Families working in business together have a long tradition that is evolving into new dynamic partnerships as they discover what it takes to work successfully together, both in the business world and at home.
While the Ma and Pa Corner Store is largely a thing of the past, that doesn’t mean there is a decline in family-owned and -operated businesses. On the contrary, family businesses continue to be important cornerstones of the economy, and that extends to the luxury home industry. Building upon the trust, communication, and core values fostered at home, families are creating businesses that rely not only on these commonalities but also upon each family member’s diverse talents, skills, and training.
90 percent of the nation’s businesses are family-owned or controlled. And family businesses provide half of the jobs in Europe and America.
Statistics speak to the importance of families in business together. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 90 percent of the nation’s businesses are family-owned or controlled. And family businesses provide half of the jobs in Europe and America, according to Ernst & Young. Starting a family business is a daring thing to do, as during the early years family members sacrifice by working for free or at a lower rate than the external job market would pay for similar skills (Jennifer Xue, Silicone Valley Globe). However, as these local Sun Valley businesses say, the rewards of working together are worth the challenges.
Conrad Brothers of Idaho Construction & Five Star Kitchen & Bath
The first home Paul Conrad built for his young company in Idaho was his own, and the experience of working with his wife Jenni so impressed him that they continue to work closely together 20 years later. “It was our first real project together, and Jenni’s space planning and kitchen design showed great talent and ability, and it was really fun to work together. The kitchen is one of the more difficult parts of the home to execute well and requires a lot of detailing,” recounts Paul. “Plus, it is where families spend the most time; the kitchen is the heart of any home.” In 1997, when they were just in their mid-20s and starting a family, Jenni and Paul Conrad made the leap to establish two businesses.
Illustrating how closely the pair prefers to work, Conrad Brothers Construction and Five Star Kitchen & Bath share the same office. While each has responsibility for their own enterprise, Paul and Jenni continue to collaborate and work together with many of the same clients.
In Paul’s case, he came from a background in construction in Virginia, but he never felt pressured to follow in the footsteps of the 100-year-old family construction firm, which was founded by his grandfather and great uncle. As Paul says, “I learned from my father. I saw his talent and appreciated his work ethic, but he never forced the business upon me. He encouraged me to work hard and be a good person but gave me the freedom to be myself and set my own path.” Paul reflects that he learned from the family business that expectations are high in construction, and it is critical to be great at crafting the details, to be patient, to communicate well, and, on occasion, to have thick skin. “Especially in high-end, custom residential construction, you are executing and expressing people’s dreams in your work. It is an enormous investment for them, and it requires a lot of trust,” he explains. For the past 20 years, Paul has grown his firm and built many of the Wood River Valley’s finest custom homes, and he honored the family by naming his business Conrad Brothers after his grandfather’s and father’s Virginia company.
“in high-end, custom residential construction, you are expressing people’s dreams in your work.”
–Paul Conrad, Conrad Brothers Construction
Jenni describes herself as someone who has always been creative, and her early background was in fine arts. As a serious cook who loves both baking and cooking, designing kitchens that excel in performance is a natural fit for her. She has augmented her natural design talent with extensive classes and certification programs, and is a Certified Kitchen and Bathroom Designer. Five Star Kitchen & Bath not only designs, details, fabricates, and installs cabinets for new construction, but does space planning, remodels, and lighting design as well. The showroom displays possibilities for fine custom and semi-custom cabinetry, hardware, tile, countertops, lighting, and appliances. Jenni and her team provide plans and specs for other general contractors, or they can complete the installation on their own.
When Jenni and Paul reflect on how working together has influenced them and their approach, Jenni says, “I have learned a lot from Paul. While the creative aspects came naturally to me, I have learned to run a business from Paul. From him, I have also learned to push through problems and grow.”
“Yes, we work as hard as we can, and we communicate as much and as well as we can. However, things come up that you can’t control, and you have to let it go,” Paul clarifies. “From Jenni, I have learned that the kitchen has some of the most intricate detailing in the home and requires early and careful integration. I have also learned a lot about new products and finishes, and this influences the level of detailing in the other areas of the home. Especially in high-end, custom residential construction, you are expressing people’s dreams in your work.”
