Starting a business with your significant other

Feb 10, 2012
Starting a business with your significant other

Do you own a business with your better half? Nearly a third of all family businesses are led by a husband-and-wife team, says a 2009 report in the Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning. Such partnerships make up 10 percent of U.S. businesses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Whether they’re married, dating or domestic partners, entrepreneur couples face some unique challenges. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we asked some local “copreneurs” how they keep love blooming and business booming. Here’s what they said:

Be passionate. Sure, you love each other. But are you equally enamored of your products, services and customers? Anthony and Tammy Rivera, who own three Edible Arrangements locations in Hampton Roads, fell in love with the franchise long before opening their shops in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

“Anthony used to order Edible Arrangements for me for every special occasion,” Tammy Rivera said of the company that sells fresh-fruit bouquets. “As a busy New York City police officer, it was a convenient gift for him to easily order that I was always happy to receive at my job as a youth counselor working with juvenile offenders. Now, we both love the company and the happiness that the products bring to our customers.”

Divide and conquer. Split the responsibilities based on your individual talents. And respect your partner’s space. It works for Shira and Shmuel Itzhak of Remedy Intelligent Staffing, an employment agency in Virginia Beach. “I’m in sales and out of the office most of the time,” Shira said. “Shmuel runs operations and is in the office most of the time. So it works because we don’t work together in the office all day. We both do a good job at what we do best, and it works out for everyone.”

At BOSH Global Services in Newport News, the company’s name reflects the partnership between married owners Bob and Shelly Fitzgerald. “BOSH” is an acronym for their first names. Launched in 2003, the company provides support services for unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Neither Shelly nor I had run a business before,” said Bob Fitzgerald, a retired Air Force communications officer. “Before you know it, we had employees, payroll and other corporate functions that had to be done – and quickly. Unfortunately we hadn’t planned it out or even discussed who would be responsible for what part of the business.”

The challenge of sorting that out took a few years.

"Eventually we settled into the roles we were most comfortable with,” he said. “It took some real soul-searching and serious ‘discussions’ to get to that point, but we finally agreed that Shelly paid more attention to detail and had more experience with finance and people skills, where I was more operationally focused. So now Shelly focuses more on the corporate functions for the company, including serving as our community and charity champion, while I focus on the operational aspects of the business.”

Set boundaries between work and home. Laurel Quarberg and Sarah Munford, owners of The New Leaf, a floral design boutique in Norfolk, have a rule: Except on rare occasions, no shop talk after 5 p.m.

Those boundaries are challenging but important, Bob Fitzgerald said. “We found ourselves discussing work almost around the clock,” he said. “So we agreed that, as much as possible, we would refrain from discussing business at home. We have to remind each other of this commitment every now and then, but we’re making good progress.”

Shira Itzhak agreed: “At home, we try not to talk about the business too much, but it does happen because we really care about our clients, and that doesn’t stop at 5:30 p.m.”

Take timeouts for two. This year, Quarberg and Munford celebrate The New Leaf’s 25th anniversary. Their secret? Making time for each other away from the shop, whether it’s playing racquetball, volunteering with community groups or traveling.

“We take vacations, and little mini vacations,” Quarberg said. “We both love to snow ski, water ski, snorkel, go boating and exploring. This is probably one of the most important things we do for ourselves – making and taking time to just have fun.”

Ditto for the Fitzgeralds. “Finding time for each other takes effort,” Bob said. “As newly minted empty-nesters, it’s more than just finding the time together; it’s also rediscovering who we married. We have to continually work on it. It’s not as much a destination as it is a journey, and as the saying goes, that’s where the joy is.”

Some businesses – like Edible Arrangements – are joyful in and of themselves.

“We get excited about planning for our busiest holidays, and this keeps us working together pretty much non-stop for weeks,” Tammy Rivera said. “We feel fortunate to spend so much time together, and because we both have a competitive spirit, we motivate each other to do better and better each year. Then, when all the holiday chaos is over, we get to celebrate the successes together.”

Above all, don’t forget to celebrate the fact that you are partners in love – and livelihood.

“We remember to remember each other,” Munford said. “We are our first Valentine’s delivery.”