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Love and Business: Lessons on Balancing a Relationship and a Small Business

Many couples probably know both a relationship and a career take time and work to make them flourish and grow. But what if your relationship and career are, if not one and the same, intermingled to the point that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference? So, the Pulse is sharing some stories of some enterprising couples, and encouraging all couples, not just those who run businesses together, to pause, on Valentine’s Day, or any day, to center, tune out the noise and get back to love.

Chris and Cheri Whitney/Straight Edge Tattoo

Chris and Cheri Whitney
Straight Edge Tattoo & Piercing

When and where did you meet?
June 8, 1995, at Chris’ old job.

When did you start your business?
May, 2005

Did you begin the business together, or did one of you start it, and draw the other in?
Yes, we began the business together.

Are other family members involved?
No.

What’s your favorite part about working together?
We can see each other when we want.

What’s your least favorite part?
Spending too much time together. (Same answer as our favorite part!)

What have you learned from one another?
We are still learning.

What is the biggest cause of disagreement and marital stress from your business?
Money and kids.

What’s your advice for other couples who work together?
Try to only work together half a day because if you spend all the time together when you’re at work, you will not want to spend any off-time together.

Mike and Debbie Zelenak/Maple St. Grill

Mike and Debbie Zelenak
Maple Street Grill

When and where did you meet?
Tampa, Florida, 1992.

When did you start your business?
June, 2006.

Did you begin the business together, or did one of you start it, and draw the other in?
We started it together.

Are other family members involved?
Yes, 3 sons.

What’s your favorite part about working together?
Coming up with ideas to build the business.

What’s your least favorite part?
Don’t have a least favorite.

What have you learned from one another?
We’ve learned that her strengths are office and back of the house; mine are front of the house and guest relations.

What is the biggest cause of disagreement and marital stress from your business?
Sometimes the finances of slow weeks.

What’s your advice for other couples who work together?
Remember, you’re a couple first, and business partners second. Always put each other ahead of the business. And always try to view the other spouse’s point of view.

The Redmans/A Plus Bail Bond Co.

Charles and Venus Redman
A Plus Bail Bond Company

When and where did you meet?
We met in 2002. We met at a cookout with mutual friends. We didn’t start dating until 2005.

When did you start your business?
2006.

Did you begin the business together, or did one of you start it, and draw the other in?
Charles and Richard Konicki (Venus’s father) started it and Venus was drawn in to organize the office and administration of it.

Are other family members involved?
Venus’ dad was owner and he passed away in 2012. Venus’ mother was an agent for about a year.

What’s your favorite part about working together?
Being able to take off for vacation and other events at the same time together.

What’s your least favorite part?
Being together too much.

What have you learned from one another?
How strong-willed and resourceful we are, and we make a great team.

What is the biggest cause of disagreement and marital stress from your business?
Money . . . when the business is down it causes major stress.

What’s your advice for other couples who work together?
Pray, pick your battles and don’t let the small stuff stress you out.

Bracken and Sarah Mayo/The Murfreesboro Pulse

Bracken and Sarah Mayo
Murfreesboro Pulse

When and where did you meet?
Sarah: We met at work in 2004 when I was working at The Lebanon Democrat as a graphic designer and Bracken was the managing editor of The Hartsville Vidette [both owned by the same company]. He invited me to come hear his band play. When that didn’t work he started asking me to go to lunch. Lunches turned into dinner, and then I finally agreed to go hear his band play.

When did you start your business?
January, 2006.

Did you begin the business together, or did one of you start it, and draw the other in?
Bracken:
We started it together.
Sarah: He presented the idea to me. I knew our skills complemented one another and that we could produce a great product, and maybe make a living doing it. Now here we are seven years later still publishing it.

Are other family members involved?
BrackenMaybe someday. We have yet to discover Bracken Jr.’s best-utilized skill set.

