Secret to Business Longevity: Family
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Family businesses have always thrived in the Mahoning Valley.
From the Rulli grocery stores to the Sweeneys’ century of car sales, family names help to define the local business landscape.
But such companies come in a wide range of sizes and they all evolved differently.
For this edition’s Family Business section, we talked to a trio of area companies – Trinity Door Systems, Tema Roofing Services and Universal Development Management Inc. – that have expanded beyond the founding generation. Their stories are below.
We also reached out to other family businesses and asked them to submit information about their founders and evolution. Read their stories on pages 19 to 34.
All these family businesses understand the importance of planning and establishing a solid base of knowledge about their industry. And they recognize the importance of family businesses to the local economy and community.
Opening Their Own Doors
Trinity Door Systems was born out of a drive for self-determination. As founder Bill Warden explains, he left his first job as a door maintenance technician to get away from micromanagement and to take advantage of opportunities for a growing business.
“I felt I could do quality work and make a decent living without doing something I wasn’t happy with,” he says. “I felt there were more opportunities out there for growth, plus I didn’t like being told how to do my job.”
Warden founded Trinity Door in 1987, working for several years out of a garage in North Lima. Initially, the company focused on maintenance and repair, but eventually expanded into replacement and installation.
For more than a decade, Warden stuck with his first door manufacturer, a small, family-owned company. But as that business moved through generations, it wound up in the hands of a third generation that didn’t want to be involved. It was sold twice in the span of a couple of years and was eventually picked up by a major manufacturer, who took the assets it needed and shut down what was left.
That moment, Warden says, is when he realized that he needed to think about how his children – and now grandchildren – fit into the company. Today, his daughter, Allison Dunham, serves as chief operating officer. She works at the company’s headquarters in New Springfield.
“I knew early on that I had to have somebody take my spot, whether I wanted to sell it – which I don’t want to do – or take over. If something happened to me while I’m driving 60,000 miles a year, I wanted my wife to keep the company going,” he says. “There was always somebody and now, there’s this young lady. She is ambitious and as we grew, she grew. She knows all the technical stuff.”
Dunham joined the company while she was in college because she needed a part-time desk job as she recovered from an injury. Eventually, she realized, “He needed someone full-time. It was out of necessity.” But the longer she stayed, the more she learned and the more it became a career rather than a job. Now, she’s been at Trinity Door for more than 20 years.
“We’ve worked long enough and hard enough together that I want to see what he’s built carry on,” Dunham says. “I don’t want to see it sold to some big company that’s going to change everything or make it cookie cutter and destroy what he’s built.”
Part of the effort is looking at who works at the company. Technicians at Trinity are frequently on the road – Warden says most drive between 50,000 and 60,000 miles a year.
The company provides 24-hour service in all of Ohio, western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia – and camaraderie is key to ensuring a happy workforce.
“For all these tough, blue-collar guys, when we asked why they come to work, so many of them said it was each other. These guys work alone a lot of the day, so it was surprising that it was the guys they spend half an hour with in the morning. They talk on the phone. They text. They ask each other questions,” Dunham says. “It blew my mind that it wasn’t the work. It wasn’t the pay. It’s the people they work with.”
Adds Warden: “I don’t want anyone working for me that doesn’t want to be at their job. It’s contagious. It makes this hard job harder.”
Dunham has instituted a more in-depth interviewing process and combined it with gathering feedback from staff and customers about what kind of person would be a good fit for the company. These measures have reduced turnover and, as Warden says, “I have better personnel too.”
Describing Trinity Door Systems as a “family business” isn’t quite accurate, Dunham says. It’s more of a business with families. The longest-tenured, non-family employee has been at the company for 14 years and his wife works at Trinity too, she says.
“My project manager’s son just started his apprenticeship in the door trade a year ago. One of our technicians, his two stepdaughters work here while they go to college,” Dunham says.
“It’s nice that it’s not just our family, but other families.”
Passing Down a Lifetime Of Experience
Tom Froelich has been in the roofing industry for nearly 45 years. What started out as a summer job with his father-in-law’s roofing company eventually led to a six-year term as owner of Roth Bros.
“It was a great experience working for Roth Bros., which is one of the premier companies in the Valley. I worked for them for 20 years and had the opportunity to buy the company,” he says. “Myself and other members were able to buy it from FirstEnergy. We held it for six years and doubled the size. It was a tremendous success and we had a ball doing it.”
Froelich’s ownership group eventually sold the company to Sodexo. Not too long after, the new owners wanted to reduce the construction sector, which included the work Froelich did. He left the company and, after a one-year noncompete agreement, he founded Tema Roofing Services in 2015.
The decision of whom would be among the first employees was an easy one: his sons.
“Since I have four boys – three of them worked for me at Roth Bros. – it was easy to make a transition and see that the Youngstown market was down one quality contractor in Roth Bros. It was an excellent opportunity to engage the marketplace with an industry in which we have more than 40 years of experience,” Froelich says.
