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It’s survived two world wars, the Great Depression and several recessions, including the most recent, but after 115 years in business, the family-owned S.E. Needham Jewelers in Logan is still going strong.
Started in the late 1800s by Lulu Holt Needham, this jewelry store is now in its fourth generation of leadership, gearing up for generations five and six. So how do family businesses stay functional through successions, family turmoil and money problems? S. Eugene Needham IV, the current owner and president of S.E. Needham Jewelers, gives his advice for family-owned business success.
When it comes to handing down a family business, Needham says it’s essential to create a plan and put it in writing. The plan should not only cover succession but should include the goals and visions of the company, how to execute the plan and how to select key leaders to ensure success in the future.
At 42, Needham has been running the family business since his father gave him the store keys at the age of 21. His father had no qualms about stepping down so his son could take over.
For the Needham family, succession hasn’t yet been an issue, since Needham’s grandfather was an only child and Needham’s father was the only son (his sister wasn’t interested in running the family business). But now, Needham has eight sons and one daughter, and line of succession will need to be discussed and clarified. Needham’s brother, Joseph, also works in the jewelry store as the head designer and goldsmith, but it has already been determined that Needham’s children will be the ones to carry on the business.
“My oldest sons, Sylvan, age 16 and J.D., age 14, have both expressed an interest in the business,” Needham says. “Any of my kids could be involved, so we’ll need to be very clear when it comes time to make the change. But that’s probably still a decade away. I’ll wait and see who expresses the most interest.”
Investing for the Future
One of the biggest downfalls to a family business, according to Needham, is going into a venture undercapitalized. Family members mortgage their homes, sell off heirlooms or squander savings to start a business they hope to pass down to future generations.
“If they don’t have the right capital in place, they should not go into business,” he says. “The risk is way too high and the loss is just way too great. It can damage relationships; it can hurt the very family unit they think they’re trying to work toward. It certainly is financially devastating to them for years. Perhaps they need to reflect on other opportunities, wait on their plan; not be too impatient. It could be that their idea is sound and they should move on it—but maybe wait a decade.”
After more than a century, the Needham family still makes cautious decisions regarding the business. They’ve been in the same Logan location the entire time, expanding only once after buying the building next door to create a 6,000-square-foot jewelry store.
And Needham says investing in advertising is crucial. If money can’t be found for advertising, a business won’t last long. Whether it’s a small business, a family business or a thriving downtown shop, advertising is key to keeping your edge and not being swallowed up in the market. S.E. Needham Jewelers employs aggressive marketing campaigns on billboards, radio stations, on local television and in local newspapers—and the investments have helped the jewelry store stay competitive for decades.
You don’t become Utah’s oldest jewelry store by chance. Needham emphasizes that honesty, trust and integrity play a huge part in keeping any business viable. In some situations, family members take advantage of each other using manipulation, deceit or exploitation. Needham is firm when he says a business will not succeed under those conditions.
“We have to be able to trust one another and the employees have to be able to trust us,” he says. “Within the mission statement of the company, integrity is an important part. I feel with the proper amount of honesty, communication in the way that we operate and clear responsibilities, we’re able to get along quite well.”