Consider your décor

Space designs set the tone for employees and customers

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Quick check…no, you are not reading Better Homes and Gardens.

But we would be doing a disservice to family businesses everywhere if we didn’t point out that family business décor is paramount to their success as a business.

The kitchen at Baker's Quality Pizza Crusts Inc. in Waukesha.
The kitchen at Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts Inc. in Waukesha.

Take Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts Inc., located in Waukesha. The Miller family has a factory, but between the factory and the offices is a kitchen that looks better than the one in my home. This is for all of the workers, not just family. It is comfortable, cozy even, and makes you feel part of the family…the family business.

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I recently had the opportunity to visit A Branovan Co. on Calumet Road in Milwaukee.  A warehouse at the end of an industrial road is hardly the place one would expect this showroom/man cave. Owners David and Marie Branovan have designed their business like they would their home, with a bar, pool table and kitchen, among other things. And how can you miss the Harley parked in the warehouse/showroom?

Being a family business doesn’t begin and end with children. It is important to carry that family theme to those who are not family or are honorary family. Perhaps these home furnishings are what led the trend toward more businesses adding things to the work environment that you see at home. When you enter non-family business Zywave in Wauwatosa, you can’t help but notice the workout facility, fully stocked bar, and games like Pingpong and video games on every floor. This is to appeal to the heavy millennial population it employs, but also to create an image – a brand the company wishes the public to see.

Spectrum Investment Advisors in Mequon has taken this homey feel to a whole different level. Fireplaces greet you upon entry and the community room is filled with high-end equipment, including a coffee-making system Starbucks would envy. Owner Jim Marshall has frequent community guests; not customers, but guests. Oh sure, he hopes they become customers, but his coffee roundtables are famous in the community and well-attended. If it feels like home, people will want to join you and work there.

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The kitchen at Baker's Quality Pizza Crusts Inc. in Waukesha.
The kitchen at Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts Inc. in Waukesha.

How sad that most businesses think working in a cube is attractive. Family businesses have figured out the secret sauce to successful businesses is making everyone feel like they are family. That doesn’t mean coming to work in your pajamas, although that might be a good future article, but it does mean a sense of comfort. Businesses taking the time to tap into the senses of the worker makes the worker feel important and more likely to be retained in the business. Better retention leads to fewer training costs.

Historically, family businesses retain workers at a far higher rate than non-family businesses, and this cost control is attractive to those businesses. Making someone outside the family feel like a family member is also paramount to the success of the family business.

The design of your facility also has a lot to say to your customers about how much you value them. Recently, I was in a doctor’s office where the waiting room and the reception area were co-mingled. I learned more about the other patients and their problems, just sitting there waiting for the doctor, than I cared to. So much for privacy and patients’ rights. The room was an assembly line. This may have worked for Ford, but not for a cancer patient.

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Can design go too far? Yes! Check out some of the bank facades and the opulent interiors of some. They must be making lots of money…oh wait, that would be off of me, their customer. Interiors must create an image, a mood, but should not be so far over the top that they discourage customers or employees. Family firms frequently have the right amount of permanence and comfort. All businesses can learn something from their success.

-David Borst, Ed.D., is executive director and chief operating officer of the Family Business Legacy Institute, a regional resource hub for family business. He can be reached at

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