Success Runs in the Family for these Entrepreneurs

Some members of America's Best Companies show that the most fruitful ventures seldom fall far from the family tree.

The Fuller Family

Hinsdale, Illinois knows the Fuller family well. After all, 117 members of the Fuller family have been born at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and nearly every one of them has worked in the family business. For Doug Fuller Jr., being involved in the family business at a young age was part of what it meant to be a Fuller. Back when he was a kid, Doug first made his money scrubbing bathrooms and he quickly moved up to washing cars by hand, pumping gas, and changing oil. “There were times in fifth grade where I’d be getting pulled out of class to go help pump gas as many as two to three times a week,” recalls Doug. According to his mother Liz, “We raised our kids in this office and what they learn here is more important than in college.” Even today, among the office desks on the second floor are a child’s lunch table and a closet full of toys.

In 1946, all it took was a 50 dollar bill for Lloyd Fuller to realize his dreams of
running his own business. Few could imagine that over 60 years later a fourth generation of Fullers would be carrying on his legacy. In fact, the local bank at the time was quick to send him elsewhere when he proposed to take out a loan and build a drive-through car wash, which was a new concept in 1959. But 13 years later, Lloyd Fuller successfully moved the station to 102 W. Chicago Avenue in the heart of downtown Hinsdale, a small, charming town that is the epitome of what the American Dream is all about. Lloyd eventually sold the business to his sons in 1988. Doug Jr. decided to stay in town to run his father’s business and his brothers branched out to other suburbs to expand the car washes. “We all still live in Hinsdale and it’s much easier with the kids that way,” says Liz. Today, the Fuller’s Service Center and Car Wash businesses together service over one million cars per year, and Chicago magazine recently featured Fuller’s Car Wash as the number one car wash in the greater Chicago area.

When it comes down to it—and they all say it again and again—“It’s all about service.” Many customers have become their friends, and their continued support of the Fullers has lain an almost unshakable foundation.

A Fuller family tradition is their annual Christmas tree sale, and Doug Sr., who is
now 64, can’t wait to get down on his hands and knees every year to cut down and deliver the trees to the local residents. He requires every family member to do the same because it teaches them to “sell, support, and connect with the community.”

The Morris Family

For years now, “Where Customers Send Their Friends” has been the slogan of Brad and Fred Morris of Peoples Appliance, and after 59 years of meeting the needs of the residents of Waterloo, Iowa, their business continues to succeed as even more satisfied customers encourage their friends to visit.

Jim Morris, the company’s founder and father of the two brothers, used to tell his sons, “Don’t be a slave to your business; let your business work for you.” So instead of branching out and building multiple locations, Brad and Fred decided it would be easier to provide better service with a smaller customer base. Today, the bulk of their business stems from the Waterloo area. “It’s nice when you see kids come in the store saying this is where their parents used to go,” says Fred. “In general, the middle-aged and older generations seem more responsive to the personal kind of service we offer.” Little has changed over the years, but sales have tripled since their father Jim owned the business. “We did make a switch to revamp our inventory system and put point-of-sale systems in place,” says Fred. One thing that has especially helped them stay competitive with the superstores was their decision to join BrandSource, a 2,800-member buying group which has given them multi-million dollar buying power coupled with their ability to provide the personal service and after-thesale satisfaction that customers have come to expect from Peoples. Being a member of America’s Best Companies doesn’t hurt, either.

The Bartolini Family

If you think you can put down more than 38 meatballs in one sitting, then you may have a pretty good shot at next year’s Meatball Championship hosted by Bartolini’s Restaurant in Midlothian, Illinois. Even if that’s too much for you to chew, who could resist a meatball contest that involves meatball trivia, a meatball toss, and even a Ms. Meatball Beauty Pageant? For brothers Dominic and Chris Bartolini, who opened up the restaurant in 1995, running a business has always been about having fun like this and offering good food at fair prices.

“When we first got started, Chris and I used to drive around the neighborhood and hand out free samples to workers at industrial parks, other local businesses, and residents,” recalls Dominic. “There were many slow nights in the beginning where I would wind up sitting around and playing cards with employees.”

Today, Bartolini’s has become a local favorite offering a family-oriented restaurant experience in a casual environment. For many of the state’s attorneys and state police, Bartolini’s has become the lunch restaurant of choice.

Even though Dominic claims that their menu includes “something for everyone,” he fondly remembers when their very first customer walked through the door, looked at the menu, asked if they served burgers and French fries, and then walked right back out. They laugh about it now, but admit to being a little dumbfounded by the whole exchange at the time.

The Weber Family

Representing the third generation of Chicago’s Weber’s Bakery, Michael Weber practices the values established by his father and grandfather while maintaining the company’s status as one of the oldest family-owned retail bakeries in Chicago. The founder, Erich Weber, came to Chicago as an immigrant from Germany in 1924. In 1997, grandson Michael took over the bakery after working with his father for over 15 years. They originally competed with other retail bakeries, but now much of their competition comes from companies like Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Costco, and Dunkin’ Donuts. “Quality and service need to be superior to make people take that extra drive,” says Michael. “If you wouldn’t give it to your own mother, don’t sell it to
somebody else’s.”

