B Magazine: Q/A with area family-owned business leaders (11/24/21)


Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Mehner talks with John Thompson, the interim director of Magnet.

Nate Gautier ~ B Magazine

In this edition of B Magazine, we take a look at life in the Midwest.

Though certainly not exclusive to this area of the country, small, family-owned businesses play a vital role in the Southeast Missouri marketplace.

In this Q/A, seven local business leaders share their insight on the importance of family-owned businesses, what it takes to be successful and how they’ve charted their own paths.

Cliff George

By Nate Gautier

Cliff George
Director of Operations
Premier General Contracting

Q: Tell me about a story that sticks out about working with a small business in Southeast Missouri. What were key things that stuck out and why?

George: Family first. We do this where I work and believe it is the core value of where we help people. It goes for both our employees and customers. We believe in “setting a new standard” and it’s a phrase we try to live by.

Q: Why do we need family-owned businesses?

George: Because it is what this country was founded upon. Plain and simple.

Q: What is something unique about what your business does for people?

George: Technology comes to mind. We use a program called BuilderTrend. It helps us stay organized and better connected to our customers. When someone wants a bid or to meet with us for a job, we schedule it in our system and then follow up with the person via text to remind them when we will be coming. The owner (of the residential property they are working on) even has an owner portal where they can log in and see a daily log of what we have accomplished. We take pictures and upload them so they can see the work being completed in real time.

Q: If you could give advice to someone thinking about starting their own business what would it be?

George: Take care of your people first and the rest will fall into place. We value our employees and try to treat them like family. We schedule get-togethers outside of the office. This year the owner (Josh Penfield) and I took our boats out and invited all of the employees to join us for a day on the lake.

John Mehner

By Nate Gautier

John Mehner
President and CEO
Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce

Q: Tell me a story that sticks out about working with a small business in Southeast Missouri. What were key things that stuck out and why?

Mehner: You know there are a lot of great businesses in Southeast Missouri. We have small, family-owned jewelry stores. We have great construction firms, a couple (based in Jackson and Cape) who are now over 100 years old. An engineering firm from Jackson which is multigenerational. We have furniture stores, which are tremendous. A few furniture stores in our area stick out. People and families who have worked towards making our community a better place. People who have spent years investing resources and money to make this area a great place to live and run a business. They had a passion to set out and do just this.

Rob Stephens (Heartland Flooring) sticks out. He has a tremendous story. He went through a terrible health scare, which changed his life and perspective forever. He invested in both chambers in our area and credits the chambers to his success. He said to me recently, “The Jackson and Cape Chambers are the reason I am where I am.” He is just one. There are multitudes of people who have a similar story. Chris Horrell (Bug Zero) speaks to the strength of the chambers and how they have helped his business. You get to see how much people want to put back in because of what they got out of it (Chambers in Southeast Missouri).

Q: Why do you do what you do?

Mehner: I do what I do because it’s about making this place a better place. Period.

There are so many people in this community where that is a key element of what they are trying to do. Regardless of what position they are in. That’s why our chambers are so strong. This area is full of people who care about making it a better place. They care about people and they care about making it a better place.

Q: When you think about small, family-owned businesses in Southeast Missouri what comes to mind?

Mehner: Great stories and tremendous faiths.

From a concern standpoint I think sometimes fewer. Having said that there is a lot of entrepreneurial stuff going on upstairs (referring to Codefi). My dad sold parts of his business, and now today a lot of people here still run those businesses and serve the same families (customers). I think the face of small, family-owned businesses is going to change. It may not be a print shop but a code shop instead. They (family-owned businesses) are a strong lifeblood part of everything that goes on here.

Q: How have you seen family-owned businesses change over time?

Mehner: In the early ’90s they provided a vast amount of things locally. Enter the larger operations, the internet, online sales and online opportunities. That changed a lot of what were the most meaningful things. There are still categories where you have to have local providers. Thankfully you can’t order online exterminators. We need those people. How cool and critical that we still have a local newspaper, radio stations, hardware stores, jewelry stores, salons, etc. These businesses are critical to a community.

Q: Was there a business owner in your life who inspired you?

Mehner: My dad, obviously. Who he was as a man but also a huge worker. He was an awesome Christian person. His work ethic was unbelievable. Maybe to a fault at times (Mehner said with a chuckle). I have had the opportunity to work with so many different good business people and leaders, I can’t even begin to name them all. I’ve been exposed to so many. Our community is blessed.

