In Family They Trust

The Garlock family poses for a portrait inside the Garlocks Design Center in Alexandria Bay.

BY: Marcus Wolf
The seven P’s, ‘proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance’, has guided the Garlock family’s management of its Alexandria Bay business collective for more than 100 years. Royal “Bud” Garlock II passed the creed down to his son, Craig, and nephew, David, and the two adhere to it with every business decision they make.

                Their company, Charles Garlock & Sons, includes an Ace Hardware franchise, contracting firm, realty office and design center all located at their old waterfront lumber yard on the southwest end of the village. Different family members oversee each venture, but each one sticks to the family motto and with it, communication and joint planning, maintain a cohesive vision for the overall company.

                “The seven P’s will always outlast us,” David Garlock said.

                The north country houses many family businesses ranging from restaurants like DiPrinzio’s Kitchen, Clayton, to retailers like the F.X. Caprara Honda, Watertown, and agricultural enterprises like Tug Hill Vineyards, Lowville.

                According to SCORE, a business mentorship nonprofit, 5.47 million out of 28.8 million small businesses in the U.S. are family-owned with staff sizes ranging from two employees to thousands. The Garlocks employ 40 workers in the summer and 28 in the winter.

                Sarah O’Connell, an advisor with the state Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College, said the majority of north country family businesses are owned by couples, although several involve parent-child partnerships including the Scrub Hub and Mr. Rick’s Bakery, both Watertown. SCORE reported that 1.2 million family-owned businesses, or about 20 percent, in the nation are operated by married couples.

                “We always say if you’re going to start a small business, you have to make sure your family is on board,” Ms. O’Connell said. “Usually when you have a family-owned business or any small business, it’s not nine-to-five, so (having family) can relieve some of the stress,”

                Some parents will use their family companies as a personal classroom for their children. More than 40 percent of businesses foster entrepreneurship and management in younger generations by including them in committees or boards, according to SCORE.

                While it doesn’t have a board room at the Burrville Cider Mill, the Steiner family has encouraged its children to involve themselves in the businesses by pressing cider, making donuts or manning the registers. Co-owner Greg Steiner said the family valued using the mill, which they bought in 1996, to teach their children work ethic and independence, adding that each son and daughter learned to execute every role. Their lessons resonated with each child as they formed full-time or side businesses of their own. Mr. Steiner’s oldest son, Forest, now owns Steiner’s General Store & Diner, Watertown.

                Mr. Steiner’s children continue to help out at the family business, he said. His daughter, Brooke Main, bakes goods for the mill, his son, Zackary, helps ship products wholesale and his other daughter, Laurel,  sells her homemade soaps and performs other  daily tasks. Their teamwork has allowed the family to increase cider and donut production and sell goods wholesale to about 100 stores.

                “Once the kids were old enough to express their concerns, desires and dreams, their input, dreams, desires, etc., were just as important as ours,” Mr. Steiner said.

                In order to provide reprieve and minimize disputes, Ms. O’Connell advises family entrepreneurs to keep work away from dinner table discussion. The Burrville Cider Mill, however, has become a key aspect of the Steiner family’s identity, which Mr. Steiner said makes it a pleasant mealtime discussion topic. Family, however, trumps business issues in the Steiner household, he said, echoing another tip from Mrs. O’Connell.

                Mutual passion and a shared vision can bring a family venture to fruition, but communication, respect, and collaboration from all parties can help keep it afloat for years.

                Both Craig and David Garlock said they work together without trouble because they not only enjoy each other’s company, but discuss any problems they have. Their respect for each other and other family members helped their company expand and evolve.

                When Craig Garlock rejoined the family business in 1982 after working out west, he wanted to modernize the lumberyard with forklifts and updated buildings. His father, Royal, said he was amenable to his son’s ideas, but wanted assurance first. He agreed to his son’s plans 100 percent in the end.

                “An idea has to have merit and you have to prove it,” Royal Garlock said.

                Sharing ideas and the seven P’s mantra allowed the Garlocks to grow and diversify their business with a three-fold store expansion, parking, more products and services, adopting the Ace Hardware franchise and joining co-ops that expanded their customer base.

                The family business, however, could not escape the upcoming challenge of big box-retailers entering north country markets. In order to stand out, the family built its design center in 2008 to display furnishings for sale in a home-like setting.

                “We pretty much had to diversify in order to survive,” David Garlock said. 

                While family businesses face a multitude of challenges on a daily basis, some may have to contend with an obstacle that could threaten their existence: succession.

                According to SCORE, only 30 percent of family businesses survive the transition from first-to second-generation owners, and only 12 percent stay afloat under the third generation’s ownership.

                “As subsequent generations come in, more family-owned businesses drop off. Not many kids are interested in keeping it on,” Ms. O’Connell said.

                For Mr. Steiner, the possibility of his children not taking over the cider mill doesn’t trouble him.

                “If they made the decision to do something else, that’s why I decided to raise them to be independent,” he said.

                Both David and Craig Garlock said they have children who have no interest in taking over the family business. Craig’s son McKenzie, however, joined their team and brought the fifth generation of Garlocks into the fold. He already has plans to increase the family’s market with digital and social media outreach.

                 “I love the area. It’s pretty much my main thing. I love to build,” McKenzie Garlock said. ‘They’ve taught me a lot. They’ve’ been good mentors.”