First Financial Bank has been honored to work with many people who have acquired, built, and grown a variety of businesses. We spoke to several recently who have been gracious enough to share their insights into what has helped them to succeed. There were several themes and recommendations that emerged from those conversations. We’ve provided their tips, advice, and ideas below from those conversations:
Throughout our many conversations, regardless of the type of business they owned, we heard how doing your homework was important before committing to a purchase – or in understanding the landscape for growth and expansion once the business was underway:
“I went to a couple of barns in Alabama and Tennessee. I called a lot of people that had been in the business awhile. Learned a lot on my own too. The integrator’s people come in and they have seen many different farms and can give pointers on what they’ve seen that works. Talk to others who are doing the same thing as you. Ask a lot of questions. You can’t ask enough questions.” – Scott Mincey, Poultry Farm Owner (expanding into row crops).
“You have to do a lot of research to determine whether to buy a business or not. Luckily, the woman who started the business 13+ years ago was someone we already knew well. We could ask the weird and hard questions you can’t really ask the person you are buying the business from. The information she provided was key in helping us make the decision. We also talked internally at home for hours, plus had lots of discussions with lots of people, including our CPA and bankers.” – Beth Porter, Owner of Eggshells Kitchen Co. (soon to open their second location!)
“I plan on duplicating what we are doing now but with more ranches. We are focused on understanding government ranch programs and expanding our knowledge about how to manage large herds of cattle.” – Jaymes “Jay” Holcomb, Rancher and Owner of multiple businesses, including three successful auto dealerships.
“Be sure to pay attention to your customers and your numbers. You don’t want to lose any of your customers or your good staff. It’s really rewarding – do it!” – Stephen Pisarich, PharmD, and owner of TD Pharmacy.
“First of all, define the roles for everyone playing the game with you. If you are the only person in the business, you obviously assign yourself all those roles. In my case, I have service providers, front desk personnel, etc. As an owner, I clearly defined my role as financial and strategic oversight, knowing what kind of services we want to provide, community outreach, and building corporate partnerships in the community. Regarding staffing, it’s essential that we aren’t stumbling over each other or duplicating efforts. Everyone needs to know their roles: the leader provides the path to get where they are going and the resources to get there. The CEO is not trying to be the day-to-day manager; the manager responsible for day-to-day oversight is not trying to be the CEO. I’ve seen what happens when it is murky or unclear. You can’t be efficient or see the financial results you want.” – Sharon Morgan Tahaney, Owner of Spa on Main.
“We are a small mom-and-pop pharmacy in a small town in the country. Maybe about 1500 people in the area in total. I have three wonderful employees. We take every day to help the community. We are here to help people today, either medically or just in general. It’s different than a big box chain. People tell us about their personal issues and we try to help them. We’ve created a really nice environment. It’s been like that from the get-go and we try to help, whether it is something that is going to make us money or not. If I were doing it for money, I’d be doing something else. Especially our older customers. As people get older, they tend to leave the big box chains. People trust us implicitly and we honor that trust. It’s fun and exhausting but so is anything worth doing.” – Dr. Courtney Pitre, Owner and Pharmacist-in-Charge of Thrifty Way Pharmacy.
“Our employees are the face of the clinic and very important to the business. We invest in our employees and their training. Every touch should be positive. Every interaction they have with clients should be a positive one. We want to alleviate stress on our employees, so we pay a significant portion of their healthcare plus match their retirement from day one of employment. We want to invest in their success. We also want to retain those talented people. It’s important to retain that knowledge and skills to have a truly successful practice.” – Drs. Heather and Will Vandenheuvel, Co-Owners of Blue Lake Animal Hospital.
Change is inevitable – and can happen quickly due to many reasons. Handling the challenge of change was a theme we heard from many of these creative business owners:
“Chicken is very popular in the U.S. and around the world, but with things like COVID, it affects the cost of everything. It can take some time to have the market work itself out, and for farmers to have the money make it to them when the price of chicken rises.” – Doan Nguyen, Owner of a commercial chicken farm.
