Trail Appliances’ second-generation owner Mike Broderick on growing a family business
In 1980, armed with an education degree and some retail and customer-service experience, Mike Broderick moved to B.C. and opened the first B.C. Trail Appliances store along with his brother, Peter. The pair did everything from sales and moving appliances to delivery and cleaning the appliances.
Years later, in 2011, Trail Appliances employs 800 people, with Broderick overseeing eight B.C. locations and 250 employees. The company has experienced double-digit growth in the past several years. In May 2011, Broderick opened Trail Appliances’ ambitious 26,000-square-foot flagship store in Vancouver.
Trail Appliances is a true family business. Patriarch Jack Broderick worked in his own father’s business before launching Trail Appliances in Alberta in the ‘70s. All six of his sons, including Mike, pitched in along the way. Today, there are 22 family members working for the B.C. and Alberta operations.
As a business consultant, I often work with second-generation business operators and am familiar with the challenges they face in continuing the success of their predecessors while carving out their own path. Having grown up in a family business, I experienced these trials and tribulations first hand. Intrigued by Broderick’s success and business philosophies, I contacted him for an interview. He generously offered some advice to second- and third-generation business owners:
Success is built on solidarity
When Broderick opened his first store in B.C., despite having worked in his father’s store in Calgary, he had limited experience in management, marketing and finance. Having access to his father’s experience and wisdom was a tremendous advantage. Among the greatest benefits of working in a family business are the high trust factor, shared goals and having a close-knit group in which to communicate confidential information and share ideas.
Since all of his brothers are involved in the business, Broderick is able to use them as sounding boards, and vice versa. “My dad taught us that by working together, sticking up for each other and staying together, we’d be successful. We never waver from that.”
Separate personal and professional lives
Broderick recalled occasions where he or his wife went home angry at the other because of work-related disagreements. One of the challenges of running a family business is keeping one’s professional and personal life separate, and the Brodericks make a conscious effort to avoid business talk during “family time”. When asked for examples, Broderick chuckled: “It’s all funny stuff. On family vacations to our cottage, the first person who mentioned the word ‘work’ would have to do the dishes. Just for fun, sometimes we would try to bait the other person into saying the word by hovering around the topic without saying it.”
No family favouritism. Remain objective
It is common to take family members for granted, to expect more of the and to criticize them more openly -- without showing them the appreciation that one would a regular employee. Keeping family relationships, and the associated emotional baggage, out of business is vital. Establishing proper boundaries and giving recognition where it is due will go a long way toward building a successful business and maintaining healthy relationships.
Nepotism and pettiness not allowed
Broderick is a firm believer in every employee -- family member or not -- earning their position through approriate skills, experience and training. His view is that “it is not fair to the company to put a family member in a role they are not equipped to do. Neither is it fair to that family member to put them where they do not belong”.
Everyone working in the Broderick enterprise is mindful of avoiding petty arguments, choosing rather to focus on bigger goals. This helps to maintain harmony while contributing to the company’s overall success.
“My management style has always been consultative. I like to consult with people. I like to involve people in decisions. That’s our company culture. It’s important going forward that you use people that have helped the company be successful”.