For many Lexingtonians, going to work is a joy because they get to spend time with their dads, sons or daughters at a family-run business.
"For a family business, you really have to have a strong work ethic and dedicated family members who are open," said Alissa Tibe of the family-owned Lundergan Group. "Whether it's success or failure, the support that we have for each other is invaluable. In the end, you're still family and love each other."
Sunday was Father's Day, but today, Business Monday shares the stories of six family businesses in Central Kentucky where succeeding in the workplace is a family affair.
Lundy's turns pennies to millions
Never miss a local story.
Not everyone can turn pennies and nickels into a multi-million-dollar business. But Jerry Lundergan — with his wife, Charlotte, and brothers Mike and Tom — did just that.
In 1970, they started making shaken lemonade to sell at carnivals across the state.
Jerry and Charlotte bought their first home with the revenue, paying the bank not in paper bills but in coins.
Then the lemonade sales evolved into a Lexington-based catering business, Lundy's Catering, which is now approaching its 40th year. It has catered for events such as the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the past four presidents' inaugurations, and the CIA's 50th anniversary.
Today, the company operates under the corporate umbrella of The Lundergan Group, which includes Lundy's Special Events, Lundy's Sports Hospitality, Emergency Disaster Services and The Lundergan Restaurant and Banquet Group, which provides dining services for five places in Central and Eastern Kentucky. While it has blossomed, the business has preserved its family roots.
Jerry is president and CEO — around Lundy's, he is known as the "head duck in charge." Three of his five daughters have joined the family business. Alissa Tibe, the eldest, is vice president; Abigail Dobson is director of special events; and Ashley Lundergan is facilities manager of the Carrick House, one of Lundy's venues.
Dobson and Tibe said that their father passed on his work ethic to his daughters. Jerry's philosophy was that "he never feels like he comes to work," Dobson said. While the two women and their father work seven days a week, Dobson said that being with family makes it easy.
"I truly don't think that I would love it if it wasn't for my father," Dobson said. "I'm never too far away from home."
168 years? Priceless
At Stephen Hillenmeyer Landscape Services, everything has changed but the family, owner Stephen Hillenmeyer says.
In 1841, Hillenmeyer's great-great-grandfather, Francis Xavier Hillenmeyer, came to Lexington from his native Alsace-Lorraine region of France and started a nursery — the original invoices of the fruit trees still exist. That business has passed from father to son for five generations, down to its current namesake owner. The ability to adapt to the times has kept it alive, Hillenmeyer says.
The company has offered ornamental plants, a mail-order shipping business, and a retail store in the course of its history. As chains such as Home Depot and Target popped up around the country, the focus shifted to the service industry that it is today: maintenance of residential landscapes, commercial property, and increasingly horse farms.
It has survived a division of company assets in 1992 — which led to Stephen's brother Louis opening his own Louis' Flower Power Shops — and the closing of a garden center in 2005.
Each generation passed down its knowledge to the next. Hillenmeyer refers back daily to the lessons he learned from his father and uncle.
"You take care of the customer, and you do whatever it takes," he said.
Hillenmeyer is celebrating his 30th anniversary in Lexington's second-oldest business; his son Chase is celebrating his second. Stephen Hillenmeyer takes pride in teaching Chase and watching him learn.
"Whatever the trials and tribulations of family business are, when it's working there's nothing better," Stephen Hillenmeyer said. "If I were to take verbiage out of MasterCard, it's priceless."
Bob Hall had worked at the University of Kentucky for 71/2 years taking care of beef cattle, and he wanted to start a new chapter in his life.
"I had accomplished everything that I could and was ready to go to work for myself," he said.
In May 1964, Hall bought and converted a Lexington lumberyard into Farmer's Feed Mill to supply the local dairy and beef cattle industries. His simple hope, he said, was to put food on the table and provide a livelihood for his family.
But today the business has grown beyond his "wildest dreams," he said. The company trademark Hallway Feeds sells 40,000 tons of feed annually, over half to Central Kentucky and the remainder to the rest of the United States and 10 foreign countries. It also owns the IncrediPet pet stores in Lexington, a local subsidiary founded in 1987.
Hallway Feeds has expanded alongside the state's horse industry, its products fueling six of the past 10 winners of the Kentucky Derby.
Hall has preserved the same family and community spirit that the business had when he and his wife, Bonnie, started 45 years ago. Bonnie is Hallway Feeds' secretary/treasurer, his son Lee is vice president, and his daughter Julia is vice president of IncrediPet.
