Family. The heartbeat and backbone of enriching lives and communities. From cherished attractions that make life worth living, to invaluable end-of-life service, Midlands businesses are securing the unique rewards and navigating the unique opportunities presented as family-owned enterprises. Tasting Success When asked about inspiring historical anecdotes associated with her family’s business, Kirsten Fong pointed to […]
Family. The heartbeat and backbone of enriching lives and communities. From cherished attractions that make life worth living, to invaluable end-of-life service, Midlands businesses are securing the unique rewards and navigating the unique opportunities presented as family-owned enterprises.
When asked about inspiring historical anecdotes associated with her family’s business, Kirsten Fong pointed to how her father, Tim Vala, originally intended to parlay his education degree from Nebraska Wesleyan into a career as a history teacher. Life had other plans.
“The job market was tough at the time and he couldn’t find a teaching position,” Fong explained. “So, he worked for Old Home Bread and UPS, jobs he didn’t enjoy. He was inspired by his love of gardening to start a business of his own focused on agri-tainment.”
With the support of wife, Jan, an Omaha Public Schools psychologist, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch & Apple Orchard was born.
“There is infinite potential and each of us second-generation owners are pursuing our own passions as we develop the business,” Fong said. “I love food. So, I’m dedicated to making the food at Vala’s a huge part of the overall guest experience, something people look forward to.”
Fellow foodie, sister Kelsey, is developing the Vala’s hard cider business, while middle sister, Kyla, and her husband are thriving in entertainment and attractions.
“We’ve all taken on aspects of the business that we enjoy growing,” Fong said.
As a close family, Fong said they have a strong foundation to build upon and get along well. But that is not to say they agree on everything.
“One of the challenges of running a family business is to separate our family relationships from our business relationships,” she emphasized. “And, also, to not talk about business constantly, like at Christmas dinner and Easter brunch.”
Fong characterized 2022 as the “largest reinvestment year” Vala’s has ever had as delayed and previously planned projects converge. After five years of planning, the team is opening up a new apple- and cider-themed area of the farm, adding two new rides and a BBQ restaurant, Ethan’s Applewood Smokehouse, which is a call-out to Fong’s son. Its centerpiece will be the expansive Cider Mill, where Fong said guests can watch as cider is pressed.
“We’re serving hard cider, sweet cider, and artisan, apple-themed treats,” she noted.
Vala’s hired a videographer to document this journey, which can be viewed on YouTube.
“Owning and growing this business together, it’s an adventure,” Fong remarked. “I often remind myself to just enjoy the journey.”
All this, because Fong’s parents took a chance 38 years ago.
“They weren’t successful instantly,” she said. “There were tough years to get through and lots of learning to do … little-by-little, my parents grew the business to where it is today. Dad is considered a leader in the industry and Vala’s is one of the largest agri-tainment destinations in the country.”
Families Supporting Families
Since 1912, Roeder Mortuaries has supported families from throughout the Omaha area as they navigate the emotional journey of loss.
“We have been owned by the Roeder family for four generations,” said Brian K. Roeder, president and owner.
Roeder’s great-grandfather, Theodore J. Roeder, started the memorial planning and services tradition with his sons, Norman and Ronald. Jon Roeder picked up where the second generation left off, with fourth-generation leadership, Brian, carrying the legacy after six years of military service in the U.S. Navy.
Today, its tagline states: “Our family, helping yours.” Over the years, its help and footprint have grown to provide funeral services of all kinds from three metro locations.
“Running a family business is very much like running a family,” Roeder stated. “There may be good times and bad times. But, at the end of the day, it’s still a part of you and your family. The success or failure is up to how much you put into it.”
Through Roeder’s 20-plus years in the business, he has had the good fortune of three previous generations to learn from. This, Roeder indicated, has provided a wealth of knowledge to overcome challenges presented by the “bad times.”
“Also, as in a family, when things get hard there are always people who have your back,” he added. “I am also very fortunate that I not only have a great family behind me but also a great team of people who work with me.”
Business leaders like Roeder know the necessities of running a family business, as well as the importance of finding a balance.
“Launching a family business can consume most of your time,” he said. “Trying to create a work/life balance can be extremely tough, but also necessary.”
Don’t be afraid to rely on others.
“It is almost impossible to do everything yourself,” he said. “In fact, it can create burnout. Hire good people, rely on family and friends for support and don’t forget to take care of yourself.”