Today, he serves as president, while his wife, Margaret, is chief financial officer. Looking through the company directory, the Froelich surname pops up frequently; sons Adam, Scott and Justin are all vice presidents at the company. Adam’s wife, Sherry, is leader of Tema’s roof asset management program. Margaret’s father Bill Charles – the one who gave Tom Froelich his first roofing job – is a senior consultant. And grandson Tommy Froelich III is an account manager.
“It was the plan from the get-go. It’s my turn to give back. I had an excellent organization in Roth Bros. that taught me the industry and taught me the business,” Tom Froelich says. “Now, it’s my turn to teach the next generation how to run a business, how you do good business in your community. My four boys will take this company and run with it.”
Just as Roth Bros. started as a family business between two brothers in 1923, Froelich sees his company carrying on well into the future.
Part of that effort has been instilling good business principles – “Once you learn good business principles, it doesn’t matter if it’s family or not,” he says – and learning to draw the line between business and family.
Inside Tema Roofing’s offices in Girard or on a job site, it’s about business. At home and at play, it’s about family.
“We have a large family, a tight family. Five children with four of them in the business, along with 10 grandchildren and No. 11 on the way. We spend a lot of time together,” he says. “We don’t bring personal stuff to work and we don’t take business matters home.”
As a father, one of the hardest lessons was learning to trust his sons as coworkers, he says. And he imagines it was a challenge for his sons as well. But that trust has allowed Tema to flourish.
“For all these years, I’ve been a doer. Now I have to lead and let them do it. … I trust you by letting you do what you say you’re going to do, as opposed to telling you to do it. When my sons say, ‘I’ve got this,’ I have to take a deep breath, say OK and let them go,” he says. “We’re all growing to learn how to let go while also taking personal responsibility and having accountability to the group.”
Building Solid Foundation
At Universal Development Management Inc., marketing director Melissa Hegwood knows that the business roles played by her and her father, company founder Ron Anderson, are the inverse of what happens with typical family businesses.
“He’s the risk-taker and entrepreneur while I’m more conservative with side projects. It’s the opposite of what seems to happen normally,” she says.
As an example, she points to the Metroplex Expo Center and Metroplex Self Storage, one of Anderson’s deviations from Universal’s bread and butter – apartment and condo developments – that Hegwood says was her father’s vision and something she was hesitant about. The company’s offices are on Motor Inn Drive, across the street from the former Holiday Inn that sat empty for years.
“He couldn’t stand to see the property in the state it was in. He knew everything about it: when it was built, how much it cost, how elaborate the structure was, how well it was built,” she says. “It seemed like every day he’d come into the office talking about how it was in disrepair.”
The expo center part of the building opened in 2016, two years after the hotel closed, followed by the storage side in 2019. The idea, Hegwood says, stemmed from his annual vacation/business trip to Florida, where he saw several shuttered hotels converted to storage spaces. Such trips were a staple of the Anderson family growing up, she says.
“Every vacation we took growing up, we always visited real estate projects. I thought that’s what everyone did. I thought people traveled just to drive through neighborhoods and look at apartments and motels,” she says with a laugh.
Anderson never pushed family members to join the business, which he started in 1970. Instead, he just encouraged his children to pursue business degrees in college, reasoning that if they had business fundamentals, they could put that knowledge to use with whatever “hobby or passion we had.” After getting her degree from Penn State University, Hegwood worked for a few years with Marriott before questioning if she wanted to continue down that career path. Eventually, Anderson asked her if she wanted to work at Universal Development. She joined the company in 1999.
“It was never really on my radar. In hindsight, maybe he did that on purpose. I had worked seasonally at properties in high school and college, doing landscaping and painting and as a lifeguard,” she says. “I never thought about running properties. He wanted us to see it from the ground up.”
Today, the family ties reach throughout the company, with Hegwood’s brother, husband and son all working at Universal Development. Business has been steady with measured expansion, most recently with its 12th site that opened in Stow on March 17. Hegwood has played a role in the adoption of new technologies – online payments and digital record-keeping methods – while her brother and father primarily handle the construction side of the enterprise.
“That was, I think, a tough transition for the two of them. Dad took a step back and took care of the land and zoning before handing it over to my brother to get the sticks and bricks in order,” she says. “Now, though, they’ve figured out how to make that dynamic work.”
To ease some of the tensions that can come up when debating business decisions as family members – though Hegwood says the entire family knows there’s a line between family affairs and business affairs – Universal Development often opens discussion to those who would be affected by the topic.
“We debate things quite a bit and try to work toward a group consensus in the office, drawing other people into the conversation to help us sort things out,” she says.
Having the same set of core values has made the task easier, she says, adding the best thing she learned from Anderson was hard work.
“There are no shortcuts. He’s been successful, but he’s worked hard,” she says. “We used to joke, even a few years ago, that if we were doing work on his house, he’d still outwork us even in his 70s.”
Pictured at top: Leading Tema Roofing Services are Justin Froelich, Adam Froelich, Tommy Froelich, Scott Froelich, Margaret Froelich, Tom Froelich and Bill Charles. Combined, the family has decades of experience in the industry.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.