Family-owned businesses find it’s relatively easy to work together
For many people, co-workers are an extension of family.
They share stories around the water cooler, celebrate birthdays with office cupcakes or luncheons, step up to help when times get rough and exchange gifts around the holidays.
But for some employees, like those working at Brutzman’s Office Solutions in Richland and Tippett Company in Pasco, co-workers literally are family.
Bob Tippett was attending Boise State University when his father, Robert Tippett, called to say he’d be in town and wanted to have dinner.
“And he explained to me that his company was growing more than he could handle, and he wanted to know if I wanted to come to work with him,” he said. “My wife knew I had an itch to be in business that had to be scratched, so (my wife) Meri Lee said, ‘Let’s do it and stick it out two years whether it’s good or bad.’ And it turned out Dad was a great mentor.”
Tippett Company launched in 1969 with Robert Tippett acting as a mortgage loan correspondent for a major life insurance company. He specialized in large irrigation farm projects, and with Bob Tippett’s education in accounting, the father-son team quickly diversified into orchards, vineyards, dairies and cattle ranches.
“For a young guy, my dad gave me a lot more responsibility,” said younger Tippett. “I had to learn a lot of things pretty fast, things that I depended on him for. I was never worried working with Dad. We got along and never had a difficult relationship.”
Robert Tippett died in 1979, but as Bob and Meri Lee’s children grew, so did their family’s involvement in the business.
“I have always worked for my dad in some capacity, from pulling weeds at his properties to getting my real estate license the summer of 1995, to my current role in property management in accounting,” said Ashley Tippett-Laird, whose father brought her into ownership in 2007. “I always knew I would either work for him or we would work together in some aspect.”
Tippett’s son, Kirt Shaffer, joined the company in 2004. He specializes in commercial property sales and leasing, agricultural property sales and leasing, investment analysis, project management, real estate and business consulting and property development. Like his sister, Shaffer became an owner in 2007.
Next, Tippett-Laird’s husband, Charles Laird, became part of the family team in 2006, and an owner in 2010. He specializes in many of the same areas as his brother-in-law and said one of the best parts about working with family is that it’s a safe environment to grow in.
“There’s not a limit to what we can do. If we work well together, we can go into other business ventures, and that’s a pretty exciting prospect,” Laird said.
But because they’re around each other so often, it’s natural for shoptalk to seep into conversations at family gatherings.
“My mom will say, ‘That’s enough of that,’” Tippett-Laird said. “That’s a struggle, but it’s also one way we relate, it’s common ground. It’s good and bad.”
Keith Brutzman is a third-generation employee at Brutzman’s Office Solutions, and he understands what it’s like to let work follow him home.
“If you had a bad day at work, it’s harder to leave it at the shop,” he said.
Keith and his siblings, Ken and Kathy, all started working for Brutzman’s Office Solutions as teenagers, doing janitorial work and stocking shelves.
Their grandfather, Hal Brutzman, started the business in 1946, and his son, Tom, joined ten years later, with Tom’s wife, Mardelle, following in 1976.
“We started out selling office supplies and added the Remington Rand typewriter line a couple of years later. We even sold fine stationary and greeting cards back then,” Ken Brutzman said.
The company briefly ventured into the copy machine business, but rapid changes in technology prompted it to leave the copy business to focus more on commercial office supplies.
“Our relationship with Remington Rand evolved into filing systems and filing equipment division and storage, which includes movable shelving and automated vertical carousel equipment,” Ken Brutzman said.
The Brutzman children started working full time for the business one by one, with Kathy Brutzman-Webber first in 1979. Ken joined in 1980, followed by Keith in 1985.
“Being a part of a small family business that has been around for three generations has its trials, but the rewards more than make up for that—and we wouldn’t change it for the world,” said Kathy Brutzman-Webber.
Her advice for entrepreneurs planning to work with family: “Be prepared to work a lot of hours and that you might be the last one to get paid.”
“Make sure you have a relationship with each other that you can handle 24/7,” Keith Brutzman added. “Have an in-depth discussion with the one you share a roof with, all the ins and outs of what you’re trying to accomplish. Then discuss it again…then discuss it again.”
While Mardelle Brutzman retired in 2015, there are still a handful of Brutzman family members at the helm. Along with Mardelle’s children, Brutzman-Webber’s husband, Neil Webber, is a furniture installer, and sister-in-law, Kim Pullicino, works as a sales clerk. Ken Brutzman’s niece, Hannah Herom-Cobb, works in deliveries.
“We get along really well together, which makes it easy to work together,” said Ken Brutzman.
The family at Tippett Company feels the same way about their working relationship. Tippett-Laird wouldn’t be surprised if they, too, become a third-generation business.
“My kids already help me with stuff. So when I go out to do my property management and inspections, my kids come with me and I pay them for their little jobs. They’ll pull weeds, they help me file,” she said. “The way my dad approached things, he always made me feel like it was totally a possibility to work for him or he’d partner with me to do something I wanted to do. And I’d like to do that for my kids.”
Krista Patterson of Pasco said growing up around a family of business owners and risk takers helped inspire her to open up Northwest Paddleboarding.
“Just seeing them succeed is really cool,” she said of her family. “It makes you think a little more that you can do it, too.”
Her grandfather, Chuck Kadinger, started Kadinger’s Painting in 1978 with his late wife Joyce. His sons, Patterson’s uncles, also own businesses: Jesse Kadinger runs Jesse’s Lawn Maintenance in Kennewick and his brother operates Jeff’s Color Chart. Their sisters, Patterson’s aunts, Jackie Stout, started Richland Industrial, a hardware sales company, in 1990, and Casey Conserriere runs Casey’s House Cleaning.
Patterson started her business, which offers stand-up paddleboarding lessons, rentals and yoga, with her mom, Cathie Hobson, about a year ago in Richland.
Hobson, who helped with bookkeeping at previous jobs, works on the business end while Patterson manages sales, events and community outreach.
The popularity of their free yoga in the park class, held at Howard Amon Park in the summer, attracts up to about 200 people, Patterson said. Eventually she and Hobson would like to open a store.
Freelancer Sean Bassinger contributed to this report.