There are many cautionary tales of running a business with family. Sure, partnering with a relative is a delicate matter and comes with its own set of challenges. However, with clearly defined roles, a shared vision for your shop and taking advantage of each other’s strengths, you can flourish in both your personal and professional lives. We talked to Dan Strickland who started Garment Gear 20 years ago together with his brother, Dallas. Today he happily shares some of his insights on how they manage their successful shop.
Could you tell me a bit about how you and your brother decided to start a shop together?
It’s a great story actually! I'm three years older than my brother, Dallas. When I was in high school, my dad started an embroidery company where I worked during high school and continued after I graduated. When my brother graduated and went off to the Savannah College of Art & Design, my dad closed up shop - so I left to go to college. After college, Dallas started working as an artist at a screen printing company. I had moved on and became a sales manager for a company. Over the next few years, it dawned on us that we could start a screen printing business ourselves! Finally, in December of ‘99, we started GarmentGear. It's worked out great. I'm on the sales and finance side of things and my brother is really good with the artwork and handling the day-to-day operations.
What are some of the benefits of working with family?
For me, the biggest benefit of working with family is that Dallas and I grew up together. We always intuitively know what the other is thinking and wanting to do. Another major benefit is that you are more than just business partners. When a personal issue comes up and you have a good loving relationship outside the business, your partner can carry the business forward and take care of everything - no questions asked. It’s for better or for worse. When you work with just a business partner, it may get bitter faster than when you work with a family member.
How do you deal with challenges or conflicts that arise?
It can be tough. But luckily, Dallas and I have the same long-term vision for the growth and viability of the business, even if we sometimes disagree on where we want to take it. You have to be respectful of the other person’s insight. Dallas and I have worked together so closely for 20 years now, but I still remind both myself and my brother what ego stands for. For us, ego is an acronym that stands for ‘evil going on’. If we always keep that in mind, you end up squashing that ego and being humble. Again, that goes back to being respectful for the other family members' point of view. It’s important not to get emotional about things and always think of the long-term viability of the business.
What advice would you give to those who are looking to partner with family?
Rule number one is defining boundaries and duties upfront, to prevent one person from wearing too many different hats. Defining boundaries for us, fortunately, became very organic. As Dallas was on the art side of the business and I was on the sales side, we automatically had that natural boundary established. Giving advice on going into business with family members really depends on the relationship, but I think it always goes back to having respect for everyone involved in your business. Be patient and take the time to carefully listen to their input, even if you subtly roll your eyes in the back of your mind. If their ideas are wrong, that's okay! You still have to love them and see what they're trying to tell you.