Q: Why do we need family-owned businesses?

Mehner: Oh gosh, I think economically you need them, but there are still so many things that are not just bulk. Big box stores are important. This is not a knock on them. I do believe there are a set of services and a set of delivery metrics that are best done by locally-owned family businesses.

Q: If you could give advice to someone thinking about starting their own business what would it be?

Mehner: Do your homework. Look at your market. Make sure you look at your specific situation so you can be as successful as possible. The back part is if you focus on providing a service, provide it in a way that is unique, different and not normal. I think that puts you in a position to stand out and let people want to patronize what you are and what you do.

John Thompson

John Thompson
Former President of the Bank of Missouri
Current interim Director of Magnet

Q: Tell me about a story of standing out in small business:

Thompson: The perfect retailer for me is one that hires good people. There is a small hardware business in Jackson where they do it right. Their customer service is outstanding. They have a great selection of products. We are big in that arena as a family (where the customer experience comes first). I walk in for two bolts, and I find myself walking up and down the aisles. Bag of popcorn in hand. I am telling you it is a neat experience. There are a multitude of businesses just like this who come to mind.

JAYNE ERVIN

Jayne Ervin
president
Jayson Jewelers

Q: Tell me a story about running your business that sticks out and why?

Ervin: In what we do it’s very personal. … We remount and re-purpose heirlooms for people. We recently did five or six items for a client. An individual had passed away and we took her diamonds and made several pieces. We make memories from memories. We get to work with several generations. This particular family is a fourth-generation customer of ours. The brooch was purchased in Memphis, Tennessee by a woman who was mad at her husband. She bought the biggest and ugliest thing the jewelry store had. She wore it almost as a way to rub it in towards her husband. I have no idea what happened, but this is the story we know. We broke the brooch apart and removed all the diamonds to make necklaces for all the women in the family. They all call it the “nonny necklace”. Another story that sticks out is about a dentist who passed away. He had some left-over dental gold and some gold fillings. We were able to make several pieces for the children and grandchildren to cherish.

Q: Why do you do what you do?

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Ervin: It’s about beautiful things. It’s what we make for people. We feel really honored to get to work with families and learn their stories. Everything we do has a personal story for someone we serve.

Q: How have you seen family-owned businesses change over time?

Ervin: When we first started in business, we didn’t even have computers. The fax machine was a new big thing. We’ve seen technology in the last 30 years go crazy. Now we use a system called podium. It’s specific to our industry. This helped a lot when COVID hit. We had to make sales without ever seeing someone. That was rare. The pandemic changed a lot. My daughter, Kendra, did a good job of making it work. Curbside deliveries and so forth.

Q: What is something unique about what your business does for people?

Ervin: I think something we do that is unique is we began traveling to Antwerp Belgium in 1995 to purchase diamonds for inventory and for our customers. Our clients look forward to us making the trip to hand select their stones . We also have had the privilege of diamond buying in South Africa over the years. In South Africa my husband Loyd and I were able to tour the famous Kimberly Mine also known as the “Big Hole.” It was fascinating. Our clients look forward to us making this trip. We are able to sell in advance based upon what they want us to buy. On the basis of customer service, I think we care deeply about our customers. We try to get to know them. We try to learn about their husband, their dog, who they are. We have been fortunate to do work for people all over the country. A few states include Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas. We have done work for NFL and MLB players. When Gone Girl was being filmed, we did a special Rolex watch for Ben Affleck and sized all of the rings used in the movie. We were their jewelers.

Q: If you could give advice to someone thinking about starting their own business what would it be?

Ervin: There are a lot of ups and downs in business. A lot you cannot control. It takes hard work and dedication. It’s important to build good relationships with not just your clients but also your suppliers. Be connected within your industry. Be a part of the tradeshows, go to conferences, join boards. Being connected helps run your business more smoothly. Be on the top end of your industry. Know your game.

DR. BILL SHIPLEY

Dr. Bill Shipley

dentist and owner

Cure Dental

Q: Why do you do what you do?

Shipley: One of our taglines is “healing smiles”. Next week we will be celebrating our one-year anniversary of being open. Some of our employees will be having their one-year anniversary working with us. We celebrated with them a little early. I told them (his employees), for me my life has been about healing smiles. Dentistry is just the vehicle to do it. It could very well be a restaurant or any industry. When I look at my life and who I am today, it’s always been about how I can help heal someone’s smile. I just happen to be a dentist that can use dentistry to do that. Dentistry is only a part of that in my life. I enjoy helping people find the joy in life because, my goodness, life is hard. If we can enhance someone’s smile that means the world.

