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Dad's Day Every Day



Story by Gay Lyons
Photography by Britt Cole

As national holidays go, Father’s Day is a relatively new one. It wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed the law that made Father’s Day an official holiday in the U.S.

In anticipation of Father’s Day on June 17, we asked some offspring who are following in their father’s footsteps in a family-owned business about what that means to them. Whether the business is a dairy farm, a restaurant or a retail business, all of them spoke of the lessons learned and traits derived from their fathers and —in some cases—grandfathers.

Buddy's Bar-B-Q

The business started by Buddy and LaMuriel Smothers is being carried on by their children, two of their children’s spouses and one granddaughter.

“When I was 13, I was recruited to work at the first family business, the Pixie Drive-In in Seymour,” said Mark Smothers.

“I’ve had my head in a bbq pit since I was 12,” said his brother Michael, “so it’s pretty much in my blood and all I know.”

“I worked at the Pixie Drive-In,” said their sister Suzanne Smothers Lindsey. “I was only 10, but I could car hop like no other. I worked with my brother Mark and my best friend and future sister-in-law Virginia.

“I thought the legacy belonged to my brothers, but after our first daughter was born, I was looking for something with more flexibility. Dad said, ‘we need you,’ and I’ve never looked back.”

Mark’s wife Virginia said, “After they sold the Pixie I followed them to Buddy’s. I made slaw, beans, potato salad. I worked the register and did bookkeeping and payroll. Now I’m the office manager and secretary/treasurer.”

When his father-in-law asked Suzanne’s husband Reed Lindsey if he was interested in joining the family business, he decided to “give it a try.”

“I started out cleaning pits, working catering jobs, doing whatever needed to be done. I have worn many hats over the past 36 years including General Manager, Supervisor, Vice President of Operations and COO.”

“Besides how to cook barbecue, my dad taught me the importance of hard work and how to treat people right,” said Michael.

“We haven’t changed much over the years,” said Mark. “We are still family owned and operated and carrying on mom and dad’s legacy.” The most recent family member to join the team is Suzanne and Reed’s daughter Kendall.

 

Standard Kitchen and Bath

Scott Fendley hadn’t planned to follow in his father Larry Fendley’s footsteps at Standard Kitchen and Bath.

“After spending 10 years in accounting and the commercial real estate industry in Nashville, Knoxville was calling me home,” he said. “It was a good opportunity to help my dad’s company by contributing additional business and management skills.”

Scott wasn’t a stranger to the business his father purchased in 1989. “I spent summers in high school and college delivering cabinets for my dad,” he said, “so I learned early on what it was like to be on a job site. My dad also made certain that I understood the importance of quality customer service. Today I’m the vice-president and co-owner, but you’ll still find me delivering cabinets.”

There are advantages to having a second-generation business, said Scott. “It allows for two perspectives. It is important to hold on to the company’s heritage and original mission and still be willing to try new ideas. It is exciting to see all the growth we’ve had in recent years, but it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the man who knows the cabinet industry the best—my dad.”

“I have a tendency to look at things from a numbers standpoint,” he continued. “My father is definitely more the creative type. Ultimately, though, it’s a good mix and keeps things balanced.”

Will there be a third generation of Fendleys at Standard Kitchen and Bath?

“My wife Amy and I have a four-year old son, so I think only time will tell. So far he seems pretty persistent and likes to tell us what to do, so I think management could be in his future,” joked Scott.

 

Cruze Farm

Fifth generation dairy farmer Colleen Cruze Bhatti moved off the family farm and out of her family’s 1888 farmhouse to attend college at the University of Tennessee.

“I missed the farm,” she said, “but it was a battle. I felt like if I went back to the farm after college, I’d be taking a step backwards. I’d be going back to my childhood.”

“After I graduated, I moved back,” she continued. “[Manjit and I and our two children] live next to my parents, and it’s great. There was so much to learn, and there’s still so much to learn from them.

“We are fortunate that my dad never changed the way he did things. He never added hormones. He never homogenized. It’s like old fashioned milk. It’s like my grandparents’ milk.”

Colleen and Manjit are famous for their buttermilk and ice cream. They opened Cruze Farm Pizza Barn last year and are looking forward to opening an ice cream store on Gay Street later this year.

Colleen’s parents Earl and Cheri still live in the family home.

“My father has not slowed down,” said Colleen. “He milks his own herd of cows and sells that milk. He’ll stay up late if he needs to be with a cow. He’s 76, and he’s taking a math class at Pellissippi State.”

I love getting to work with my family,” Colleen said. “I think I’m happier because of it. When you get to spend every day with the people who love you and support you the most, you can dream big. “I don’t have to go to a meeting and explain myself and what I want to do.”

 

Furrow Automotive

Lee Ann Furrow Tolsma decided at a relatively young age that she wanted to join her father Sam Furrow at the family’s dealerships which sell Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Jaguar, Porsche and Infiniti automobiles.

“At age 13, I started helping out in the summers with service records and writing notes to customers,” she said. “I enjoyed it.” Lee Ann’s educational background includes a masters in social work and a law degree, but it was her year at the National Auto Dealer Association’s Dealer Academy that gave her the specialized training she needed.

“I knew that if I wanted to enter the family business full-time, I needed to go to the Dealer Academy,” said Lee Ann. “After that I worked at a very large, high volume luxury dealership in Boston. Working at another organization is a good experience. You figure out what you want to bring back and what you don’t want to bring.”

“It’s a complex operation,” said Sam. “We have five separate things going on (sales, finance, pre-owned, service, body.) Federal rules and regulations impact everything you do. The Internet has had a huge impact.”

