Craig Thayer opened Thayer’s Jewelry in Mauston in 1980. Even 40 years later, he still loves waking up to go to his job every day.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else other than what I do,” Thayer said. “There’s not a day I regret having to go to work.”
It’s the same commitment and dedication he sees in his son, Trent, who works as a goldsmith and sales person at the store. Thayer said Trent has been learning the ropes of the business to one day take it over, including developing his own clientele and fixing jewelry.
“He’s taken great pride in what he’s doing here,” Thayer said of his son. “When it comes time for me to step out he will be right in place. I’m a firm believer Thayer’s Jewelry will continue to go on long after I am gone.”
However, family businesses like Thayer’s Jewelry are becoming a lost aspect of communities. According to The Family Firm Institute, only about 30 percent of family businesses survive into the second generation, 12 percent are still viable into the third generation and only about three percent of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond.
Area businesses say it takes more than someone looking to step into another person’s place, but characteristics of dedication, experience, adapting to changing times and a love for what one does to continue a legacy.
Pam Coy is the second generation to take over Viking Village Foods in Reedsburg and the third generation in her family to take part in a grocery store industry. Her grandfather, Ralph Pierce, opened Pierce’s Market in 1924 in Baraboo. Coy’s father, Bill Pierce, worked for Ralph before opening venturing off on his own in October 1975 to start Viking Village Foods. Her brother, Brian, owns Pierce’s Express Market in Baraboo.
The store was originally located at 1625 Main Street, where Viking Liquor is located today.
Coy said it was a challenge when the business first opened, especially with adapting to the Reedsburg community. Eventually, the store expanded to include a liquor store, a laundry mat, Viking Family Restaurant, pharmacy, a gas station and car wash.
In 2003, a new and bigger store was built to accommodate the growth at its current location at 150 Viking Drive. The grocery store contains a deli, bakery, and dry cleaning service as well as a gas and pet washing station and also owns SNAP Fitness Reedsburg. This year, Viking Pharmacy was added in partnership with Reedsburg Area Medical Center.
Coy started working at the grocery store from a young age with mowing lawns around the store. She’s held many roles in the store from a cashier, stocker, produce, dairy and liquor store. When Coy turned 18, she went to college for two years to study pharmacy but after taking some business courses to move back home to learn the grocery store business. She had many roles from managing the gas station to processing payroll before she took over as general manager in 1989.
Coy said competition “keeps you on your toes.” The Reedsburg grocery store is continuously adapting and finding ways to make changes to keep pace with the changes in the industry.
“It makes you work harder at what you do and keep an eye on your business,” she said.
She said Reedsburg is a good community with loyal, faithful and helpful people, which she said makes it easy to do work and keep the business in the community. The grocery store hosts a lot of fundraisers, like for the food pantry and the Great Steak Challenge for Reedsburg Area High School’s Athletic Department, to give back to the community.
Coy said one of the challenges in the grocery business is adjusting to the economy’s ups and downs. She said some businesses may not last in family’s for many reasons from estate taxes making it hard to pass along a small family business to the dedication involved in finding ways to change and evolve.
“I think a lot of family’s get comfortable with what they are doing everyday and don’t look to see what the changes are,” she said.
Coy said it takes dedication as well as researching competition and the pay attention to the industry to know what customers want.
“A lot of people don’t realize the dedication,” Coy said. “They think it comes easy and it takes a lot of work and you got to want to do that or you don’t want to do that.”
Starting Jan. 1, Meyer Insurance in Sauk City will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Meyer-Kobussen is the third generation to take over the small insurance agency. Her grandfather, Rolf Meyer, started it in 1919. Her father, R. Paul Meyer, joined her grandfather in the business in 1954, shortly after he married his wife, Barb.
Meyer-Kobussen originally didn’t have plans to go into the insurance industry and went to school for business, later holding jobs in sales, management and marketing in Washington D.C. A visit to the area brought back her desire to move back to Sauk City. She said it was insurance agents from another agency that encouraged her to move back home and take over Meyer Insurance.
“I thought, ‘You know what, I’ll give it a try,’” she said.
She officially joined the agency in 1994 at 34 years old, taking on the role of sales and marketing. She realized the job was more about working with people and building relationships.
