Keepin’ it in the Family

The TCBN gets up close and personal with some local families whose businesses – and blood – have withstood the test of time.

Roy's General Store – Traverse City

REGION – What started as Roy's bait shop in 1958 slowly grew as the population around it grew asked for more items until it flourished into Roy's General Store where today, second generation Rob Hentschel says they carry everything from "steaks to tractors." Rob started as a cashier when he was old enough to reach the keys. "I've done this since as long as I can remember, and am now part of the Board of Directors with my father and two uncles."

As the mainstay store on the west side of Traverse City for over 50 years, Rob said the addition of a new Oleson's grocery store across the street a few years back just meant changing with the times. "We have adapted to the economic changes, becoming more of a convenience store but still with the flavor of an old time General Store We have seen steady growth over the years." Besides groceries necessities, for the past 17 years, they have also been a full service Husgvarna dealer and repair all makes and models and do warranty work for big-box stores. As for passing the torch, Rob's 10-year old daughter already helps in the office in the summer.

Bill Marsh Auto Group – Traverse City

"Working with your family can bring a level of scrutiny that can be stifling to a business," offered Bill Marsh Jr., "so Dad knew it was important for us to build our own credibility." In 1983, Bill Marsh Sr. bought a tiny dealership 30 miles out of town and Bill Jr. and his brother Jamie built it up over the next six years. "He stuck us out there," Bill Jr., said with a laugh, "but it was the best experience we could've had, we were being mentored by him, yet we were 30 miles away and we were able to build it up on our own merits."

Bill Marsh Automotive was the first auto dealer in Traverse City in 1982 with six employees, today it has grown to seven franchises around the region with 245 employees. Brother Mike joined the business in the early 90's and five years ago, Bill Sr. sold 90% of the company to his sons, and although still a frequent visitor, he is not involved in day-to-day operations, leaving that up to them. "We have a strong close family, our wives and children are all close. Dad always said if the business ever caused problems in the family, it was time to get out of it, and we all feel the same way."

Stander Marine – Leland

Stander Marine in Leland has been family-owned since 1912, when William Stander, began repairing and storing boats for the boating families on Lake Leelanau. His son, Charles "Chuck" Stander, who started as a handyman and mechanic, continued the tradition and it evolved into a marina in the 1930's. Always at the same location – on the river in Leland – he passed the business on to present owners, his son and daughter, Andrew Stander and Terri Stander Gibson. They have seventy boat slips with some have been used by many of the same families since they began, and they maintain an active waiting list for their wet slips.

"We are one of the few marinas left that are still on the water, they are getting scarce," offered Terri, "the land is being developed for condo's, it's happening all over the US." During the winter months, they turn their attention to indoor boat repair and snowmobiles, and became an authorized Ski-doo snowmobile dealer in the late '70's. The family business is looking to the future with the fourth-generation already working summers to learn the ropes.

Houdek Pumping Service – Lake Leelanau

Twenty-six years ago, Jim Houdek was a trained shop teacher, just when the public schools were closing all the school shops in the area, so he decided to go in another direction. "I tried odd jobs for a while and then saw a need for a pumping service in the Leelanau area, so I decided to try it," Jim explained. His wife Madeline jumped in and began renting portable toilets. "The construction industry was booming and that really took off."

While serving Leelanau County all these years, Houdek's Pumping Sevice has grown through primarily word of mouth, and they have also evolved with the changing economy. When the construction business slowed, they began catering to the growing tourist industry by offering sleek traveling bathroom rentals for special outdoor events that include separate men's and women's stalls, sinks with fresh water and indoor/outdoor lighting. As for the business being passed to the next generation, Jim says "no, no interest, but it's been good for us. Being in a tourist related area is great to live and raise kids, but it doesn't make for many decent-paying jobs, so your own business is a good option."

Evans Brothers Fruit Company – Frankfort

John Evans could not have imagined that the 40 acres of land he purchased back in 1878 in Benzie County to would grow to over 900 today. Great-grandsons Mike and Mark Evans learned farming with their dad Duane and Uncle Jim, who added acreage as they could. "It grew slowly through the 1960's, then in the 80's Dad added around 100 acres and Mike and I added 200 and then 4-5 years ago we added 260 that became available from the land conservancy," explained Mark, "we've just gotten it as we could."

Today, Evans Brothers Fruit Company produces eight apple varieties, sweet cherries and five acres of wine grapes, and is at the forefront of the fruit industry in Northern Michigan. They were among the first in the country to plant and harvest the world's newest designer apple, the SweeTango. The apple, developed at the University of Minnesota, is a cross between the crispy, juicy Honeycrisp and the sweet flavored Zestar apple. And after his college graduation, great-great grandson Mark Evans is planning on joining the family business.

Westcott Masonry – Beulah

Dale Westcott started working for his cousin as a mason "tender" when he was 14 and became a licensed mason in 1974 and has been on his own ever since. During the construction boon from 1980-95, Westcott Masonry included he and his brother working full time and they employed 3 masons and 3 tenders, earning a reputation for quality workmanship. "Almost all of our work comes from having good relationships with the local contractors, and that takes time," Dale explained. Working in Benzie, Manistee, Leelanau and Benzie counties.

Dale's son Ben joined the business at 12-years old, hauling blocks in the summer and is now a certified mason himself. "He is a joy to be around," Dale said," and way better with people than I am." Ben tried a short stint in college, but knew the family business was in his blood. "I just like the idea of a family owned business, I like working outside, I kind of always knew I would take it over." BN