September 28, 2016

Siblings in Business

Siblings by birth. Business partners by choice. By design sibs already have an established relationship, but does family connection translate to successful commercial pursuits? What’s it like when sisters and brothers decide to capitalize on their relationship?

Brandon and Seth Farley operate Cottonwood Ortho Labs. Brothers in business once resolved disputes in fisticuffs, now they are good pals.

Vicki PoVey knows. She and her sisters have been running Four Sisters Furniture in Riverdale for over 20 years. The sisters took over the unfinished furniture retail business when the former owners were retiring. Vicki and her sisters, Christal Holley and Shelly Evans, have shaped the business so that each sister has been able to sustain a livelihood while also tending to additional responsibilities and aspirations. Christal worked at Four Sisters while attending nursing school. In time, Shelly and Vicki bought the business and now Vicki manages the full spectrum of the operation.
The business has served as a way for Vicki to raise a family and, like a family, the business has grown to a comfortable size. “I raised my kids here,” Vicki relates. I didn’t have to leave my daughter at home.” “I ask myself, ‘If I didn’t have this, what would I do?’”
Four sisters is unique in that most  mothers who have a lot of kids have to choose between family and career, their business served a multiple functions as both a day-care and a means of income.

While conducting the interview Vicki’s daughter-in-law stopped by with two grandchildren. The kids played with toys while Vicki tended to customers. Nothing felt unusual or unnatural about the blending of family and business.

The seed of a business partnership for Seth and Brandon Farley was planted on a two-week road trip. “We had a 12-hour drive at the end of the trip and we ended up talking about plans,” Seth remembers, “but then I went back to Colorado and forgot about it.” When Seth relocated to Utah he and Brandon, who had just returned from college in Virginia, moved in together. While on the East Coast, Brandon had worked for a doctor who taught him how to construct orthodontic dental appliances. In 2004 Brandon sowed his own entrepreneurial idea and started Cottonwood Orthodontic Lab in the finished basement of their house. “I remember waking up at four in the morning ‘cause my room was right next to where he was working. All he was thinking about,” Seth quips, “was making retainers.” The business quickly grew into a larger lab space. “I thought I could do it all myself,” Brandon recalls. “And I was looking for a job,” remembers Seth. In 2008 the brothers decided to profit from their circumstances.
Growing up, Brandon suffered from the inherent disadvantage of being the younger brother. For example, he was the target of Seth’s amusement in Rock, a simple game where Seth threw rocks at Brandon and Brandon tried to avoid getting struck. “Oh man,” Seth recounts, “I used to beat the living hell out of him, but luckily both of us didn’t hold any grudges.” Brandon concurs. “By the time I was 15 we were close friends.” Sibling hierarchy can carry over into business, where the older brother will still try to be the boss, but Brandon and Seth mutually respect each other. “Brandon might still try to resist my ideas just out of patterning,” Seth speculates, but Brandon laughs. “I just realized one day that I don’t have to do what Seth says.”

Vicki PoVey is one of three sisters who owns and operates Four Sisters Furniture.

The most meaningful benefits the brothers attribute to their sibling partnership are honesty and communication. “There’s so much that’s unknown in sharing a business, but Brandon’s not one of the unknowns,” Seth asserts. “You can always trust your brother, like he can be in charge of all the money and I never worry.” Their kinship bond also allows them to express honest emotions, which nurtures healthy communication.
Though they live separately the two still spend a lot of time together outside of the office. “We bike, ski and backpack together,” during which they try not to talk about work. Conversely, adds Brandon, “I definitely try to separate business with life. When I’m at work I don’t talk about personal stuff.”
“A lot of doctors we work with say, ‘That’s really cool. I wish I could go into business with my brother,’” Brandon says, but both brothers agree that they wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. “I’d say for 80% of the brothers I know, no way,” Seth surmises. Brandon agrees. “I think Seth and I are unusually close as brothers.” The recent wane in the economy put their relationship to a test. They decided that if they had to chose between financial gain and long-term devotion, family was more important. “We know what’s most important,” Brandon acknowledges, “and we always say to each other, ‘I love you. Don’t forget it.’”