Families have run companies for 100-plus years
Carl Heimerdinger says it isn't uncommon for customers to bring scissors in for sharpening at…
Georgia (Sep 24, 2012) — Carl Heimerdinger says it isn't uncommon for customers to bring scissors in for sharpening at his family's retail cutlery shop that were purchased there decades ago, by a parent or grandparent.
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"It's heartening to know that quality has endured for 100 years or more," said Heimerdinger, 58, the fifth-generation proprietor of Heimerdinger Cutlery in Louisville.
The store was founded in 1861 by his great-great-grandfather, August Heimerdinger, a cutler and sewing machine repairman. Today, the boutique sells high-end scissors, professional kitchen knives and, increasingly, men's straight razors.
Heimderdinger's is just one of more than 1,100 American businesses started more than a century ago that continue to operate in the hands of their founding families.
With more than 5 million family businesses operating in the U.S., that kind of longevity is rare, says Joseph Astrachan, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University who studies family businesses.
Astrachan said the chances that a family business makes it to a second generation are about one-in-three. But to reach a sixth generation? Those odds are 500-to-1. Most century-old family businesses are five generations deep, he said.
About 41% reaching their 100th birthday are in the manufacturing sector, followed by finance and insurance (18%) and retail (12%), says Vicki TenHaken, a professor of management at Hope College in Holland, Mich. She also found that a majority are privately owned (62%) and employ more than 500 people (56%).
After two years of researching century-old family businesses, her database shows 1,150 still in operation as of 2011, though, "I'm sure I have missed many of the small, privately owned ones," she said.
Still, some operations get by on a small staff. In the seaside resort town of Ocean City, Md., the Trimper family arrived in Ocean City in 1890 from Germany by way of Baltimore. Since then, Trimper's Rides has been operating continuously for 122 summers on Ocean City's famous Boardwalk.
Many of the amusement park's 25 year-round employees are part of the extended Trimper family, says Brooks Trimper, 32, a great-great-grandson of founder Daniel Trimper and the park's operations manager. He's also chairman of the board for the company, which includes his father, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.
"No matter what anyone else wants to tell you, it's a job," Trimper said. "The people I work with happen to be related to me. So there's the same work tension, the same work disputes. It's not like, 'Oh, we're all family, so we get along.'"
Trimper spent summers working at the park. After college, he considered a career in the cruise ship industry. But his grandfather, Granville Trimper, longtime park manager, asked him to join in the family business. He accepted, and hasn't looked back since. "I'm not just running this amusement park, I'm representing my family. My name's on the sign," he said.
In Pottsville, Pa., the Yuengling family has operated its family brewery since 1829.
While many major U.S. brewers have consolidated into international corporations, Yuengling has become America's largest privately owned brewery, said Wendy Yuengling Baker, a sixth-generation family member.
"Which I think is just astounding," she said, "because we're one percent of the beer market."
Baker said her family's business hit its roughest patches during Prohibition, when they sold "near-beer" and operated a dairy to stay afloat.
However, the company saw significant growth in the last 20 years after expanding outside Pennsylvania. Yuengling-brand beer is now available in 14 East Coast states.
Baker and her sister, Jennifer Yuengling, 41, a plant manager, will take over the company one day from their father, Dick Yuengling Jr., 69., the fifth-generation owner.
But it won't be just gifted over. They'll have to purchase the D.G. Yuengling & Son company from their dad, just as he did from his father in 1985. It's a long-lived tradition within the company that isn't going to change, Yuengling-Baker said.
"I think it has something to do with the German work ethic," she said. "When you buy something with your own money, I think it means something more, as opposed to just having it given to you."
Think a 183-year-old brewery is impressive? In Charles City, Va., one still-active family business had marked 160 years by the start of the Revolutionary War.
There have been 11 generations of Hill and Carter family members tending the tobacco, corn and cotton crops at Shirley Plantation, which turns 400 next year.
It's the oldest family-owned business in North America, according to historian Julian Charity, who is employed by Shirley Plantation.
"We kind of have a cradle of American history right here at Shirley. This family's experienced it all. They were active participants in it," he said.
Family members farmed the land themselves for generations, growing tobacco, then corn, cotton and soybeans. Today, they lease it out to other farmers, so they can concentrate on the historical tourism aspect of the property, Charity says.
The oldest member of the 11th generation, 50-year-old Charles Hill Carter III, still makes his home on the main property in a brick house that was completed in 1738, Charity said.
He said the farm has lasted because the family has changed with the times.
"They've been willing to see the writing on the wall and be ahead of the curve," he said.
Origins in Cuba
In Florida, a family of photographers is an example of the newest, youngest generation taking over and running their family business.
The Munoz family first opened their photography studio in Cuba in 1909. By the time Fidel Castro came to power in the early 1960s, patriarch Tomas Munoz brought his family, and the business, to Miami.
Today, Munoz Photography is a thriving wedding photography business run out of Fort Lauderdale by the grandsons of Tomas Munoz. All four are in their 20s.
When they were growing up, working in the family business was not an option, said Tom Munoz, 29, who was named for his grandfather.
He said after school, they had to come back to the studio to do filing, answer phones and match negatives.
"I photographed my first wedding when I was 12 years old," he said.
The business is so long-lived that Tom the grandson has been the photographer for the children of couples whose weddings were shot by Tomas the grandfather.
Tom Munoz says while he will encourage his young children to pursue whatever career they wish, "the one choice they're not going to be able to have is helping out with the family."
"Because that is the one thing that really shaped my brothers and I," he said. "The family business, it's all of ours."
Shane also reports for The Daily Times, Salisbury, Md.
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