Q: When you think about small family-owned businesses in Southeast Missouri what comes to mind?

Shipley: When I think of Southeast Missouri, I think word of mouth. People are connected. Being an outsider (Dr. Shipley and his family are originally from Texas), I start to realize they are even more connected. Word of mouth helps to know what people want and what they desire.

Q: How have you seen family-owned businesses change over time?

Shipley: The barrier to entry has become higher. It can be a blessing or a curse. When you have credentials to your name you can be given access to financial means maybe more than someone who doesn’t. Be right, wrong or indifferent. Would this be possible (running a business) for the industry I am in? No. It would be impossible. Looking at different types of industries I think the barrier to entry makes it more difficult without the right backing.

Q: Was there a business owner in your life who inspired you to go into business for yourself?

Shipley: I don’t know if I can say there was, but I did experience a situation [that] likely led me to where I am now. I built a dental clinic for a medical corporation. I was in Portland at the time. They wanted to expand out of urgent care into well care and dentistry. I was able to create and experiment. It wasn’t my business, and so I got to help them form it. I had some ideas on how to make dentistry better and helped in making a model for them. It didn’t really end well. We decided not to continue the relationship. It ended pretty sour. After moving to Southeast Missouri, I was really hard on myself for about a year because I felt like I had this great opportunity and failed. When I reflect on it, I learned things, which help us to do what we are doing now. So, I can now take precious things from it (failure) and in a way these things inspire me with my own business.

Q: What is something unique about what your business does for people?

Shipley: You can get just as well of dentistry at Cure Dental as you can at any dental office. I think that’s great and that’s why they are needed too. But we are not in the business of competing with other dental offices. We are in the business of competing with ourselves to provide care and value to the community we serve. We really focus on relentless hospitality. It’s one of our core values.

Q: If you could give advice to someone thinking about starting their own business what would it be?

Shipley: Understand your purpose. Once you understand your purpose you can live your purpose. Every time we (his team) meet we don’t talk about marketing initiatives or numbers. We talk about how we are doing with our vision. That everyone has the right to the right dental care. We talk about what we are doing that is working and what is not. All of it is designed to be on purpose. Once you know your purpose it helps you to make every other decision.

Brandon Pylate

Brandon Pylate
Commercial Relationship Manager (Lender)
Montgomery Bank

Q: Tell me about a story that sticks out about working with a small business in Southeast Missouri. What were key things that stuck out and why?

Pylate: A successful company comes to mind and the owner of the company. He was involved in a lot of the day-to-day operations. Not a lot of thought had been done yet for the owner and the next generation. We were able to connect him to an attorney to set up his estate planning. Along with other retirement planning. He needed these services when something happened with his health. It was a beneficial thing for him and his family to continue the operations when his health became impaired for a time.

Q: Tell me a story about the banking business that sticks out and why?

Pylate: It’s a mutually beneficial relationship (a bank and company) when we help them. We have a shared interest. I hope what we do is help them focus on the operations of their business, because it’s what they are really good at. We run trend lines to help the client know what their specific actions are. It’s in effort to help because we want to be involved. We get to see all the things they do financially and how they manifest. I hope we are as involved on the financial side as they are because they can then focus on their day-to-day.

Q: Why do you do what you do?

Pylate: I looked up to some bankers growing up. After completing my internship, I realized the importance of relationships. I like being involved in the community. As bankers we try to do this, and it’s encouraged. Being a banker is a way to be involved with new and existing businesses. I’m not a risk kind of guy. So as a banker it allows you the thrill without actually being the person taking the risk. It makes it fun because you get to do it with people.

I’ll follow that with our interests are aligned. We want a long-term relationship with a customer in helping them reach their goals. We want them to be able to produce a healthy profit.

Q: When you think about small family-owned businesses in Southeast Missouri what comes to mind?

Pylate: Hard work. I think businesses in Southeast Missouri, especially a small business, the owner has to wear every hat. Finance, HR, customer relationships, supplier’s relationships. Until that company reaches a critical mass you have to do it yourself, and that’s difficult.

Q: How have you seen family-owned businesses change over time?

