Dealers’ Domain

Question: How do you separate your business from your personal life and find time to enjoy the benefits of owning a business?

I keep business separate from my personal life. Don’t treat the dealer meeting as your vacation; take a separate vacation (at least one-week long twice a year). Don’t “live” at your business; have set hours and stick to them, and get an unlisted phone number at home.
— Daniel J. D’Arcy, president
Granby, Mass.

I have reduced my hours of operation.
— Joe Higgins, owner
Joe’s Small Engine Repair
Pataskala, Ohio

We try to close at 1 o’clock on Saturday and do not work on Sunday, although we do have phone calls at home occasionally and people drop their mowers, trimmers, etc. at our house on weekends, even when we are not home. It is a very demanding job, but we do try and find time for ourselves. Winter time is much slower than summer and that is when we have more time for ourselves.
— Kay Annear, VP & secretary
Annear Equipment, Inc.
Adel, Iowa

My wife has taken good care of that for me! She doesn’t work in the business and has a job of a teacher and doesn’t understand the retail service industry and thinks that 5 p.m. is 5 p.m. for everyone no matter whom!
For me, I’d probably stay at the shop till I’d drop or till about 10 minutes before we need to leave home for an engagement. I do wish that I took more time to be with my boys while they were growing up instead of the business; they only grow up once. The business sure has changed, but it’s still here! My time off is with cars and fish, no golf and a little of sports on TV — otherwise, I consider it living someone else’s life, and I still have my own to live.
It is often hard with a smaller business to find the quality time to take off, depending on your employees and their abilities. It is essential to get away from anything from time to time to check your perspectives. This doesn’t sit too well with my wife, but, I often, when away, am like a secret shopper; I look at other businesses and see how people react to customers on their showroom floors with product questions, as well as interaction with a perspective customer. I’ve enjoyed and learned much from this experience from other dealers and their staffs. I will say I’ve seen good and bad doing this, and it often — while interviewing new employees for different jobs — helps.
We have been blessed with some excellent employees, and we can take the time for family, as well as just personal time to regroup thoughts; it often is just not done. It is very important for personal health and mind to get a relief, although we are all different and our needs are too!  We do get away to travel some, and at first, it was quite bothersome, although I’ve yet to return and find the roof caved in or anything that couldn’t be straightened out when returning.
I enjoy what I call working in an adult boy toy store for the variety of products, as well as customers I get to meet! To me, the benefit of the business is having all these machines to play with so why would I want to leave it?
— Art White
White’s Farm Supply Inc.
Waterville, N.Y.

Let’s see I have been working seven days a week since the beginning of April and will be till late June. The truth is I can’t separate my business from my personal life. I do enjoy the work I do, and even with cranky customers, lazy employees, and paperwork, there is something that makes me come in and unlock the door every day. I am doing what my father did and his father before him. Growing up in this business, our family never participated in summer vacations; I don’t know the concept of a summer vacation. What most of my friends and family don’t understand is how I handle the stress of running a small business. I enjoy what I do to a point; I have a full shop at my house where I spend my evenings restoring old mowers. If I ever felt my business was stressful and damaging my health, I would get out of it. My vacations are mostly less than a week and in the fall or winter. When I am away from my business, I have a way of completely turning it off. My wife now makes me carry a cell phone, but for years I made it a habit of not telling anyone how to get in touch with me when I was out of town. My father enjoyed big-game hunting; I am a ski racer, and October and November are great months to golf — no crowds or bugs.
Two weeks at the beach, not without my toolbox. 
— Rob Leiser
Leiser’s Sales and Rental
Easton, Pa.

I used to open on Saturdays, but after my first-born son Kent came into this world, been closed on Saturdays since. My field reps always point out how much money I’m missing, but I figure my time invested into my kids’ lives is much more important. Twenty-eight years and three more kids later, I’m still closed Saturdays. I also close on most holidays, and close on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I open at 8 and close at 5 during the week. I may have lost thousands of dollars over the past 28 years, but got to have a life as well.
— Tony Nation
Nation’s Small Engine Inc.
Hot Springs, Ark.

The way we separate our business from our personal life this year is quite different. We closed our business on Saturdays, and we decided that after 25 years of being open on Saturday, we would change our hours. We are open now on Wednesday evenings until 7 p.m. and open on Friday evening until 6 p.m. This way, we have a very normal lifestyle. This works out for our customers and also for us. Our customers — both commercial and residential — supported us in this move, which was very surprising. Now when we are home on Saturdays, it is a whole other world that we were missing. Everyone could do this, but they think that they can’t. If you are good — and good at what you do — the customers will find time to get to you during your business hours. I hope some people will look at this and give it a try. IT WORKS FOR US.
— Louis Lawnmower Inc.