What’s your favorite part about working together?
Bracken:
Looking at Sarah and hearing her sweet voice.
Getting to be creative on a project people enjoy that we started
Often, Pulse-related activities are very fun: going to concerts, events, restaurants and businesses, talking with people, information gathering, sampling.
Sarah: We have fun together. We enjoy one another’s company and have fun covering events.

What’s your least favorite part?
Bracken:
The deadlines. The late nights staring at a computer instead of going out together/dating/playing chess/doing nothing. The occasional shouting matches over trivial little magazine things with the person I love the most in the world.
Sarah: We butt heads sometimes. Drives me a little nutty that after all these years he still can’t tell the difference between an en dash and an em dash. [Laughs].

What have you learned from one another?
Bracken:
I still have a long way to go, but I have picked up so many Photoshop and InDesign shortcuts and techniques from Mrs. Mayo over the years. I’ve learned to pick my battles. When you collaborate with someone, there must be compromise. One person can’t control every little detail. Sometimes, even if you disagree with a business decision or detail, just shut up and go with it, because there may be a time that there’s an element of the business you feel even more strongly about and need to fight for that.
Sarah: To be more patient. When you work with your spouse it’s sometimes a little too easy to communicate when tempers flare. It’s easy to say things you wouldn’t ordinarily say to your boss. We started the business together, but in my mind, he’s the boss. He would tell you I think otherwise, though.

What is the biggest cause of disagreement and marital stress from your business?
Bracken:
Em-dashes.
Sarah: When he misses deadline. It’s hard to put together a puzzle if you don’t have all of the pieces. As editor, it’s his job to get me most of the pieces. Over time we’ve both improved at our jobs as far as knowing what the other expects.

What’s your advice for other couples who work together?
Sarah:
No name calling, unless it’s something funny like “ninny” or “monkey butt.”
Bracken: Set aside time for each other, and stick to it. Say, “No matter what, no matter if there are still 20 things I feel like I need to do immediately, I’m meeting you on the couch at 10:30 to watch a movie, because you are important to me,” and pick back up on work the next day.

Bob and Terri Fitzgerald/Johnny Guitars

Bob and Terri Fitzgerald
Johnny Guitar’s Music Institute

When and where did you meet?
Bob and I met in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in May, 1996.

When did you start your business?
We started our business on September 1, 2007.

Did you begin the business together, or did one of you start it, and draw the other in?
We retired after 30 years in the military. We knew we wanted to open a business together and for it to have a music-type theme. With Bob being a lifelong musician, it was natural that it would be a music store.

Are other family members involved?
We went in with Bob’s brother to open up Johnny Guitar’s.

What’s your favorite part about working together?
We downsized our business in January of 2012. When we had the larger store, we would love talking to the customers every day and wait to see what interesting things each day would bring! I, personally, would love doing minor repairs and find out the inner workings of different instruments. One of the best parts of our business was our lesson program. We absolutely loved working with our students and seeing their progress. When we knew we had to close our doors, we could not just stop our lesson program. So we rented a few lesson rooms from Leslie Hall School of Dance, and have been able to carry on with our lessons and have obtained many new students.

What’s your least favorite part?
The least favorite or hardest part is to try to leave work problems at work. Of course, we tried, but a lot of them made their way home. But most of the time, we found that when we could discuss things away from the noise of the studio, we would come up with solutions! It was also hard because we had a hard time getting time off together. Sometimes Bob would go visit his family and I would go do something with mine.

What have you learned from one another?
We learned that we can work together! We learned that it is not always about profit, it is about the people. We always said that when we closed our doors, we wanted to do so knowing we were honest with people and that we did not cheat anyone. We wanted to hold our heads high. Well, even though we have not completely shut down, you could go back and ask any of our customers and we are very sure they would say the same thing. We made many friends through the store. I believe this whole experience has brought us closer together. We know we can count on each other to be there. I have had some health problems in the past few months, and Bob has been there to take over at the studio when I could not. Never a question on when I was going to be able to go back in or how long would I be gone. Never a complaint, nothing.

