Keeping it relative

July 25, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Family businesses can test the limits of love - and strengthen bonds between family members who work together.

"Family businesses have unique problems of their own because everyone thinks they're the boss. And there are strong emotions involved with a family business," says Rudy Krumpe, who runs his family's Hagerstown doughnut shop with his brother, Fred, and son, Max. "You have to learn to work together to get by that. There's a lot of give and take."

It takes time and patience to strike a balance between family and working relationships - but the result is often a business that runs smoothly and family bonds that are fortified by trust and respect.

"We can depend on each other 100 percent," Rudy Krumpe says.

"We're a lot closer, I think, because we work together," his son adds.

Cousins Alisa Dawson and Lindsey Britner agree that working together at their family's produce and gardening supply business has strengthened their relationship. The girls spend part of their summer break from school manning the Britner Produce shop on Sterling Road in Williamsport.


"We get to hang around each other more and talk about things," says Alisa, 14.

"I think we know each other better," adds Lindsey, 15.

Brothers John, Kurt and Werner Britner are partners in the business, but "the whole family's closely related to it. Everyone helps out," Kurt Britner says. "We have a hardworking family. Working together, you see how hard everybody works.

"My father bought this farm (in 1962) to put us to work," Britner says with a laugh.

Children who work in family businesses start learning at a young age the importance of accountability. They develop strong communication skills, become independent and self-reliant, and can experience a real sense of personal fulfillment, according to the Web site.

With the exception of brother Tim Britner, who lives out of the area, Kurt and his siblings - including brothers John, Werner and Joel and sister Cindy Dawson - continue to work on the farm. They learned their strong work ethic there - and their children inherited those hardworking genes, Kurt Britner says.

"As soon as they're old enough to add competently, they want to work," he says. "Sometimes I think the Calvinistic work ethic is a curse."

His children - including Rachel, 25, Thomas, 21, and Lauran, 17 - help out with sales. Thomas Britner, who is preparing for law school, also serves as the family's "tomato man," his father says. Rachel Britner, a Washington County teacher, organizes the family's annual haunted forest for Halloween with the help of her cousin, John Britner's son, Jonathan, 26. John Britner's other children - Lindsey and Ashley, 18 - sell produce and gardening supplies when they aren't in school.

Joel Britner's son, Zach, 22, helps with fieldwork. Werner Britner's daughter, Gracie, 9, helps with sales. Spouses do their part, and the family's matriarch, Rose Britner, still comes to the farm to offer her assistance, Kurt Britner says.

"We're all very opinionated and strong-minded, but we all get along very well," he says.

The Krumpes expressed similar sentiments.

"There's not a lot of conflict," Rudy Krumpe says.

"We really think alike," adds his brother, Fred.

Family members - including the men's wives and their mother, Juanita Krumpe, as needed - have been working together at Krumpe's Do-Nut Shop on Maryland Avenue in Hagerstown for so long that they're comfortable with their roles in the business.

Fred and Rudy Krumpe's grandfather, the late Albert Lewis Krumpe, brought his doughnuts to Washington County from York, Pa., in 1935. He eventually gave his son, Max, his blessing to expand into the wholesale doughnut market. The late Max Krumpe started a wholesale route in Hagerstown and soon thereafter opened a retail doughnut shop with his wife. After about one year on Jonathan Street in Hagers-town, the couple opened Krumpe's Do-Nut Shop at its current location more than 50 years ago, Rudy Krumpe says.

"We all grew up in it," he says.

The elder Max Krumpe had the final say on all business decisions until he passed away in December 2000, Fred Krumpe says. It was after their father's death, when he and Rudy were charged with making business decisions together, that the pair realized just how similarly their minds work. Their close working relationship has also made the Krumpes appreciate each other's strong work ethic - and competitive streak, they say.

"It gets pretty interesting in the doughnut shop," says Max Krumpe, who enjoys challenging his uncle to races to see who will finish their doughnut deliveries first.

The relationship between Ex-Press Printing owners Richard "Dino" DeMarino and his wife, Deborah, also has flourished since the pair opened their Hagerstown business in 1997, they say.

Their respect for each other has deepened because they see the hard work that each partner invests daily to make the business successful, they say. Working together also has made the DeMarinos realize their similar work ethics.

"We're pretty much the same as far as being perfectionists," Deborah DeMarino says.

"It's got to be right," adds her husband. The perks of working together go beyond their similar business mind-sets, he says. The DeMarinos can carpool to work every day, plan their menus and discuss other housekeeping duties during breaks in their business.

But the biggest challenge of working together is keeping their relationship fresh since they see each other "24 hours a day, seven days a week," Dino DeMarino says.

It's important to squeeze in time for fun.

"We find time to play," Deborah says.

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