“When you think of insurance you think boring,” she said. “But really I actually love doing that too. I love being able to translate insurance language into English.”
While technology has changed, she said the business still maintains a personal relationship with its customers. She said technology has also helped maintain the agency’s customers when they move away as communication can happen by phone or email to submit a claim.
She said it takes a “perfect balance” to find a sweet spot between being relevant and keeping its origins. Meyer-Kobussen said Meyer Insurance has always looked out in the best interest of the client rather than the company. The business also looks out to give back to the community to donate time and resources to help out local clubs and organizations.
“You want to be generous with the people in the community,” she said.
She said it takes a certain personality to be in the insurance industry, someone who carries many qualities from excellent communication skills and knowledge of technology.
Her 21-year-old daughter, Emily, is studying at the University of Minnesota and another relative have both expressed interest in the insurance industry. While Meyer-Kobussen said she can see them taking over the agency one day she stressed it has to be something they have to have passion for.
“Success comes from being passionate,” Meyer-Kobussen said. “It’s not because you have knowledge or you have opportunity. It’s a passion that really makes the difference.”
Mike Obois is the second generation and part-owner of the House of Embers supper club in Lake Delton with his sister Debbie Christensen. The name of the 60-year year old supper club comes from the embers of the charcoal grill the food is cooked on, Obois said.
Some of the first dishes severed when his parents, Wally and Barb, first opened the restaurant in 1959 included fish, steaks and ribs. The facility used to sit 88 people. Now the facility has expanded to include several indoor dining rooms and outdoor seating for over 260 people to enjoy a meal.
At 8 years old, Obois was sorting bottles, sweeping and vacuuming the floor of the restaurant. As he got older, the duties increased to doing dishes, busing tables and fry cooking. He graduated from the Culinary School of America in New York in the 1980s. From 1992 to 1998 he worked as a chef in Colorado, Idaho and Florida and owned his own business leasing restaurants in Prairie du Chien and West Bend to help him gain experience in the industry.
“There’re a lot of different types of good chefs out there and great restaurants,” Obois said. “So unless you actually work in them and eat in them your really not sure what is out there.”
His parents offered to sell the restaurant to him and Deb in 1998. Their sister Linda Brown also works at the restaurant as a server.
Obois said there are more challenges every year due to additional competition with other restaurants in the Wisconsin Dells area, whether its fast food restaurants or other sit down places for people to choose from. He said what separates the supper club from other restaurants is quality and service. All desserts, soups, dressings and condiments are homemade, the steaks are hand cut, the food is cooked to order.
“We’re a chef driven operation,” Obois said.
Obois said he didn’t mind growing up in the restaurant business and still has fun meeting new people and the social aspect of it, which is one of the reasons he took over the restaurant. His two daughters, 18-year-old Claire and 13-year-old Michon also helps out. However, he doesn’t know if they will take over the business. He wants them to pursue their own dreams.
“You’ve got to be food driven and I don’t know if they want to be in this business or not,” Obois said. “They are too young to make that decision they are only teenagers.”
If the opportunity came, he said he wouldn’t sell the restaurant to anyone under 30-years-old because the required experience it takes to run a highly successful business.
“You can change a lot between the ages of 17 and 30,” Obois said. “You’re still young at that age. You really don’t know what you want.”
Obois said it takes a lot of work and trust in other people to keep a family business running, like the servers and cooks.
“You’ve got to have good people to really work with you all of the time. This restaurant is too big for one or two people to run it,” Obois said. “You’ve got to have a good core group of people and we do.”
Mauston Furniture and Appliance Owner Debbie Kay, the second generation to own the business agrees.
“The generation has changed, the young generation just isn’t dedicated like we were,” Kay said. “That’s what I’m instilling in my children is hard work pays off.”
She said the store has “excellent help” which includes her sons Nick, Austin and Jared as well as another part-time employee. While all her sons worked in the store and help out in different roles, 24-year-old Nick is learning more about the business to one day take his mom’s place and continue the family business. While he said it takes dedication to one day take over a business it also comes from relying on others to get the job done.
“We’ve always had people that work for us that weren’t family members,” Nick said. “You can’t do it all by yourself.”