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Husband-wife teams? Communication can make it work

It’s been said that you will never really know a person unless you work or live with that person. Some people do both. It’s often the case that husbands and wives work together as owners/managers of small businesses.

Dr. Jon Carr, who teaches entrepreneurship and organizational behavior at the University of Southern Mississippi, says it can be an advantage for husbands and wives to work together. “Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely thing and it can take you away from your family,” he said. “When husbands and wives work together, they spend time together at work and share what’s going on with the business.”

However, if a couple splits up, ownership issues may become magnified. He recommends that all partners, whether a married couple or otherwise, establish articles of partnership and have a defined agreement. It’s especially important for husbands and wives.

Cris and Jackie Dockrie of Jackson have been working together since 2000 and so far things are smooth. “It takes two compatible personalities first of all,” Cris says.”I think there are a lot of really good marriages out there that could not work together. We have a unique situation and have that certain personality formula for success.”

The Dockries own Exell Companies, formerly Mississippi Bottled Water. Cris’ grandfather, Exell Luther Calhoun, founded the company in 1937. The name changed about a year ago because the company had diversified and wanted the name to reflect more than bottled water. In addition to bottled water service, they now offer gourmet coffee for offices and water filtration systems for residential, commercial and industrial locations.

“Our mission is to improve quality of life with air, water and coffee,” Cris Dockrie says of the 25-employee business.
He is the vice president of Exell and works more on the management side of things. Jackie is a sales specialist who puts together business packages of their services. She is out of the office 50% of the workday. “That helps a lot,” Cris said. “We’re not looking at each other in an enclosed office all day and then going home together.”

Jackie, he says, is a type A sales person, so much so that they used her as the prototype to set up sales positions. “Each of us is self confident in what we do,” he said. “It’s important that we don’t let little things become big things.”

In Gulfport, Ferrell and Rose Alman have worked together in their clothing store, S.F. Alman, Ltd., since the store opened in 1983. The upscale apparel business and their marriage have successfully passed the 25-year mark

“Like anything in life, communication is the key. You pretty much have to have that,” Ferrell Alman said. “It can be good and bad when you’re together 24 hours a day, but we’ve made it work by combining our strengths and weaknesses. We each let the other person do what they do best.”

He is responsible for the physical property and everything on the men’s side, including all the buying on that side. In addition to buying merchandise on the ladies’ side, Rose does the payroll and computer work.

“Have we got it all together? We’re still working on it,” he laughingly says.

Located on Courthouse Road, the independent retail clothier has expanded to 3,500 square feet over the years and carries more than 60 lines of men’s and ladies’ wear, specialty and gift items and outdoor gear along with custom men’s suits, sportcoats, trousers and shirts.

Greg Butler, director of the Small Business Development Center at Jones County Junior College, says husbands and wives who work together need to set their boundaries and make sure both are clear on what each is to do.

“Running a business can be stressful, so they need to make sure they have some time away from the business and each other,” he said.

He also cautions that husbands and wives be careful about self-employment taxes. He has seen cases where the wife did not get any self-employment tax credit and had nothing when she was ready to retire.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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