Working in the family business can be difficult and isn’t right for everyone. But sometimes, it can lead to a rewarding career.
Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural blog post from guest blogger Nick Martin of Wilson, N.C.-based Barnes MetalCrafters. Nick will be writing monthly about his experiences in the family-owned fabricating shop.
Like many students in high school and college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. We all have some kind of idea buried in our minds somewhere, and digging it out is the hard part. It comes natural to some people. Eventually you have to pick a path to start going down, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay on it. Things, events, and ideas come along that change your path.
My dad had the opportunity to purchase his dream, a fabrication shop, about 18 years ago. I was in high school at the time, and the shop was nearly 1.5 hours away from our home. I rarely got to go visit or work, unless it was a holiday or summer. The previous owner invested little money back into the business, so the equipment and technology were extremely outdated. I remember my family having a talk about how times might be rough for a while. And they were. I was very young at the time, and seeing dad struggle had an impact on what I chose to do with my education.
I chose computers and business as my path in college. I was promised a salary of at least $50,000 right out of college. Things were looking up, and I began to ask my dad questions about his business and how things were going. He had invested in a few pieces of equipment, and jobs were starting to pick up for the shop. My friends would ask me if I was going to work at the shop when I was finished with school. I was pretty sure I was going to find a different job making the big bucks. That wasn’t the case. By my senior year, the jobs picture changed from jobs being handed to you to “good luck, buddy.”
I moved back home and began working at my dad’s shop while looking for a job. I was doing a little bit of everything in the shop, including designing a website for the business. Technology was slowly being implemented in the shop. I was making a very minimal amount of money, but what I didn’t know was that I was learning. I was punching, cutting, shearing, bending, and folding. Holding metal while the guys tacked it together and seeing things develop. The guys in the shop always gave me a hard time and said I had the silver spoon. I remember a truck driver calling me an S.O.B. That really caught me off guard, and I looked at him puzzled and kinda mad. He smiled and said you are the son of the boss. I smiled back and continued helping unload the truck, learning.
I made sales calls with my dad, mostly because we carpooled together since the shop was so far away. I remember visiting a customer one day who was rotating a machine assembly around on his computer monitor, and I asked a couple questions. A short time later, we were sitting in on a software demo for Autodesk® Inventor. We purchased it, and it began to change the business for the better. I found a new niche in the company, and I began to see some light on my path. Watching parts and products develop from my computer screen to being cut, folded, and welded was very cool. The guys in the shop and the boss man gave me pointers on things they would like to see changed, and my skill level began to improve quickly. Dad was able to start quoting other jobs that we were not capable of doing in the past. The business was growing!
Every day I was gaining an appreciation for everything in our shop and how things were made. I wanted to know more, and the best teachers were right in front of me. I could learn something just by walking by a table or machine and looking. I would ask one or two questions and try not to distract the operators too much. The guys in the shop respected that and knew that I respected the work they did for the company.
Dad was starting to show me more respect as well. I would ask him a ton of questions. One thing that stuck in my head was when he told me to go walk around Lowe’s or any store and see how things are made and put together. I still find myself doing that today.
As dad continued to invest in more technology and equipment for the company, everything began to get a little more technical. My background working with computers helped me considerably. I enjoyed learning the new machines with my co-workers and dad. Every bit of knowledge we gained added more value to the business and our capabilities. I guess that is one thing that I really appreciate about where I am today. I will never know everything about manufacturing, so there will always be something to learn every day. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t learn something. I am constantly using my imagination and creatively trying to improve our products and processes.
I often think that I should have gone to school to become an engineer, but then again, I may not be where I am today.
Working with your family is one of the hardest things you can do in life. You have to learn to be thankful and appreciate the opportunity at hand. Of course, my dad and I have had several differences over the years, but we’ve found that if we keep moving forward, the business and our relationship get better.