For father and son in Vom Fass, the partnership mindset rules
It’s best to forget the father-son dynamic and instead emphasize the business partnership, experts say, and that can be toughest on the older generation. Two Vom Fass operators detail how they’re expanding.
When Justin Gibson shoved a Vom Fass brochure in his father’s face and said, “This is what we’re doing with the rest of our lives,” it’s not surprising the elder Gibson was a bit suspicious.
David, left, and Justin Gibson at Yahara Bay Distillery, where spirits are bottled for sale.
“I thought that it might just be something trendy or something that might not have sufficient depth to make it last,” says David Gibson. And if the recently retired U.S.D.A. business development planner was going to pull money from his 401(k) to buy the U.S. franchising rights and go into business with his son, he needed to be sure.
Those initial fears were allayed when David visited several European shops within the German specialty oil and vinegar boutique chain, saw how it was structured and learned about the detailed business plan that pushed Vom Fass growth to more than 250 retail shops in 12 countries. (Vom Fass, incidentally, means “from the cask.”)
That was in 2006. Eight years later the father-son team of master developers have not only opened their corporate Vom Fass store in Madison, Wisconsin, but also expanded the concept with 17 franchised shops in 14 states. It’s the realization of a vision Justin had since stepping inside the Vom Fass boutique in Glessen, Germany, during the final days of his study-abroad program.
“It was my dream in the back of my head to do a business with my dad,” says Justin, 36. “I’d passively been thinking about it,” and the timing and mutual commitment to the concept finally aligned.
That commitment aspect is crucial to father-son franchising, says Karen Spencer, who advised hundreds of family owned franchisees as the founder of FranSystems and has gone on to implement her systems as CEO of franchise concept YeahBurger.
Both family members must buy into the program—and truly think of one another as partners. “Forget it is a father-son dynamic,” Spencer urges. “It is a business relationship.”
For the parent, that can be especially difficult, says Spencer, particularly for fathers used to being in control. Put forth conscious effort, she continues, to “treat your son as a decision maker, not as ‘you’re the kid and you do what I say.’” To do that, Spencer advises scheduling weekly “non-cancellable meetings” with set agendas and for both partners to have equal exposure to the franchisor.
The implementation of communication processes is something the Gibsons are still developing, but both work with their franchise consultant at Vom Fass’ German headquarters and have defined roles: Justin as president, David as CEO.
“In some ways it was our natural inclinations,” said Justin, who with his doctorate in economics focuses on the financial aspects while David handles the legal dealings and takes the lead on bringing in partners.
Though he’s technically the final decision-maker, 66-year-old David says his ego isn’t a factor and he makes sure to listen to his son’s point of view. They’ve been fortunate to avoid a stalemate on major issues, he continues, mainly because they have a shared vision for growth and from the start said their relationship as father and son comes first.
“It’s crucial that your visions are consistent with each other,” David stresses. Have more capital than you think you’ll need, he adds, and devise an exit strategy to ensure operations continue to run smoothly even if one partner leaves.
The Gibsons also created a board of directors and David says he plans to eventually step away from the business as Justin takes over.
Having that next generation ready to step in and continue growing the business is a key upside to family franchising, Spencer notes. “With family, you’ve got a better chance of them staying in and not selling,” she explains. “There’s a lower level of transfers. That trust relationship becomes stronger with family.”
That trust is one reason the Gibsons look for family partners as they build their franchise and why they bought into Vom Fass. “Vom Fass is really a family franchise from the start,” says Justin, noting the generational relationships with suppliers and producers. “There’s a family philosophy, even from the producer level. That’s also one of the reasons they teamed up with us, because we’re a family.”