Family businesses are the cornerstone of the American Dream, but operating one can be fraught with challenges and setbacks. While some fold quickly, others persevere. Here are some family-run Hudson Valley success stories
June 15, 1996: The day remains etched in their collective memory. That was the day that Suzanne Bauer-Oldakowski and her husband, Stan Oldakowski, had planned to purchase her parents’ hotel and restaurant, the Bavarian Manor, in Purling. But just two weeks earlier, while Stan, the cook, prepared lunches for the Memorial Day weekend, a fire erupted. “A little boy came running into the kitchen and was screaming, ‘Mister! Mister! There’s a fire coming out of your walls,’” Stan recalls.
The firefighters cut a hole in the roof, hosed down the top floor, and, within 45 minutes, stopped the flames. Unfortunately, the couple had to shut down the hotel for five months while repairs were made, but they were able to reopen the restaurant within two weeks. Sadly, their finances also went up in smoke, since Suzanne’s mother, who still owned the hotel, hadn’t purchased insurance.
The friends and family of Bavarian Manor, one of our eight featured family businesses
Giving up was not an option, and Stan and Suzanne started over. Today, they continue to work hard. One of their four children is attending culinary school in Philadelphia and may continue the business into another generation. But Stan has concerns. “I’ve been in the kitchen my entire adult life. I know how hard this life is, and I wouldn’t wish it on my kids. We haven’t had a real vacation in 15 years,” he says. Suzanne has mixed feelings. She believes continuing the business for another generation is part of her legacy.
Family businesses have long been the cornerstone of the American Dream. And, when they work well, there’s nothing more fulfilling. Family businesses, in fact, help fuel the U.S. economy. The Great Recession changed the family-business landscape quite drastically. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 4.3 million businesses with 19 or fewer employees closed between the end of 2007 and the end of 2008. Still, according to the Family Business Institute, in North America, 80 to 90 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is generated by family businesses and, in the United States, 64 percent of the GDP comes from family businesses. So, if you think of family businesses simply as the corner mom-and-pop grocers of yesteryear, consider this: Family companies employ 62 percent of the population! But that doesn’t mean owning or operating one is easy.
Just as family relationships sometimes come unglued, so do family businesses.
“The healthiest families have an unspoken rule that, despite the challenges, they believe ‘we can work it out,’ ” says family business consultant John Messervey, whose National Family Business Council has been counseling family businesses for more than 30 years. But the odds are tough. Only about 30 percent of family businesses survive into the second generation, 12 percent are still viable into the third, and only about 3 percent operate into the fourth generation or beyond, according to the Family Business Institute.
Competition these days is fierce — and global. A competing product or service can be a click away even if it’s halfway around the world. “The most successful family businesses know more than ever who their customers are,” says Messervey. "They also focus on why they are in business, whether it is to make money, enjoy a lifestyle, or create value that someone wants to buy.”
Despite the tough odds, dozens of family businesses throughout the Hudson Valley have found success. Below are a few of their stories.