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‘Silo it’ when married to franchising


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Liz and Joe Lewis have been in franchising together for almost their entire 32-year marriage.

The old refrain is never work with family and never borrow from friends. But for those stubborn folks who opt to ignore that advice, it’s quite possible to thrive at work and home—it just takes a little effort.

Dr. Wendy Walsh, a relationship expert who helps people through the intricacies of love on her radio show and as a professor, says it’s all about boundaries and clarity.

A typical relationship will have real physical boundaries between work and home. But when a couple is in the same office, restaurant or retail storefront, those boundaries have to be built.

“We have to create psychological boundaries,” said Walsh. “First of all making sure your job descriptions are very, very clear because people fall apart when there aren’t boundaries about who should do what.”

Maggie and Dennis Holland, a dynamic duo in the Which Wich system who have helped develop 42 locations and operate two locations, said that’s key.

“I think what works for us is just having separate areas of responsibility and to resist the urge to jump in and do something better than someone who does it all the time. But that’s just respect, that’s not work, that’s just the way relationships work,” said Dennis Holland. “You have to silo it otherwise you’ll be mucking each other’s responsibilities and causing lots of problems.”

He is the initial contact, helps franchisees find a location and get the paperwork done. Then Maggie comes in.

“Dennis is more the people person, I’m more of the worker bee—the organized person,” said Maggie Holland.

Finding a little time away from work is critical for most business owners, but it can be a challenge.

Veenu Parkash

“Keep it separate and always focus,” says Veenu Parkash, with Raj, who own three Lightbridge Academy centers.

“It really is a lifestyle. My phone can ring any time and there might be something I have to deal with,” said Dennis Holland. “But we knock it off every once in a while. Our kids are in sports, so we go out and watch them play soccer. That’s all we talk about then. And we try to keep the work life toned down.”

Running a business can be a lot of fun, too.“It is pretty difficult because it is really intoxicating,” said Maggie Holland. “There’s always something you could be doing or a project to finish. It’s definitely all-consuming.”

Keep it separate

Raj and Veenu Parkash own three Lightbridge Academy childcare centers. They said boundaries are crucial to their ability to work together.

“I don’t focus on thinking like he’s my husband. Just focus on the business, focus on what’s good for the business and it’ll be fine, keep it separate and always focus,” said Veenu Parkash.

She’s the people person, and Raj handles the numbers. He said they stay active and social so they don’t talk about work all the time.

“The only drawback is that doing business is your common topic. Even with us it gets very frustrating because you sometimes deal with it at work then when you come home, you’re still talking about it because we’re so into our business,” said Veenu Parkash.

There are, of course, some special sorts of people who are happy to talk about work all the time, and Walsh says that’s OK as long as they’re good collaborators.

“It depends on the couple, if both partners have a voice,” said Walsh. “Building something together, a baby or a business, is one of the strongest ways to create a long-term relationship, there’s been lots of data to show this. On the other hand, if one person is too dominant or one person is too dependent and one half of the couple is frustrated trying to get the other half to do more or less, that’s not healthy.”

Dennis and Maggie Holland

Separate responsibilities, say Dennis and Maggie Holland, who own Which Wich units.

For Joe and Liz Lewis, they’ve been in franchising together for almost their entire 32-year marriage. Joe is a franchise lawyer turned VP and general counsel at Smoothie King and Liz operates a market for FranNet, a franchise consultant firm that helps place prospective franchisees with the right concept. They say the conversation always drifts back to their franchising work.

“It does give us something in common and something to talk about with family and friends—that’s a fun part. I look forward to hearing how she’s doing with her business and she looks forward to talking about how things are going,” said Joe Lewis.

Of course, there are going to be sore spots in any relationship, business or romantic. Walsh said it just means carving out time to discuss differences with a level head.

“The same rules apply to conflict resolution whether you’re in a business or not, find a time and place to both openly discuss when you’re not HALTing,” (which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired) said Walsh. “And spend more time listening and trying to understand than trying to defend.”

But it all goes back to those boundaries, as Raj Parkash describes.

“We really don’t have disagreements because we’ve left the decision making to whoever is handling that segment of the business,” said Parkash. “We bounce off ideas, but at the same time, if we make any decision it’s in the best interest in the business, it doesn’t matter whose decision it is. When you look at things that way, it does not create disagreement.”

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