One of the biggest challenges for couples is taking work home and the crossover between work and family life. Jenni agrees that it takes effort to separate the two, saying, “You have to understand each other and recognize when it’s appropriate to bring up business. While we can try to keep lines drawn, we are business owners and there are some weekend days when we have to be available to clients. We work hard and we play hard. We get away for long weekends for music events, fishing, or surfing, and we have always prioritized time with our two boys.”
Paul thinks that the respect he and Jenni show one another and their clear communications spill over to make a better experience for both clients and employees. “Jenni and I are a good team, and we instill confidence. Construction projects can be trying on clients’ relationships, and we try to add enjoyment through our good spirits and relationship. People like positivity, respect, and good communication. It infuses the environment.”
While Paul and Jenni are not yet 50, it is not surprising that they are preparing for the future, and Paul has already started writing “the book” on running the company. “While we plan on working in the business for a long, long time, we are dong our succession planning earlier than most. Thinking long helps the short term, and articulating how a small business runs and operates is important,” says Paul. He quips that you have to fill the big buckets (long-term goals), as well as the little buckets (near-term goals). “Maybe in ten years, the boys will come into the business, but regardless, we want the business to continue,” he says.
Do they have advice for others seeking to enter into a family business? Jenni recommends a structure like hers and Paul’s with separate but associated companies. “That way, you work together, but not for each other. We are in a different and unique arrangement that I think works. Also, you have to be open to suggestions and criticism. That makes a family business a place of personal growth,” she says.
MY SUN VALLEY HOME
“Trust is so important; if you can’t trust each other, everything else unravels.”
–Corey Black , My Sun Valley Home
In a time when couples generally delay marriage until later in life, Corey and Amber Black stand out as exceptions. Both in their early 30s, the two met during freshman year of high school. The couple has been married for 12 years now and has two children. Both grew up in Kimberly, a small town outside of Twin Falls. “We were both raised on acreage, where responsibility and accountability were understood from an early age,” Corey comments.
The Blacks purchased and took over the management of My Sun Valley Home in 2014. The Ketchum-based property management business is well known for its hands-on service. “We definitely had our eyes wide open and knew what we were getting into,” says Corey. “Under the former owner, Amber managed the office and housekeeping, as well as doing much of the bookkeeping for seven years. I came on board later to handle the management of maintenance and repairs.”
“We were confident we could do it,” answers Corey when asked about the big step to buy the company. “We know each other really well and share a lot of history. We respect each other, and both know that you can’t drop the ball at work and keep a good relationship at home. Trust is so important; if you can’t trust each other, everything else unravels.” Corey adds. “We like seeing each other during the day and being together at work. I know Corey is there and always has my back. Not many couples can work together. We hear it all the time, but for us, it works,” says Amber. Evident from the company’s significant growth, it’s clear that this partnership works well. My Sun Valley Home now manages 35 percent more homes since Corey and Amber acquired the business just three years ago.
My Sun Valley Home distinguishes itself from other property management businesses in the valley by catering to private homeowners, rather than vacation rentals. “In addition to providing weekly in-depth home checks, we provide a wide range of services that our clients can request à la carte,” Amber explains. “In addition to having a complete housekeeping and maintenance staff, we also offer a full slate of concierge services that range from grocery shopping, vehicle detailing, and landscaping, to everything in between. If for any reason there is a service we don’t provide, we will find a reputable vendor who can accommodate the request.”
A former journeyman electrician, Corey is a licensed general contractor with 15 years of experience working in construction, and much of it has been here in the Wood River Valley. General contracting plays a large role in the property management business, and that’s where Corey’s strengths come into play. “The projects can range from painting or quick plumbing and electrical repairs to new roofs, kitchen remodels, or a new custom spa. Because I’ve worked locally in home construction, I know the best people to call to get the work done.”
Corey comments, “With growth comes change, and in order to adjust to our constantly growing business, we’ve hired additional staff for a deeper level of backup for what Amber and I do.” When asked if deeper staffing helps them to step away from the business, Amber comments on the difference that staff and technology makes to their job. “Our family enjoys camping, various outdoor sports, and traveling, but we rarely leave cell phone reception. Most of our requests are received via text or email, and we can handle them in a similar way without taking too much away from our family time.”
