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Third-Generation Retail Staff on the Future of Their Businesses

A new generation is poised to take over their family businesses. Here's what they said about why they're choosing to stay on and what they anticipate for the future of the industry.

Katie Caron
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Park Lighting and Furniture staff
(From left) Geoff Vogan, Jared Johannesen and Tim Pasma make up the next generation at Park Lighting & Furniture in Edmonton, AB.

For sisters Rachel Lansing Sotoloff and Jessica Lansing, joining the family business at Idlewood Electric near Chicago was never a given. 

“We never worked in the business when we were growing up — our parents really encouraged us to follow our own individual aspirations and career paths,” says Sotoloff. “It’s always been, ‘one day, if you’d like to come into the business and you really have a passion for it, we’d love to have you on board’ — but it was never an expectation.”

Four years ago, after pursuing other interests, they decided together that the timing was finally right to join the business their grandfather founded 60 years ago. 

Many third-generation employees in retail are grappling with the decision to stay on and take the reins at their family business in the next decade or so — but the retail landscape they’re inheriting looks nothing like it used to. Given the unique challenges of helming a business in today’s competitive climate, here’s what Millennial staff said about why they’re choosing to join or stay in the business and what they anticipate for the future. 

Sticking around

According to research published in the Family Business Alliance, just 12 percent of family businesses make it to the third generation. But if businesses can survive the transition, the payoff is worth it: By 2025, more than $10 trillion worth of Baby Boomer-owned business assets may be passed down or sold, according to research published in “The $10 Trillion Opportunity.” 

But the potential for financial success isn’t the only draw for joining or staying in the business.

For Sotoloff and Lansing, their grandfather’s dream for Idlewood Electric motivated them to join the business.

“It’s not necessarily work for us,” says Sotoloff, who is the Director of Marketing. “We feel very privileged to have the opportunity to continue the legacy that he created.”

Forrest Cooper, the grandson of the founder of Lighting Etc. near Dallas, says working at the company has been a no-brainer. He spent his childhood working at the business during summers and holiday breaks and has been employed full time there since 2005. The familiarity and opportunities to grow and be his own boss motivate him to stick around long term.

Heather Hanley, the third-generation owner and Creative Director at home furnishings and design store The Tin Roof in Spokane, WA, says she got into the business sort of by accident, but she loves the work and the challenge.

Future steps

With changing consumer expectations, businesses need to adapt to stay afloat. 

At Park Lighting & Furniture in Edmonton, AB, Managing Partner Tim Pasma — whose wife’s parents own the company — says while he sees a future for brick-and-mortar, the company has to innovate to find long-term success. With the endless e-commerce options available today, innovating supply chain management is a key concern. 

“People’s expectations have changed around how soon it takes to get product in,” Pasma says. “We can be more innovative with delivery, making sure we can get product in the door and out the door quickly.”

To gain an edge, Hanley focuses on offering a full showroom experience with trained design staff to help customers plan their spaces. 

“That’s something that Amazon can’t do,” she says. “Amazon is not going to come into your house, measure your living room, take account of what your drapes look like and what color paint’s on the wall and what carpet you just had laid and go, ‘oh yeah this’ll look great.’”

Along with staying at the forefront of a changing digital landscape, Sotoloff says Idlewood stays relevant by drastically changing its showroom displays. In the past few years, they’ve added more styled vignettes along with a smart room that showcases smart technology for an interactive customer experience. 

Cooper says while many things are up in the air right now in the industry, he plans to keep the company successful by staying open to business opportunities across segments. 

“There are a lot of categories in lighting that showrooms don’t take advantage of,” Cooper says. “You have to be open to everything.” 

The next generation of industry retail owners may have their work cut out for them in many ways, but with dedication, planning and a fresh perspective, they hope to keep their doors open for generations to come. 

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