“One of the advantages we have over chains is that people can touch that nostalgia from their childhood experience,” says Michael. But that doesn’t mean that their products haven’t changed over time. “Our product line looks nothing like it did 20
years ago,” Michael admits. “You can’t force people to buy what you’re selling; instead, you need to make what they want to buy.” The Webers re-evaluate their products every fall and if there is a popular trend, they find a good way to incorporate it into their business. Their commitment to providing the freshest, highest-quality baked goods, along with courteous and prompt service, has paid off with the business’s expansion from 1,200 customers per week to over 6,500 per week over the last 28 years. “Owning your own food business is like having a baby that never grows up,” says Michael’s wife, Gail, who works alongside him at the bakery. “But if you accept the hardships of running a business, you can reap the rewards.”
Some people try to draw lines between business and home life, but the Weber family embraces them both. Their three daughters all work part-time at the bakery with Michael and Gail. Michael views holding up the third generation of his business as an honor and also feels an overwhelming obligation to the city and his customers. After all, a lot of their long-time customers have come to think it’s their bakery.

The Yager Family

Moto Fanatics of Chandler, Arizona is revolutionizing the off-road industry in ways that no other company has yet attempted. It all began when Ray Yager, founder and president, was interested in purchasing all-terrain vehicles for his kids when they were at the young ages of four and eight and eager to ride. His search was more difficult than he’d expected. All that seemed available were either overpriced name-brand ATVs and dirt bikes or off-brand Chinese ATVs that were much more reasonably priced yet unknown and difficult to find parts for. Not only was the search for a few reasonably priced ATVs unrewarding, but so was his hunt for the good customer service and information required to help him buy something safe and reliable for his children to drive.

Ray decided to change all that by using a very basic approach that has been effective
for years. Today, not only does Moto Fanatics appeal to adults through well-educated,
friendly mechanics and a knowledgeable office staff, but they also appeal to children with their friendly atmosphere and personal attention to each child as they experience the excitement that comes with buying their first ATV, dirt bike, or go-kart.

“We are in the process of creating a ‘kids’ corner’ where children can watch off-road videos, color in books, learn about off-road safety, and enjoy a drink and snack while mom and dad are able to make an unpressured decision about their purchase,” says Harrison Yager, the CIO for his uncle’s venture.

“Most dealers of ATVs and dirt bikes are only focused on selling the product by appealing to consumers because of their great price,” says Ray. “Unfortunately, good customer service has been left behind and the buyer basically walks into purchasing this brand new ATV, dirt bike, or go-kart with very little or no information on the machine itself and no decent resources for service and parts. This is what Moto Fanatics is proud of changing in the industry.”

The Clark Family

At the age of 16, Elbert V. Clark left his home in upstate New York and joined a touring vaudeville show as a banjo player. During his travels, he met and befriended the famous escape artist Harry Houdini. In 1901, Elbert opened a locksmith shop in Providence, Rhode Island. Whenever Houdini appeared at Providence’s Fays Theatre, he would always stop and visit with Bert (Elbert’s nickname) and Bert would make the trick locks that Houdini used in his escape acts. One of these locks is on display at the Harry Houdini museum at Niagara Falls, Ontario in Canada. Bert and Harry Houdini were such great friends that they made a pact: whoever died first would try to contact the survivor. In 1937, 11 years after Houdini’s death, Bert told a Providence Journal reporter that “I haven’t heard from him yet.”

During Prohibition, Elbert was a dollar-a-year man for the U.S. government and was assigned to rum-running enforcement until he got into a gunfight with a bootlegger and had the handle of his revolver shot off. After that, he thought he’d better stick to locksmithing and turned in his badge.

In the 1930s, Bert was joined by his three sons, Walter, Harry, and Bert Jr. and they continued business together until Bert Sr. died in 1954. In 1964, Walter sold his share in the business to his two brothers and opened his own business, W.H. Clark and Sons Locksmiths, with his son Robert O. Clark. Walter passed away in 1984 and Robert ran the business alone until he was joined by his son Robert W. Clark (Elbert’s great grandson) in 1994.

In 2001, Robert W. became manager and is currently changing the business from a small locksmith business to a security consultant and systems integration company. Backed by four generations of locksmith heritage, Robert is excited about the new electronic lock technologies and what this means for his business, and he advises other small businesses to embrace similar changes within their own industries. His entrepreneurial spirit has landed the company contracts to install high-tech security systems with the Air Force and large corporations. In total, the Clark clan has produced seven locksmiths since 1901. Robert’s uncle David is currently a locksmith in Kuwait City, Kuwait.

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