A Family Business: The Secret to Success

A Family Business: The Secret to SuccessPosted: Jul 2015 Posted by: Mats Inc.

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Our Summer Intern by JoAnn Durette

Mats Inc. and M. Frank Higgins & Company., Inc have been partners for many years, so when we received the invitation to the first-ever Post NeoCon Flooring Spectacular in the spring, I immediately called Kathy Cloud, the company’s president. Consistently energetic and enthusiastic, Kathy was thrilled that Mats Inc. would be participating and as we chatted for a while, she informed me about the Cloud family’s busy summer schedule with a wedding, a baby and of course, the mid-summer event. She also happened to mention that her youngest daughter, Samantha, was finishing her 3rd year at Boston College as an economics major,has decided she is interested in marketing, and oh by the way is looking for a summer internship. With a marketing team member heading out for maternity leave, it was without hesitation, I suggested that Samantha and I should meet.

It is likely (although I didn’t ask) that Samantha would have preferred a summer job in any industry besides flooring but she started with us on June 8th and will be helping us out until she goes back to college at the end of August. Samantha is an honorable person and exemplary worker (nice job Kathy & Steve) and she immediately felt like part of the Mats Inc. family.

Once she was on-board, we were interested to learn about her perspective on family business and the history of M. Frank Higgins. So here you have it, our marketing intern’s first assignment.

A Family Business: The Secret to Success by Samantha Cloud

Growing up in our family business has led to endless dinner conversations about commercial flooring, copious knowledge of all things adhesive and the continual embarrassment of calling my boss “dad” or “mom.” I am the daughter of Steve and Kathy Cloud, owners of M. Frank Higgins. & Co., Inc, a Starnet commercial flooring contractor.

I held my first summer job at the age of twelve, know how to drive an F-350 dually diesel truck, and can work a ten-hour workday without blinking an eye. I have spent several summers working in the family business, moving my way up the ranks from occasionally answering the phone and making job site deliveries, to spearheading the company’s recent business development efforts. Though I am appreciative for the stable summer income and countless networking opportunities, being a part of a family business and working in the flooring industry does not come without its challenges.

Quality installation has grown more and more important in the flooring industry as problems related to moisture and adhesives continue to be of concern. This means that end-users are paying much more attention to the installation process than in the past, making it extremely important to hire experienced installers to ensure each product will function as designed. This industry shift to valuing a more comprehensive approach to flooring installation, and away from cost- cutting business strategies, has resulted in the fast growth of my family business, where my father has always preferred quality over quantity. Although growth is exciting, in a small business, it often comes at a price, and for my parents, this price is their time.

My dad has been the first and last person in the office every day for the past several months, not only working on his own projects but also checking in on everyone else’s. My mom has been missing her weekly dose of TV drama to answer emails that continually pile up throughout the day. Both of them have become so accustomed to an excessive work schedule that they just assume it is all part of owning your own business. As my dad constantly reminds me, “at the end of the day, it is our family name on the line, so someone has to do it.”

The weight of accountability is one of the most challenging and stressful aspects of being a part of a family business. This responsibility makes it extremely difficult to find a healthy separation between work life and personal life. I cannot remember a single family vacation that wasn’t interrupted several times by “emergency” phone calls from the office. Finding this balance between personal life and work life is something both of my parents have yet to master, which only gets more difficult as more of my family members become part of the business.

My parents bring the passion they have for their business to life in the Higgins workplace, creating a corporate culture where employees often feel more like friends and family than staff members. This creates an extremely cohesive and close knit team, but it can also complicate normal business transactions. Although dealing with a problem on the job or giving performance reviews can be uncomfortable for anyone, family and non family alike, it is standard practice for my parents to be more critical of their family members to ensure that it doesn’t look like they’re playing favorites. It is a continual work in progress, but that’s what running a business is about.

The History of Higgins

HHigginsgreenIt all started in 1952 when my great grandfather, Michael Francis Higgins, wanted to expand the family flooring business in Boston to Hartford. Frank did a lot of military contracting work, so, with the Westover Air Force base in Chicopee, Massachusetts booming, Hartford seemed like the perfect spot. He left the Boston business to his two brothers and incorporated M. Frank Higgins & Co. as an independent Connecticut commercial flooring contractor.

Back then, business was done with a handshake, so Frank vowed to continue building and maintaining the long-standing customer relationships he had built back in Boston. This gained him a reputation as a leader in the flooring industry and assured many loyal customers that he would continue to service them at his new business. Frank retired in 1966, after more than ten years as president, and turned the company over to his nephew, B. Albert Higgins, and his son-in-law, Jack Cloud, who had both been working in the business for several years.

Al served as the company’s president until his death in 1989, when my grandfather, Jack, took over as president, and placed my dad, Steve Cloud, in charge of operations. Like me, my dad grew up working for his father during summer vacations, doing any job in the office or on the job site. In 1984, fresh out of the University of Notre Dame, he came into the business full-time.

I think the vast experiences my dad had growing up in the family business are a large part of why he is so successful. Shortly after he came into the company, Higgins faced financial hardship when their largest customer, Connecticut Bank and Trust, went out of business. Steve played an integral role in reestablishing the business, which helped prepare him for his new role as president at the ripe age of twenty-eight. Under Steve’s leadership, M. Frank Higgins has grown exponentially and transformed into much more than just a commercial flooring contractor.

When I asked my dad what he thinks makes him a successful business owner, he smiled and answered, “My good looks and suave personality.” In actuality, I think it has more to do with the fact that he truly believes that “you do whatever it takes to get the job done right,” even if that means making an unpleasant phone call or working with a customer to understand exactly what he or she really wants and needs. For my dad, it is the people that matter the most, so he is not happy and his job is not done until the client is content.

stevewebToday, both of my parents co-own and run the family business and Higgins is the most successful it has ever been. My parents have set a high standard not only for themselves but also for other flooring contractors in the area. The secret to their success? Family values that emphasize quality over quantity.

 

 

 

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