What is the biggest cause of disagreement and marital stress from your business?
Sometimes we disagree on how to handle different business situations. I feel I have a more patient, “let’s think this out” type of attitude. Bob sometimes is a “what do we do now” type of guy—ready to jump on things! I really think we complement each other very well! But then again, when someone is disrespectful or tries to cause harm to our business, we come together and circle the wagons! We know we are in this together and together we will get through anything we are faced with.

What’s your advice for other couples who work together?
The best advice is to identify the roles for each other (lanes of responsibility) and allow the necessary space to do that job. Remember, you are in this together. Do not let the business start to run your lives. You must give yourselves a time to get away from the business, even if it is going to a movie or out to dinner. We usually use Sunday as our day for us. Kind of refuels us for the next week!

Kat and Dave McCauley/Nobody's Sports Grill and BBQ

Kat and Dave McCauley
Nobody’s Sports Grill & BBQ

When and where did you meet?
In California, 1988 . . . geez, time flies!

When did you start your business?
Jan. 8, 2010 . . . but we worked in the building for two months ahead of opening.

When did you start your business?
It was David’s idea. He invited me to the party, so to speak.
David’s answer is, “I thought she wanted to come to the party.”

Are other family members involved?
Yes, My son Ian (16) washes dishes and sometimes buses tables on the weekends and Aidan (12) is pretty good at rolling silverware.

What’s your favorite part about working together?
Kat: The relationships we have made with our customers. We moved to Murfreesboro three years ago to start this restaurant. We didn’t know a soul here. Essentially we were nobodies opening Nobody’s in Murfreesboro. Since then we have made the most amazing friends in this community.
Being that I have the day shift and David has the night shift, we don’t work together as much as people might think. We like to try and make sure the boys have a more typical home life. For the first year we were owner/operators, the boys spent a lot of time in the back office while we were at Nobody’s night and day. After awhile you stop and realize your diligence is their sacrifice. We are all hands on deck for weekends and big events like the Super Bowl.
When we do work together I love being around David’s ability to laugh at things that make me crazy.
He just has a way of making difficult situations a lot easier to get around with his really sarcastic sense of humor.
David: Seeing Katherine’s creative take on the business.

What’s your least favorite part?
Kat:Hands down, my least favorite part of this business is drama. People are way too focused on creating drama in their lives these days . . . Everyone needs to just relax!
David: The time the business takes away from family time—time to focus on what’s going on in our boys’ lives.

What have you learned from one another?
Kat: David has taught me patience. I am pretty reactionary. David gives people time to solve things on their own. He doesn’t jump to conclusions. I, on the other hand, tend to leap before I look. David says I taught him how to lead by example.
David: Katherine works hard and expects the same from everyone else around her. She has also brought out my social side. I have always been pretty introverted. You can’t be shy in this business.”

What is the biggest cause of disagreement and marital stress from your business?
That’s easy, Money! It’s just David and I, so the buck stops here. Literally. Just when you think you’re getting ahead, a tornado takes down an $8,000 sign or the walk-in refrigerator breaks or the band you thought would be a perfect choice tanks. Worrying about whether you’ll have enough money to pay the bills next month, next week or tomorrow.

What’s your advice for other couples who work together?
Kat: Be honest. Keep your sense of humor and fun. Remember that no one is perfect. Remind yourself everyday why you fell in love with this person, and fight for it. “Love and business is a battlefield.”. . . Now I’m really dating myself!
David: Communication is easily the most important. You can’t assume that your partner knows what you’re thinking or how you want things done. Just because they are your partner in life doesn’t make them a mind reader.
If you don’t have a strong relationship, don’t start a business together.
Kat: It’s like having a baby to save a relationship. So many times the thought is “it will bring us closer together,” when, in real life, the responsibility and challenges test the relationship to the core. This business is our youngest child. With any luck, it will grow up to be a rock star and support us in retirement!

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The Murfreesboro Pulse, Middle Tennessee's Source for Art, Entertainment and Culture News. murfreesboropulse@yahoo.com

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