is a growing trend among second-generation Americans who are sick of fast food restaurants, are exploring their roots and want to sample dishes unique to their heritage.

Accordingly, Campbell stocks the stores with delicacies ranging from crab-stuffed mushrooms to kielbasa.

Smart Business spoke with Campbell about growing the business, working with family and keeping McGinnis Sisters’ ideas fresh.

What early lessons did you learn from working at the store with your parents?

Growing up in the business taught us a work ethic and responsibility. Our parents were very old-fashioned, so if you wanted something, you had to work for it.

When we were younger, of course, we didn’t like it because we wanted to go out on dates and be with our friends.
How did you grow the business into two specialty food stores with more than 100 employees?

We found it very difficult to compete with the local chains because we couldn’t even buy the product as cheap as they were selling it. So we jumped into specialty foods. A lot of women were starting into the work force, and I think their lifestyles changed.

Women felt like they could do it all, including having a family and a career. We provided home meal replacements before anyone ever thought of that, and convenience type things to make people’s lives easier.

Jumping onto the specialty food bandwagon was very good for us. There were new things coming from overseas, and people were very interested in cooking. Also, people empathized with us that we were females in a very male-dominated industry.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of working so closely with your family?

The advantages are that we really love each other and we’re very flexible with each other. We want each other to succeed. We don’t have that bitter fighting that some families go through.

It wasn’t like we were best friends growing up, but we’ve really come to be best friends now that we’re older. The only disadvantage I can think of is that we were so close and our kids were raised together. Sometimes you need a little break.

Where do you see McGinnis Sisters 10 years from now?

We’re going to open a new store next year. My sisters and I are kind of getting into our sunset years but we enjoy the business and want to continue working. My job is to bring in the third-generation members of the family, and I have one already in the business who has been here a little over a year.

We mentor them and find out if they’re really, truly passionate about it. The future will be what they want to see. They are, of course, full of excitement and vim and vigor.

What strategies do you use in managing your employees?

I think we’ve taken a lot from our father. He used to say, “Love your employees.” Not in a romantic way, but do as much as you can for them without hurting the business.

We’ve tried to uphold that as one of our keynotes and want to keep that as we go forward. We are going to get larger but we don’t want a corporate feel, we want a family feel. I think we are very open communicationwise.

We are different than men in that we do a lot of consensus-building. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m still not sure, but that’s just our style.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

When people say that they really love something, like one of my mother’s recipe. It sends chills up your spine to know that you’re keeping the reputation alive.

We’ll be in business 60 years next year, and my parents have both recently passed away, so it just makes you feel really good.

How to reach: McGinnis Sisters Special Food Store, (412) 884-2323 or http://www.mcginnis-sisters.com