Hallway Feeds has always been very much a part of family life, even before Bob's children officially joined the company.
"When Lee was a little kid, he wanted to be with Daddy all the time," Julia recalls.
Going to the mill would be a treat for him, though as a 3- or 4-year-old he could sometimes interfere with business. So the men would playfully put him up in a burlap bag — and then hang it up on a nail in the wall, Julia said.
Lee's enthusiasm never waned: He has worked at Hallway Feeds since 1983. He said that "given the right hand of circumstances and chemistry," it is amazing "what a family can accomplish in business."
"I consider it my honor and privilege to carry on his (her father's) life lessons not only in life, but in business as well," Julia said.
Building business, building family
Mac Crawford initially hesitated about having his son Chip join the business.
"There's a good and a bad and an evil of working with the family," he said.
He wanted to keep family and work separate. And as owner of Crawford Builders, a Lexington custom home builder and remodeling company, Mac was worried about the changing face of the building industry and its trend toward mass construction.
"More than anything, he wanted me to find my own direction," Chip said of his father.
But Chip ended up joining Crawford Builders. He has now served as a company projects manager for 10 years, a position that he finds "extremely rewarding." Chip said that he loves the support system that comes with a family business; the potential for collaboration in such a company is unique.
"It's your mom, it's your dad," he said. "You can trust them, rely upon them, ... love them."
And Mac changed his mind about family business: he said that his son becoming a part of the company has opened doors for him. It has revolutionized the outlook that he started with in 1972, when he founded Crawford Builders as a partnership with Lynn W. Coe, a fellow electrician.
Mac no longer has to worry about how his employees and clients will fare after he is no longer part of the business. He shares the same sentiments as Chip, valuing the trust and the flexibility that come with working with his loved ones.
Chip said that working for Crawford Builders means so much more to him than any other career.
"It's not just a paycheck. It's not just your job or career," he said. "It's your family."
Putting people back in the picture
Rudy Schmidt is in for Family Business, Round 2.
After selling a manufacturing company that his father founded, Lexington's Crest Products, Schmidt started brainstorming jobs and start-ups with his eldest daughter, Cathy Milward. A trip to Wal-Mart inspired them: Cathy complained that she could never find help when she wanted to print her digital photos at store kiosks.
So the father-daughter pair decided to revolutionize the world of photography for Lexington's amateurs. In August 2007, they founded a retail store called Photo Therapy in Lexington at 1060 Chinoe Road, Suite 132.
"You're going down a road that no one has really gone down before," Schmidt remembers hearing from representatives of Hewlett-Packard when he and his daughter shared their business ideas at a national photo imaging show.
Photo Therapy offers computer workstations, graphics editing software, and even "photo therapists" for its customers — creating for customers a "personalized art department," Schmidt said.
He said that he derives a "double benefit" from the new store: He can "play around with a little bit of business and also be partners with a daughter." He jokes that he likes to call Milward "boss."
Milward finds it "pretty easy" to work with her dad. Schmidt handles the technical side, Milward takes care of the customer service, and they both share the same mind-set: to deliver the best product possible to their customers.
"It's great to see it start from scratch — it's thriving," she said of Photo Therapy. "To know that Father and I started that, that's been the most rewarding thing."
Yin and yang
In some ways, father and son could not be more different.
Randy Lisk is a pessimistic introvert; his son Ryan is an optimistic extrovert. Randy is task-oriented; Ryan is a people person.
But despite the personality contrasts, they share the same business values as the two partners of Lisk Associates: "to turn intangible assets into tangible results," as Randy said.
In 1991, Randy founded the Lexington coaching and consulting firm, educating companies about the principles from Stephen Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He used his son Ryan as his guinea pig for teaching techniques.
In turn, Ryan became interested in his father's work. After seven years of selling printers at Lexmark, Ryan joined Lisk Associates as its business manager. The pair's personality differences enable them to complement each other's strengths.
For instance, Randy used to operate his business entirely on word-of-mouth. Ryan, in contrast, headed up efforts to publicize the company on the online social networks Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Always quick to get things done, he also writes the first drafts for proposals. Randy, the perfectionist, proofreads for typos and fact-checks his work.
Randy has loved watching his son grow up and develop into a full-fledged business partner.
And Ryan looks at his work as play. He said that while other fathers and sons might go fishing or golfing, he and his dad have fun by working together.
"The nicest thing is being able to hang together and to be able to work. I look at it as recreation time," he said.