Drama Free Family Embroidery Business Rules

Business of Apparel Decorating, Embroidery

The Embroidery Business, screen printing business, direct to garment printing, promotional products or running a custom apparel shop of any kind can be greatly helped or HINDERED when it’s run as a family business.

One of the most well kept secrets about the decorated apparel industry is that a good chunk of the businesses are actually owned and operated by families.  This could mean that husbands and wives are working together.  Maybe the kids are helping out, with the idea that they will take over one day.  Even grandparents are getting into the act.  Does this sound like your shop?

One thing is for sure, and that is the rules that might govern a big commercial embroidery business, or any other business go immediately out the window because of the family relationship is always going to take precedent.  So how to you operate more effectively without wanting to kill each other by the end of the week?

Easy.  Set up some rules and guidelines to help get everyone on the same page, and establish some clear expectations for behavior or how to treat each other.  Here are some thoughts to help set the tone in your family owned shop:

First, put the best people in the right roles.  Just because the parents may have funded the shop in the beginning, doesn’t mean that years later they are the best production managers or salespeople.  If this was a “normal” business and someone wasn’t doing a good job, you would either get them trained up, moved to another position, or maybe even let them go.  It’s an extremely difficult discussion when someone’s performance is in question and they are related to you.  However, if use facts and keep personal issues out of the conversation a good plan and even change can occur.  This is about capabilities and skill, not about lineage.  You have to hold people accountable for performance.

This is particularly hard for a home based embroidery business because you’ll need to deal with someone living right down the hall!

You might assign the simple task of embroidery machine maintenance to someone in the family that is more mechanically inclined, for example, and whoever has the most creativity or software skills to work on embroidery digitizing software.

Next, try to remove family dynamics from the workplace.  There’s nothing worse for your staff to hear than the owners of the business arguing or discussing personal matters in the office. Often, family members may ride in together to work, and that heated discussion that started in the car continues through the front door and down the hallway.  Raise your hand if you have had a conversation like this.

You must establish some basic conversational limits when discussing anything that you may not want others to hear.  Don’t talk about work at home, and don’t talk about home at work is a good one to start with.  However, if you must have the conversation, keep it behind a closed door and at a manageable decibel level.  Your staff doesn’t need to hear your unprofessional dirty laundry.

Find some personal space.  Working with your family every day, and then going home and seeing all the same people can get overwhelming.  Be sure to schedule some personal time with your own interests outside of work.  Don’t take offense if a working family member wants to do something without you.  Alone time is good.

Support each other with the hobbies, volunteering, interests or whatever that person needs to just create their own identity.  Work it out together and be understanding.

It may be best, if you do have a home office or home based embroidery business that you restrict that space to only business. You can check out some tips on handling this on the Custom Apparel Startups Podcast – look for Episode 43 to get started.

Talk about things early.  Problems that might come up with a regular employee might be handled differently than one tied to a family member.   As everything is rolled up into the business, you may need to have a more serious conversation about the “what if’s” than a regular employee would get.  However, be firm and fair about the situation.  Yes, family members can be fired from their jobs too.  You don’t want poor performance taking down the rest of the company.  Whatever you do, talk about things early.  Challenges only fester if left unchecked.

You should also agree that working in the business means that people need to say things that are accurate to the situation, and you can’t let it be personal towards the family.  Develop methods for handling sticky situations by using feedback as a tool for improvement, not for personal attacks.

What is the established succession plan?  One squabble that may come up is who is taking over after dad or mom retire?  (That’s a great problem to have for an embroidery business because it means you’ve probably got a going concern.) Rather than have everyone jostling for position, define the rules and training needed to be able to have a clear transition.  If the son doesn’t have much experience in sales or accounting as he’s always run the shop, taking a seminar or course at a local college might be helpful.  Maybe the daughter, who has always run the office needs to work in the shop to learn how things are processed.  Don’t wait until there is a family emergency and emotions are already running high.

Another great idea is to get some coaching or mentoring with a trusted person or group that isn’t a member of the family.  Many organizations have a board of directors and your family business could have one too.  This outside influence could have experience that the internal family members lack or some special skill or contacts that could prove to be useful.  This is key, especially as your shop grows no matter if you are in screen printing, commercial embroidery or any other niche or vertical market.  Thinking of investing in some new equipment or technology?  Want to start a side website to sell to a certain demographic?  There has been some heated debates about what direction the company should go, and getting an outside opinion that is objective and not personally involved could be the key to keeping the peace.

Don’t be afraid of conflict, but learn how to have differences.  In a normal business setting, executives will often brainstorm and debate over a key strategy and hammer out a plan to move forward.  With a family business, discussions like these can turn personal quickly as often family members don’t have the same verbal filters or treat each other differently.  Work on how as a group you can communicate and disagree on any topic, but still remain a high functioning family that won’t hold grudges.

Learn how to work together.  Family businesses are great, the custom apparel or embroidery business is great, and are huge part of today’s small business environment.  At the end of the day, families that work together need to understand that working in a family business is tougher than any other.  Keep the comments positive.  Communicate often.  Set goals and priorities, and assign responsibility.  Hold your family members accountable.  Don’t argue or demean each other in front of other staff members.  Bring in outside help when needed.

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