ROUNDTABLE: Owners talk about their lives at a family business

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Four members of local family businesses met at The Signal in July to compare notes about their experiences.

Participants:
Don and Mitzi Like: LBW Insurance and Financial Services
Jeff Green: Douglas Furniture
Ben Griffiths: Brent’s Carpet One

How did you start your company?

Mitzi Like: Dad and I started the company together. Dad had an agency in the Valley for many years and sold. I finished up at school, worked for an insurance company and did claims work. I decided I didn’t want to do claims work anymore so I went out to an agency in Westlake Village and built a commercial book of business. In 1982, Dad and I got together. We were originally called Like Financial.
Green: The business started in 1975. My father started the company when was 22 years old. It took a lot of guts back then. It’s a true family business so if business wasn’t good we would hear about it around the dinner table. If things were good, we were good.
I’ve been working full time for about 15 years. I’m the general manager there. Dad still likes to come in. I have a sister involved and Mom’s there too. So it’s a true family atmosphere there. Our employees have been working for us for a long time too.

Donald Like, Mitzi Like, Jeff Green, and Ben Griffiths discuss running family businesses in Santa Clarita during a roundtable discussion at the Signal with Business Journal editor Patrick Mullen on July 11, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Griffiths: My father Brent founded the business in 1979. He always said he was going to sell the business. He was in real estate and was an accountant. It wasn’t really his line of work, he got into it with a friend and things kept going. He built a building and needed the business for the loan then had a bunch of kids in college. So it takes on a life of its own.
I came to work for him shortly after 2000 and worked my way up through about every position in the business. Brent has been retired for a few years now so we always keep on doing what we’ve been doing.
Did you have a choice to get into the family business?
Griffiths: My Dad always said he was going to sell so all of us planned different life paths. I wasn’t happy with the job that I had. He was trying to sell the business and he was a guarantor on the lease and they wouldn’t release him. We were talking one day and he said why don’t you take over the business.
Green: We were all able to go our own ways. After college I wanted to get married and needed to make money. I had a business degree so I called Dad and said I want to make this my career too. I had started out as a driver when I was in school. So I knew the business.
Mitzi Like: With me it was a little different. A lot of people thought I was brought into the business but the way it came about was that we actually did it together.

Do you think the working dynamic was different from the start as opposed to Jeff and Ben’s experience?
Don Like: Mitzi first went out to work on her own with a cousin of mine in Westlake Village at an insurance agency to go to make money. She went to work with him for about two years and built up a very large book of business. He knew that one day she would pick up and leave. That’s how we got together.
I do a lot of work with succession arrangements and the reason why they don’t work a lot of times is the father owns everything. What we did was we went 50-50 right from the beginning. We had confidence in each other.

What are your plans for the next generation?
Mitzi Like: The third generation is in our business now. Both of my boys are in the business.
Green: There isn’t a third generation involved yet. There will be. They are still young. We want to see what they want to do. We were never forced to be in the business.
Griffiths: I have five kids. They are all young. I think if you asked them today they would say that they have plans to take over the business. My kids come in and spend time there. They enjoy it.

How is business in 2017?
Griffiths: This year’s fantastic. We haven’t been able to say that about construction in a long time. For a downturn that took so many years to get through, it was difficult. You use a lot of your personal resources. And when things get better you need to bring things back and be in a conservative state. You can’t play it any other way.
Green: I would ditto everything he has said. We have had the best year in the history of the store. People are finally spending money again and re-doing things. The banks are finally lending again.
Mitzi Like: We are in the insurance business so there are certain policies that people must have. We are diversified enough that we never have a real downturn.

 

Donald Like, Mitzi Like, Jeff Green, and Ben Griffiths discuss running family businesses in Santa Clarita during a roundtable discussion at the Signal on July 11, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

How would you rate the Santa Clarita Valley as a place to do business?
Mitzi Like: We love it. The San Fernando Valley where we came from originally is too big. Here you can go to the grocery store and run into people you know. I got involved with the hospital. I’m on the hospital board and Economic Development Board. I can get to the office in less than five minutes. Most of my staff is within 20 minutes.

Green: It’s a great place to raise a family. The small-town feel is nice but it is also still growing.

 

How has technology changed your business?

Ben Griffiths of Brent’s Carpet One discusses running family businesses in Santa Clarita during a roundtable discussion at the Signal on July 11, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Griffiths: Flooring is a little bit backwards when it comes to technology. There are so many set-ups in flooring stores. You can be one guy who does all of the measuring and all of the installing by himself all the way up to a corporation where you have many employees who measure, many employees who order, accountants dedicated to the financing, and warehouse people all separated in different functions. It’s very difficult to build a one-size-fits-all software system. There have been only a couple of solutions for decades. It’s coming.
Green: In furniture, there is technology for the customer. We’ll have televisions above the sofa where the customer can dress the sofa right then and there. We’ll have the samples there too but sometimes it’s hard for someone to picture it. I have salesmen who walk around with a tablet. But before they walked around with a book. We still have both.

How much are you aware of the legacy of your company and your role as the inheritors who keep it going?
Griffiths: It’s a permanent weight. My father was an accountant. He came in with tremendous business acumen. He set things up in a flooring company that are very different than you normally see in a flooring company. He taught me those values and a lot of them are interpersonal. When we say we’ll take care of you that’s what it means. You have to have a sense of a legacy. I have people come up to me and tell me how my Dad dealt with them. It’s kind of a stewardship. When my Dad left I think I felt it more keenly. When he was there he could take care of it and make it OK. When he left I was that guy. There was no backstop, I was the backstop.
Green: It’s on my mind at all times. Customers come in and say “I bought from your Dad 35 years ago.”
Don Like: The one thing I have done is let Mitzi run the business.

What’s the thing you spend time on at work that you wish you didn’t have to spend time on?
Green: Paying bills.
Griffiths: Interruptions.
Mitzi Like: Babysitting the staff.

Jeff Green of Douglas Furniture discusses running a family business in Santa Clarita during a roundtable discussion at the Signal on July 11, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

 

Would your business be any different if it wasn’t in Santa Clarita?

Mitzi Like of LBW discusses running a family business in Santa Clarita during a roundtable discussion at the Signal on July 11, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Don Like: I have never lived in a place that gives so much than the people I come in contact with in Santa Clarita.
Green: For us it’s trends out here. Santa Clarita is a very traditional community. A lot of that plays into the kind of furniture they buy.
Griffiths: People want quality here. People want it done right. I don’t think you have those expectations in other areas.

Donald Like of LBW discusses running a family business in Santa Clarita during a roundtable discussion at the Signal on July 11, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

QUOTES
“The one thing I have done is let Mitzi run the business.”
–Don Like

“A lot of people thought I was brought into the business but the way it came about was that we actually did it together.”
–Mitzi Like
“It’s a true family business so if business wasn’t good we would hear about it around the dinner table. If things were good, we were good.”
–Jeff Green

“You have to have a sense of a legacy.”
–Ben Griffiths

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