Having a highly skilled staff is essential not just for the success of their business, but to also allow for family time. “We appreciate the flexibility we have to adjust our schedule around our kids’ needs, and we do the same for our employees. Family comes first for all of us,” Amber explains. Family plays a substantial role in the culture at My Sun Valley Home. Eric Palmer, who knows Corey from Kimberly, has been with the company for several years and oversees maintenance and contracting. Amber’s father Jack assists in several different roles during the busy months, while Corey’s sister Julie Black manages concierge services and housekeeping.
Asked whether they are considering a family succession plan for My Sun Valley Home, Amber laughs, “Our kids are way too young to be thinking about directing them into our business. We want them to create their own paths. And truthfully? This business takes a certain personality.”
“YOU CAN’T OVER COMMUNICATE.”
–David Lloyd, President, Lloyd Construction
Seasonal employment is part of living in a resort community, and it was especially true in the 1960s when John and Carolyn Lloyd, both natives of Idaho, arrived in the Sun Valley area. John worked as a Forest Service Snow Ranger and a Ski Patroller at the resort, and in the summers he worked as a carpenter. He thought he could do a better job and build with more quality running his own firm than he could as an employee, and so in 1977, he and Carolyn founded Lloyd Construction and Carolyn took over the office duties of the business. Carolyn recalls, “We centered our business around John’s quality custom craftsmanship, and rather stumbled upon the business aspect, recognizing it was something we needed to master and excel at, as well.”
Forty years later, John and Carolyn Lloyd have stepped aside from their leadership roles, and their son David is currently the president of Lloyd Construction. The general contracting firm specializes in luxury single-family homes, additions, and commercial projects. John nods in agreement as Carolyn says, “David has continued to maintain the high standards we have always set as goals.”
“However, we never really thought about the business staying in the family. David has done more than just take over the business. He has brought the benefits of modern technology to the office, and I am continually impressed by his excellent, efficient communication with clients, employees, and the trades. We are an even better company,” Carolyn adds.
David agrees that there weren’t expectations for him to go into the family construction business, but he did grow up working and helping out. “Working was something we did as a family. A principle of our family is that everyone does their best, and work becomes a reflection of self. I watched my family put their heart into every home.” At the age of 10, David swept and scrapped out job sites. At 15, he became a semi-proficient carpenter.
At a young age I worked side-by-side with people in the trades, and they became mentors to me. I developed a deep respect and great appreciation through working with them. I see the people I work with as teammates. Family comes first for our family and we extend that attitude to the people we work with. We share great trust, and we have worked with many for decades, and in some cases, we are now working with their next generation.”
David Lloyd’s path took him to college, where he skied competitively, and then to a year of travel and skiing around the world before he returned home. “I was born in Sun Valley and loved growing up in Ketchum and the mountain culture,” he says. “It was a natural progression for me to return to the family business in 2000. It had always been a part of my life.” When asked about the transition to leadership, David explains, “The foundation of working through succession came from a position of love for all those involved. We looked at it as what is best for each family member at that time.”
From the beginning, being the bosses’ son meant he needed to prove himself, and he has a tenacious work ethic as a result. David tells, “My attitude is to be hyper-vigilant, do the best I can, and to lead by example. I am first on the jobsite and last to leave. As a child, I heard conversations about budget and schedule, and I looked for small ways to ease the stress and demands on my parents.” Others tell a similar story of having to prove themselves to others when starting in the family business.
Another challenge for David is to make sure that work stays at work. “Work is a reflection of who I am, and it is tough to admit that I can’t do everything I want in a day. As a business owner, work is always there, and really, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he smiles. Some of the ways David separates from the job are mountain sports, his passion, time with his wife and two young sons at their cabin, and community events. While growing up with John and Carolyn, the family had a rule that work stayed at work, and when the day ended, time was about family. David follows the same guideline.
David finds that a family business offers clients a foundation for trust. “We work for clients from all over the world, and, of course, they wonder when they meet us how they should know that we will do what we say we will do,” he continues. “I point to the relationships we have with the community, to the extended family of people who work with us, to our vendors, and ask, ‘Where are we going to go if we don’t do a good job?’ This is a small, tight community. We will do anything for our clients, and deep friendships have grown from our mutual trust.”
Training is another other advancement David has emphasized to make Lloyd Construction even stronger. With continuing education, job leaders are certified construction managers, and team members are certified in multiple aspects of safety. And what advice does David Lloyd offer to others considering a family business? “Communication is key. You can’t over-communicate.”