By Greg Wolf
Just two years after my wife, Ruby, and I were married, we moved from her home state of Ohio to Pratt, Kan., to take a job with Kennedy and Coe, LLC.
On a prior trip to my parents’ place in northwest Kansas I had picked up a copy of High Plains Journal and had seen an ad for the firm that attracted me. Some phone calls and a couple interviews followed, and we moved here in July 1997. With the exception of another job experience within a bank, I’ve been here ever since—around a dozen years or so. They have been great years with great experiences in my work.
However, in addition to our many activities with our children that I’ve recounted in columns over the years, we have had a dream of doing something in the way of a family business venture with them. It seemed like we had a vast future ahead of us and “someday” we’d settle on the right opportunity and timing. However, in December 2011, our oldest daughter turned 15, and we felt a clock ticking more loudly and the potential for a window of opportunity to close.
It so happened that our local cafÃ© in Sawyer, Kan., had closed and was sitting empty. We had toured it at another time it was on the market a decade before and had concluded the timing was not yet right. So we decided to tour it again, and right away started to formulate ideas about what we might be able to do with the property and a good business plan. That led to a purchase in May of last year, and a frenzy of work to prepare the property for a new business.
We were careful about developing a business plan and settled upon a business called Family Food Store. With a variety of quality foods and an inviting atmosphere for our customers, we hoped and dreamed that our store would have both the attraction and the diversity to not only draw customers from the region but to interest them enough to keep them coming. I approached Kennedy and Coe about moving to a “flex schedule” in July 2012 and the firm was incredibly gracious and supportive, and since that time I’ve continued to commit my energies in both places, albeit neither quite on a full-time basis. We opened in October, and the response of our customers to our business concept has been extremely positive and our growth has been well above our expectations. We have combined a deli with sandwiches, a bakery, a line of bulk food items, some specialty grocery items and a some “take and bake-style” homemade foods. Our customers have suggested that we have created a small-town concept with elements of Trader Joe’s, Panera Bread, Cracker Barrel, and McAllister’s Deli. Certainly our setting is smaller-scale and family-oriented, but in substance we do have similarities to each of those businesses.
Our growth has been such that I’ve been crowded again with demands on my time and so am in the process of another of life’s transitions—I’m pulling back my involvement with Kennedy and Coe a little further to devote more time to our family business. But due to the interests of the firm and mine as well, I’m going to continue to make a contribution here in some projects I’ve developed over the years—included in those will be writing this column in the Journal. Others include the continued writing and editing of some agricultural newsletters for our agriculture group. I am enthused about remaining connected to some of the great work and people within Kennedy and Coe but also having more time to focus on developing our family business venture even further.
I have a number of musings in this life transition, which I’ll share here in no particular order—they might have benefit for some of my readers, regardless of your own setting and transitions. Mid-life transitions like this are challenging. Studying the “risk/reward curve” in Finance 101 is only abstract until you make a leap of faith involving your own resources. Involving family in a business venture can be a true joy. It can also reveal personal and parenting weaknesses (in a dad, I might add) through the near-constant togetherness. People still love good food and quality products. We all still like personal service. Diversity still works in a business model. Good planning pays dividends. Good help is valuable. There are still business opportunities available as the corporatization and consolidation continue to advance. Having grown up in production agriculture and worked in some area of agribusiness for decades, it is fascinating to make another move directly to our consumers. Life is fleeting and windows of opportunity won’t stay open forever. Children grow more quickly than we ever thought they could. It is a miracle to watch the growth and development of our children with their own special gifts and abilities. Sometimes there isn’t just quite enough time in the day. I could go on and on but will close that list with…God is good!
I plan to continue writing this column and will still share some of my personal experiences, but as my client service involvement through Kennedy and Coe lessens, I’ll focus more on sharing some of the creativity, experiences and valuable work that my colleagues in the firm do each day.
Editor’s note: Greg Wolf writes for Kennedy and Coe, LLC (www.kcoe.com) in addition to developing a business venture with his family. His column is oriented toward helping readers navigate toward better returns in all areas of their own businesses. He is based in the firm’s Pratt, Kan., office and can be reached at 620-672-7476.