Roeder emphasized how there will be long days. But there will also be days to spend with family outside of business.
“Make sure you make being in the moment with your family a priority,” he said. “You have to know how to unplug from work in order to recharge your batteries.”
Do not put off scheduling mental health days, vacations, or even just a day off.
“The work will be there when you get back,” Roeder said. “This was a hard lesson for me to learn.”
The hard work has not been without its joys. When asked about the accomplishment that he is most proud of under the Roeder shingle, Roeder referred to the “multiple generations of multiple families who walk through our doors.”
“The amount of trust these families give us, to come back to us time and time again, makes me extremely proud of what we have built,” Roeder summed up.
Scholarship, education and advocacy organization, the Family Owned Business Institute at Grand Valley State University, reports upwards of 5.5 million family businesses in the U.S contribute 57% of the GDP and employ 63% of the workforce — almost 100 million individuals.
The Beardmore family has a long history of employing and positively impacting Midlands communities and the local auto industry.
“It’s been a family business for over 100 years,” said Carey Hamilton, fourth-generation Beardmore leadership.
Reportedly, Hamilton’s father, the late Maurice Y. “Moe” Beardmore, began selling vehicles in Oxford, Nebraska in 1954. Hamilton has carried her father’s words with her, as she discusses some of the components that fuel a healthy work and family life.
“Try not to discuss business outside of work,” she said. “Or, if you do, make it fun for the family.
“My dad used to say, ‘This was a situation that happened today. How would you have handled it?’ So, we’d give him our solutions.”
She described it as a “fun part of the day.”
“It’s probably why I wanted to go into the business,” Hamilton said.
In all, the veteran owner and operator has had the opportunity to work with not only her parents but her brothers, husband, daughter, niece, nephew, uncle, cousins and even the up-and-coming generation of grandkids.
“You could say I’m a true proponent of working with people you love and trust,” she said.
Citing Businessweek.com, All Makes noted 97% of family businesses are history by the time the great-grandchildren take the helm.
“All Makes is fortunate to represent four generations of the same family over the last 104 years,” said EVP/CFO Amee Zetzman.
Its roots trace back to Russian immigrant Harry Ferer. He founded All Makes Typewriter Co. in 1918 a few blocks from its present-day Omaha showroom. Reportedly, products included the “Ediphone,” invented by none other than Thomas Edison. In fact, the “Wizard of Menlo Park” may have been friends with Ferer, if family folklore bears out.
Today, Ferer’s granddaughter, Zetzman, is joined in leadership by her brother, President/CEO Jeff Kavich. In 2005, they stepped into the shoes of their father, Larry Kavich, who had joined his father, Lazier Kavich, in the business in 1965.
Zetzman described “boundless” opportunities and challenges.
“In All Makes, we strive to create a culture where we embrace our team as a trusted part of our family,” she said. “In doing so, this can generate challenges as well. We celebrate our wins and struggle over the losses, but we try to always be there for everyone.”
To “wins,” All Makes builds and nurtures relationships within its internal team, which feeds into client and vendor relationships.
“We rely heavily upon these relationships to continuously fuel the successes we’ve had for more than a century,” she remarked.
To struggles, All Makes leadership didn’t have to look far into its history – to volatility presented by a historic health crisis and myriad lingering effects.
“The supply chain issues affected our entire industry and caused many of our projects to be delayed or canceled,” Zetzman explained. “When faced with delivering news of the delays, we focus on telling our clients what we can do for them, rather than what can’t be done.”
For those starting a venture with a family member, she emphasized the importance of everyone understanding, and clearly defining, the separate roles within the organization.
“Assign responsibilities based on individual personalities and the ability to accomplish what’s required,” she said. “Then, do all you can to try to flourish and succeed in those roles. Don’t be afraid to reassess and adjust when changes may be needed.”
For those actively struggling with dual business-family challenges, Zetzman said it’s all about prioritizing and scheduling.
“Leading by example is something we have done throughout the generations,” she said. “We never ask anyone on our team to do something we would not do ourselves.”
Her advice to business leaders includes telling clients what can be done rather than what can’t, the importance of instilling a sense of belonging in the work environment, and building the “new next” by supporting clients’ recruitment, retention and return-to-work efforts.
When asked about her proudest professional accomplishments with the team and family, Zetzman remarked, “We are still family and friends!”
She alluded to strong community stewardship, and growth as a team and business portfolio, expanding from furniture to technology.
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