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Like Father, Like Daughter

By Bruce Freeman

Joan Daleo was only 10 years old when her parents, Joe and Louise, opened Ole Tyme Produce, St Louis, MO, in 1973. Their first address was an old 2 bay filling station and the name, “Ole Tyme” referred to Joe Daleo’s philosophy about quality – he wanted to sell only the Rolls Royce of produce: honestly, the way it was in the old days. Only premium brands of bananas, strawberries and lettuce would do, and even those were to be inspected thoroughly for freshness and quality. There would be no funny business with box weights and all business would be conducted in the open, aboveboard. Ole Tyme Produce was a retail market, but soon, top restaurateurs and other commercial food purveyors requested delivery of Joe’s fresh produce, so he added wholesale delivery as well. By the early 80s, people were eating out more often and those who were cooking no longer took time to make an extra stop even for a higher quality product. The market was changing, so Joe closed the retail side of the business and began to sell only wholesale. In 1985, Joe purchased a presence on “Produce Row”. Within 3 years, sales doubled to $2 million annually.

By 1988, Joan was fresh out of undergrad and working on her masters, so she started working for Dad part-time. Joan respected her father and recognized that he was progressive and innovative, but the times were changing. When her Dad started, he knew most of the customers, but as time went on, unknowns entered the market. Joe treated them as friends and extended credit when perhaps he shouldn’t. Joan wanted to reduce the number of handshake deals, impose standards for operation, and mange the credit situation more effectively. Joan computerized, put in monthly financial statements, created a profit sharing plan for employees, and improved the insurance situation. From ’88 to ’92, Joan thought she was just stopping in with Dad on her way to a real job, but she grew to understand that her talents were uniquely suited to running this small business. Unknowingly, she had been putting business processes into place that would allow the business to thrive after her Dad’s retirement, and she finally realized that she was his natural successor though that had not been her intention. After 9/11, Joan got a real taste of the roller coaster her Dad had been piloting all along. Ole Tyme’s customers, which include hotels, high-end, and casual dining restaurants, took big hits, with business down 65 70%. Ole Tyme took it on the chin as well, with 365 days of declining sales, and more than two years of dark moments; for the first time in 25 years creditors were calling for payment. Fortunately, Joan’s commitment to sticking it out, and the tight ship she was now running, allowed Ole Tyme to weather the storm and successful succession to the next generation was assured.

Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom

In small businesses, successions to 2nd and 3rd generations experience a very high failure rate. Running your own business is a lifestyle – everything from profit/loss to filling in when someone doesn’t show depends upon the principal. Often, second generation participants don’t have the same level of commitment as their parents and many second and third generation principals have been insulated from the uncertainty that entrepreneurs must thrive upon. Many are unwilling to make the sacrifices it takes to work an 80 or 100 hour week on a regular basis. The margin for error is minimal and the commitment is enormous; you can’t make too many mistakes and still be here next year. Joan Daleo knows this; she doesn’t have an ordinary life - she believes she has an extraordinary life, enriching the lives of her parents, her customers and her employees. For Joan Daleo and others like her, it’s not about the saleable asset, or even the historical pride. It’s about the thrill, the freedom of having no ceiling above you, and no floor below. There are no dull moments for Joan, and that makes her a lot like her Dad.

Case History:

Ole Tyme Produce  [EXTERNAL]

Entrepreneur’s Strategy:

Help Dad with the business.

Could This Work For Me?

Family business may be tailor-made, but you still have to be willing to sacrifice.



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