“You need to connect with the individual. When someone has a specific need – whether it is something explained, or their prescription brought to their car, or to open another register or find a corner for a private consultation – you can make it happen. The big box chains can move a million people like a cruise ship with their processes. A community pharmacy is like a jet ski – personal service, moving one client at a time. During the pandemic, you saw this in action. When our customers pulled up curbside, we knew who they were. They could make a list of their OTC needs, we’d shop it, and bring it out.” – Stephen Pisarich, PharmD, and owner of TD Pharmacy.
“I walked into a business that had been opened eight years prior and thought “ok, this has been tried and true, so we’ll just carry on”. But I soon realized that the needs are constantly changing, and we need to be ready to adapt and adjust. No matter how long you’ve been in the business, even if your processes are the same, the world around you is changing. The market may demand a service you hadn’t planned or a change in your products. Every small business owner who buys a business because they like their product will discover at some point that you’ll need to evolve to support your customers’ requirements.” – Sharon Morgan Tahaney, Owner of Spa on Main.
There is no shortcut to success:
“I tell my family that things can happen, so don’t count on the money before it’s been earned. Of course, we’ve already negotiated the contract, but go step-by-step, do the right things, and put in the work. The money comes from doing the hard work the right way.” – Doan Nguyen, a commercial chicken farm owner.
“This is a great business, but it is hard work 24/7. The chickens must be fed and cared for every single day. However, because we are the owners, we never stop working. We miss family celebrations and holidays or celebrate them at odd times. Some days start as early as 5:00 am and end when the work is finished. During peak season, we collect 33,000 eggs daily. Having your own business changes your life. You work hard but with lots of love because it’s yours.” -Bruno and Ada Ramirez, Co-Owners of The American Dream Farm.
“I worked more than I probably should have – and during the pandemic, it was worse. But I was concerned about having debt, so I put in the extra time and sweat equity to make it work. I also did it by not doing anything mind-blowing or risky. Knowing that “slow and steady wins the race”. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone for the last seven years, but it was worth it.” – Dr. Courtney Pitre, Owner and Pharmacist-in-Charge of Thrifty Way Pharmacy.
Whether trusted advisors to the business or partners in the business itself, these owners have great advice for collaboration:
“Working with advisors and partners in making decisions is important. The short answer is we couldn’t have grown the company without partners. A friend told me right after my father died that he’d like to give me some advice. He’s actually a competitor in the same field as me but has a friendly nature. He told me, “You need to have what I call a 3-legged stool: a good lawyer, a good accountant, and a great relationship with your bank or you won’t make it”. I agree with that. I have great partners in all three of those and have had them for over 20 years. I consider all of those friends as well and they offer great advice even when it may not necessarily be what I want to hear. They have to give you an honest assessment of where you are. You have to be able to trust them.” – William “Willie” McNabb, CEO/President of El Dorado Metals.
“Business partnerships can be challenging. Not delineating each person’s role/responsibilities can derail success. Each person needs to know their lane. Have mechanisms in place to hold each accountable. Have goals and steps established to achieve them.” – Laura Laaman, President of Outstanding Pet Care.
“Partnerships can also be productive if you are aligned with complementary skill sets. If you can find that, you can be successful. You can revisit the initial stages, set expectations, and document agreements in writing. Minimize future issues with solid planning. If you disagree, it can lead to staff confusion and customer issues.” – Craig Laaman, COO of Outstanding Pet Care.
“One piece of advice – do business with people with the same ideals and thought processes as you, and it will be much easier in the long run. A great example is when we began working with Kevin Stith and Kathy Daily of First Financial Bank. It was just as important that we interviewed them as much as they interviewed us. It’s how we learned that we did have the same ideals and thought processes. They listened intently to us and really heard what we had to say.” – Ryan Drozd, Co-Owner of Drozd Family Grain.
We are grateful for our clients and their willingness to share their insights as business owners. Here at First Financial Bank, we want to partner with you to help you succeed as a business owner. We’re in the business of YOU!