Pylate: Their access to information. A long time ago people may have used their tax returns to make their assessments about financial history. Today it is easier to compare themselves to their peers and competitors. I think nowadays you can pivot more quickly than in the past. Technology and online has allowed people to get instant feedback on a daily basis.

Q: Was there a banker in your life who inspired you to go into business?

Pylate: Kent Puchbauer had a large impact on my life and career path. It was really serendipitous. I had completed an internship and was at a gas station. I remember seeing an old professor from college who was there. He (the professor) walked up and asked if I was interested in a position at a bank in the Chaffee area. I met with Kent for my interview and it worked out. I was always thankful to Kent for helping me get that job.

Q: If you could give advice to someone thinking about starting their own business what would it be?

Pylate: Create a business plan. Hire the right people. Manage expenses closely. Find your partners: banking, accounting, insurance, attorney — those partners you can bounce ideas off of. Start putting together those people who can help you navigate through the sometimes-treacherous waters of running a business.

Tyler Cuba

Nate Gautier ~ B Magazine

Tyler Cuba
CEO and senior wealth advisor
Cuba Financial Group

Q: Please tell me a story about running your business that sticks out and why?

Cuba: My dad started in 1982. It would probably be from yesterday. He (Rick Cuba) was meeting with clients who started working with him in 1987. They knew the dollar amount they came with to my dad and were gushing with pride about where they are now from when they started working with Rick. The testament to the work that we do to allow clients to feel comfortable, and a part of their family, speaks to an experience that’s delivered that allows the relationship to continue on for decades. Especially when you are in the experience business. If you are transaction based, if you are retail you can survive with a product that is wanted or desired. But when you are the product, and the service, everything else is a commodity. A person could go to a bank to get the same or similar product we offer. It is the experience that is the differentiating factor that creates those bonds.

Q: Why do you do what you do?

Cuba: Outside of family often the second most important thing to people is finances or money or some sense of financial security. I find passion in helping people find comfort in dealing in something that is so important to them outside of health and family. Outside of health and family comes financial security and peace of mind. Retirement is about purpose and life is about purpose. Anyone can fumble their way through life meaninglessly, but our mission and passion is in helping people fulfill their life’s purpose without having to worry about financial health. We like to help people retire to something and not just from. Education is a huge part of what we do. It’s something I thoroughly enjoy.

Q: How have you seen family-owned businesses change over time?

Cuba: I would think that’s really dependent upon the industry. I think statistically speaking, family-owned businesses typically don’t make it past the third generation. The sustainability of family business without selling out to something corporate — I think those are few and far between. You don’t see that very often. I grew up in the business with my dad. I always found an interest in what he did. He would take me to his meetings. I always liked to feel like I was a businessman. I liked to wear the tie. He nurtured that within me, and I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I never thought until college I was going to go back and work in the family business. I never once thought about coming back and doing this until he asked. I think small, family-owned businesses have changed. I think they have had to.

Q: Was there a business owner in your life who inspired you to go into business for yourself?

Cuba: Well naturally you know my answer. My Dad. You know he was an engineer by degree. In his sixth or seventh year of the corporate world he was rising in the ranks pretty quickly, but he found his love was in financial planning. I’ve always admired that ability, to have that leap of faith he took and to stick with it. My older brothers were babies at the time. I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to help and grow the business today had he not done that. He ran the business to still be a father. He was still a father in how he ran his business. He still coached all my teams and was there. I think there is a lot to that. I take a lot of appreciation from that and try to apply it with my own family. I hope my kids one day look back and say, “Dad, I am glad you were there or on the sidelines,” because I think that’s important. At the end of the day you can lose everything but still have family. That is the greatest wealth on earth.

Q: Why do we need family-owned businesses?

Cuba: I don’t think this is any secret, but when COVID hit the family businesses were the biggest hit. They really are the lifeblood of a local economy. I don’t know what speaks more to that feeling of family than relationships and togetherness. Without them I’m sure walking around with only corporate businesses would feel pretty stale. Family-owned businesses get to breathe life into a community. The different types of businesses that can all work together can create something vibrant which is probably what attracts people to cities like Cape, St. Charles and so on.

Q: What is something unique about what your business does for people?

Cuba: If you can alleviate something for someone and help them sleep at night and live their day we are doing our job. It permeates who we are and how we operate everyday. My dad (Rick Cuba) at a young age said, “As long as you are always doing the right thing success will follow.”

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