“We sell and deliver everywhere now, and so do our competitors,” agreed Lee Ann.

“I appreciate the opportunity I’ve had to be a part of this business,” she continued.

“I feel the duty to do my best every day. When you mix family and business relationships, it can be hard to draw the line between the kitchen table and the boardroom,” said Lee Ann. “There’s been a learning curve for both of us,” said Sam.

 

Markmans Diamonds and Fine Jewelry 

Steve Markman joined his parents Harold and Ida Markman fulltime at the store they opened in 1976 just two years later in 1978.

Steve’s son Jeffrey took a slower route to the family business.

“We didn’t encourage our children to go into the business,” said Steve. “We encouraged them to figure out what they wanted.”

“I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill,” said Jeffrey. “Then I got a masters in accountancy and consulted for five years in Chicago. There wasn’t one industry that grabbed me. I like to problem solve and improve businesses. I went to business school at Duke and worked at BB&T in Winston-Salem. I realized my skill set was something that could be useful to the family business.

“There’s no better place for me to make an impact than in a family business that has my name on the front.”

“Most of us are good at one or two things at best,” said Steve. “Jeffrey brings his problem-solving skills to the table. It enables me to focus on the aspects I like best: sitting overseas with my brokers and buying diamonds and merchandising.”

“We talk a lot about why we’re in business,” said Jeffrey. “When people buy jewelry, we have the opportunity to make an impact at a very important time in their lives. We love to be part of that story. Watching the way dad interacts with customers is amazing.”

“I can’t describe how fulfilling it is to work with generations of the same family,” said Steve. “I get a sense of what my father felt when he walked out of the store every night. I got to work with my son all day today.”

 

 Thomas R. Hicks Construction

Christy Hicks thought she was going to put in a short stint at the construction company started by her father, Thomas R. Hicks.

“In 1999, he said that since he paid for six years of college at UT (undergrad and masters), I owed him three months of my life,” said Christy. “So I started picking up trash. I actually missed my graduate school graduation because I was on the job site.”

‘It took me about a year working with my dad, but I realized how much I loved it,” she continued. “Looking back, I realize how amazing it was to get to spend all that time with my dad, to work with him and learn from him.

“My dad was in business for 48 years,” said Christy. “He built a lot of homes and buildings; he helped a lot of people. He established relationships. He had a lot of contacts with subs and vendors. You don’t have to create it yourself. The business has already been created.

“My dad’s business was built on honesty and quality. With each new job, that has to come first. When you are working with the biggest purchase people will make in their lives, you have to make sure you are taking care of them and helping them make good decisions.

“My dad left a legacy and a standard. I try to live up to that each day. I hope I do.”

And what if son Conrad wants to join her someday?

“I’ll let him figure that out on his own,” said Christy. “My dad didn’t pressure me. If my son wants to be involved, I would love it, but if he does join the business, he will start by picking up trash.”

 

Harper Auto-Square

Shannon Harper and Samma Harper Bromley arrived at their commitment to the business started by their father Tom Harper in 1981 as Porsche, Audi and Jaguar dealerships in different ways.

“I started at the Infiniti dealership filing papers,” remembered Shannon, “but I quickly moved to the wash bay primarily because I didn’t have to ‘dress up’ in a polo to wash cars. The wash crew is crucial to our reputation for service. We consistently look for the future leaders of our organization by promoting up through the wash bay.”

“I started filing customer service records and answering Saturday phones before I could drive,” said Samma. “An independent streak led me to law school. Five and a half years ago when I was struggling to balance billable hours and motherhood, my father and brother approached me about working for the dealership. I resisted.

Dad finally told me my ego was getting in the way of my happiness as well as the best interests of my family.”

I’ve had a lot of mentors in my life,” said Shannon, “but my dad’s been the most influential person. The core values my father instilled in me are the core values we teach our new hires.”

“Shannon has brought a new energy and enthusiasm,” said Samma, who serves as legal counsel. “It’s the perfect counterpoint to dad’s experience and wisdom. I have new respect for my dad and Shannon.”

“Working with Shannon and Samma has been great,” said Tom Harper. “If they had decided to do something else, I might have sold it. It’s reinvigorated me.”

The reinvigoration may continue. “’Vrooom’ was one of each of my kids’ first three words,” said Samma. “It would be amazing to see my nieces and my kids working together.”

 

M.S. McClellan

Bob McClellan has seen many changes in the clothing business since his father Matthew opened his first store, Hansom House on Cumberland Avenue in 1966. The store changed its name with its move to West Town Mall in 1972.

“We were one of the first stores in the mall,” he remembered. “It was mostly locally owned businesses. It was a fun environment and a good thing for us at the time. It gave us great visibility. People who are customers today started with us there.”

Bob didn’t plan a career at the family-owned business, but he was “conscripted to work when [he] was in high school.”

He continued working there part time while in college prior to “[getting] the political bug” and moving to Nashville. In the mid-90’s he came back at his father’s request.

“I work mostly in marketing, but [Matthew’s] been showing me how to run the business,” said Bob. “I’ve been going on buying trips for eight years with our buyer Dan Kockx. Matthew is starting to turn things over to me. He comes in most days.

He likes the interaction with people. He’s good to have here as a source of advice. He’s sort of a guiding light.”

“Matthew would say the biggest change since opening is that guys wanted to dress,” he continued. “A father would take his son to a store to buy his first serious clothing. He introduced him to his clothier and to the importance of having quality clothes. You don’t see much of that tradition anymore.”

“Men today are dressing more casually,” said Bob. “That does not mean sloppy. It means wearing a nice pair of pants or good denims, a dress shirt and a jacket with a pocket square. That’s dressed up.”

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