For the first 20 years, you don’t. Now I go home after 10 hours and try to disassociate myself from the day’s trials and relax with my wife (kids are grown and gone).
I have reduced my hours during the winter months. Instead of 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. six days a week, my winter hours — for a four-month period — are now 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. When my daughter was about 10 years old, she was briefly helping at the store. She said, “Now I know why you’re so grumpy at home — you used up all your ‘nice’ at work.” Tells it all, doesn’t it? After 30 years, my wife and I now go south to Arizona for a month and occasionally on a cruise. I’ve figured out I’m never going to “win” the war, so I may as well win the odd battle. Some of the blogs in Power Equipment Congress certainly reveal the passion of outdoor power equipment dealers (and all small business owners for that matter). But I sense that the load on dealers seems to be getting oppressive in terms of: family life/economics/manufacturers’ terms/margins/customer expectations/unrealistic time investment/life balance. Maybe we are in a transition from small business to mega business (hope not). Better profit margins would certainly help to hire more employees and lessen the load, and allow more personal time away from the store (but I dream!).
— John Montie, president
John Montie Lawn & Garden Ltd.
Chilliwack, British Columbia

That’s a tough one. When you own a business, it is 24/7. The only thing you can do is make time for the things you enjoy. We go out for dinner every Saturday night, and I do get to take a day off or leave early once in a while to do things with my family. Because we are so busy this time of year, I make Sunday my business-free day. I take the morning for myself and spend the rest of the day doing chores or spending time with my family. As far as benefits go, I think that shows up in the toys; we all seem to have them. If the toy is “in season,” you try to make time to play.
— Matthew Borden, owner
Ed & Matt Equipment
Greenville, R.I.

That’s a tough one. At least the first part of the question.
I’m not sure that it is possible to separate your business from your personal life. I think that, like it or not, our business becomes part of us, and part of our family. We ARE what we DO. The business that we have reflects who we are as people, how we deal with others, our integrity, our creative and technical skills. I don’t think that it is possible to run your business any differently than you run your life…they are one and the same.
The second half of the question is much easier. As business owners, we have to remember two things:
1. We run our business…not our customers.
2. Our first priority in business is to provide for our family…not to service our customers.
If you keep those two rules foremost in your thinking, you will compensate yourself appropriately, you will take time off for family functions and vacations, and you will have balance in your life.
Customers, as important as they are to our success, would have us working 24/7 and working for minimum wage if it were up to them.
— Roger Zerkle, owner
Flat Rock, Ill.

My parents own the business, but for me, being a single father and working for my parents, it allows me to be more involved with my daughter. We don’t really separate personal and business.
We work together to allow time for personal time away from the shop. For example, my daughter had a choir concert at 6:30 p.m. yesterday, so I ducked out of the shop just before 5 p.m. My daughter rides the school bus to the shop, so I don’t have to leave and go get her. My dad is a director for the local REMC, so he has meetings during the day. We make the business work with us, so we can do personal things too. Having been farmers, it’s a normal part of our lives to be able to mix our time between business and personal time.
— Todd Biddinger
T&T Rent-All
Rochester, Ind.

I hate to answer a question with a question, but, in light of the current administration’s policies and the current economic environment, what are the benefits of owning business?
This year, I am spending more time on the business because I have to carefully consider the tax implications of each decision I make.
As for my personal life, I ensure I take a one-week vacation each year. I also make it difficult for my employees to NOT take a vacation. I feel it is very important that each of us remember the motto, “I work to live. I don’t live to work.”
— Paul Lasiter, operations manager
Mason’s Saw and Lawnmower Service, Inc.
El Cajon, Calif.

When I get the urge to separate myself from the 10-hour days in the shop, the late-evening pickups and deliveries, or the constant attention to the cell phone, I think, “My customers, Daisy and Mr. Grass Farmer, have neighbors who would be honored to mow their yard. If I take a little time off and reacquaint myself with Ann (favorite wife) and Maddie (cute little affectionate Austrian Shepherd Spaniel dog), I’ll just picture Daisy and Mr. Grass Farmer treating Mr. Neighbor to a cool one after he finishes their mowing.” There. Now I’m ready. “Come on, Ann and Maddie! Put down your phones and let’s go!”
— Flute Snyder
Hudson Mower Doctor
Hudson, Wis.


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