Brothers Kelly and Keith Toppazzini are the owners of Canada-based Topper's Pizza, a pizza franchise their father, Ron, founded back in 1982. Over the last 33 years, their family business has expanded to 35 traditional quick-service pizzerias and one traditional location. From a young age, both Kelly and Keith were involved in the planning, construction and operation of the the first location. Here, they share these best practices for keeping a family business thriving.
Set rules to establish culture
The right set of rules helps to cultivate the business culture family business owners want. "To cultivate a happy, successful, energetic and passionate team, all members must be in alignment and in sync," Kelly explains.
Kelly hired advisers to create "Toppazzini Rules," a set of guidelines intended to protect the entire team and preserve company culture. One of the rules is designed to promote fairness and avoid nepotism -- and there are no exceptions. For example, Kelly's daughter is graduating this year, and has to work somewhere else for two years before she can apply for a senior position in the family business.
Nurture your people
It's important as a leader to help each team member figure out how they can grow their careers. Kelly asks her employees the following questions: What are your goals? How do you want to grow with this company? Where do you see yourself in the next five to 10 years? The brothers try to operate with 100-percent transparency, which leads to trust and a sense that there is a level playing field for advancing in the family business.
Promote non-family members
Kelly explained that one of the keys to building a successful franchise system is to promote non-family members to senior roles. Hiring senior level employees at the director level is a key business strategy that Topper's is relying on to take their family business to the next level. Kelly finds that, in addition to providing new perspective, non-family leaders reduce emotionally-charged decision making.
Treat customers like family
Family businesses have a unique competitive advantage. Families who do business together want to build a legacy, which is different from just building a business to sell it. "The continuous level of care that a family brings to the business really affects your sales in a positive way," Kelly says. "Family members will always take care of the customers, which creates loyalty from customers, which in turn increases our sales overall." The Topper's team extends that level of care to the community, making it a point to partner with several charitable organizations.
Instill core values
Running a family-owned business isn't for everyone. "New businesses are tough to start and tougher to grow," warns Kelly. Couples should start a family business if they are able to create a strong foundation of communication and trust; their talents and strengths should also complement one another. Exposing kids to the family business is also important. Kelly's children, for instance, have worked for the company as part-time employees while going to school.
Finally, Kelly advises that business owners remain as hands on as possible. He spends much of his time shaping the company culture and communicating with the operational team. And when it comes to strategizing a plan for his business, he doesn't just leave it to chance; he travels to different locations to gather information, looking for ways to improve the products and the brand.
Entrepreneur Magazine Contributor
Family Business Expert, Owner & Mentor