In his career as a printing executive, Gary Reinhardt always worked long hours. But his wife, Gaye, never understood how long a 12-hour day could be until the couple opened a pizzeria.
"There were a lot of times he worked like that, and I didn't really appreciate how hard that was on him until I did it myself," said Gaye Reinhardt, a former stay-at-home mother of three and part-time teacher's aide.
Her chance to work "half days" arrived last year when the Reinhardts became Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza franchisees in Louisville, Ky. With two kids in college and a third in high school, the couple seized the chance to open their own business.
Both called the career change stressful as downtime has been hard to come by. But both say owning a
"One of my clients was a chiropractor whose wife helped him run his practice," said Jean Charles, owner of JustRight Coach, a business leadership consulting and "coaching" firm in Frelinghuysen Township, N.J. "They were having problems because he was a control freak."
She was good at detail work, which he hated, so the balance of their skills seemed ideal. But since he hated writing clinical notes — the very details necessary for her to do the billing — she couldn't do her job, which made their relationship tense. Ultimately, Charles suggested the wife leave the business.
Like the Reinhardts, Charles and her husband enjoy running their businesses together. But knowing many other couples struggle to work with their spouses led her to form a business to help what she called "couplepreneurs," married couples who want to operate a busineses together.
Succeeding in both areas often hinges upon the strength of the marriage, said Greg Smith, president of Chart Your Course International in Conyers, Ga. Yet even a good marriage can have its flaws revealed under the pressures of the business environment.
"What happens is the same dysfunctional communication patterns that people live with in their marriages don't work in a business," said Smith, whose strategic planning company specializes in helping family-run businesses. "With marriages, there's a lot of give and take, each partner is more tolerant of their partner's quirks. But in the business world, it doesn't always work that way because other people are involved."
People such as employees who sometimes see the married owners arguing, or customers — who might also be friends — who sense tension both in the business and at home.
"The success of an organization depends on the strength at the top," said Marta Erhard, founder and partner of CorVirtus, an enterprise growth consultancy in Colorado Springs, Colo. "If there's a wobble at the top, there'll be a wobble at the bottom. Employees will sense that in a heartbeat."
Erhard's husband and business partner, Tom DeCotiis, founder and chief executive of CorVirtus, said it's one thing for employees to see bosses arguing. "But it's quite another thing to see married bosses disagreeing. It's like watching a fight at home. It's personal."
Separate the boardroom from the bedroom
Craig Bollinger believes it's best to separate business life from home life, but he said it's not easy when he and wife, Tracy, work side by side 60 hours a week at their Fox's Pizza Den store.
"If we have problems at home, we try not to bring it up at work," said Bollinger, whose store is in York, Pa. "Pretty much, once we leave the store, everything stays here."
But to arrive at that point, it sometimes requires the couple clear the air before they leave. "Yeah, sometimes we argue. But we wait until everybody's out of the store and then start hollering."
All in all, Bollinger said working with his wife is a good thing. Their skills complement each other's and they're achieving their desired end of a profitable business.
"It works to our advantage financially because we run really good labor," he said, laughing. "You just have to know whether you can be around your spouse that long every day. And the truth is we'd be lost without each other."
A combined 40 years of military service between Bill and Becky Mars helps both cope with the demands of co-owning a pizza business. Both say a united front is essential to setting store policies and respect for each other in front of the staff is mandatory.
"If we have something that needs changing or correcting, we talk it over first; we don't make unilateral decisions," said Bill Mars, who co-owns a Fox's franchise with Becky in Denver, N.C. "We really work on respecting each other and listening, though Becky says I don't do that well all the time."
DeCotiis said mutual respect between spouses, in public and in private, is essential for such a situation to work well. Couples must recognize they are just as married at the office as they are at home.
"You must have high personal regard and respect for your partner," he said. "And when you don't, you can't excuse it as reacting to the pressure of the moment. The more you do that, the more often those
Gary and Gaye Reinhardt, Papa Murphy's franchisees in Louisville, Ky.
Becky Mars said the rule in her business is never arguing at work. If a dispute arises, they go away from the business, have their say and forget about it.
"When we get done saying our piece, that's the end of it," she said. "That way there's none of this, 'Oh by the way, you did this that bothered me, too.'"
DeCotiis described holding onto a grievance as "letting it stew," and he stressed that no bitter broth be allowed to brew long enough to boil over into an argument.
"Routinely discuss things rather than waiting for an argument," he said. When you do address a tense issue, talk about the behavior rather than the person, he added. "If one spouse says, 'You undercut me in this meeting,' that's personal. (You should say), 'When this point came up in the meeting, I thought we had agreed you were going to take this direction. What's this about?'"
Maximizing your talents
One of the best ways to avoid conflict is to allow each spouse to "own" different tasks they like to perform. Charles said each person's strengths typically manifest themselves naturally. She said her husband is the big picture planner always looking for the next challenge, while she's the detail person who makes his ideas work.
"That he wants to open 10 offices, while I want to write policies and procedures makes for a good match," she said. As those responsibilities are assigned, give each spouse the room to do their respective jobs. "Once you've given the other partner the responsibility, also give them authority to make decisions about it."
DeCotiis put it this way: "You really can't have two people being in charge because the employees don't know who to follow. Figure out who's good at what, then figure out who's going to make certain decisions in those areas."
That strategy worked for the Bollingers.
"I worked at Domino's and Pizza Hut before we opened this, so I pretty much run the show," Bollinger said. "She likes doing payroll, shopping and getting the supplies, I make the pizzas and she makes the subs and wings."
But for the sake of mutual accountability, Bollinger said the couple shares one duty. "We do inventory together. That way one can't blame the other when we don't order enough."
Love amid labor
Becky Mars said the business can be all-consuming if she and Bill don't get away occasionally. A visit to a local microbrewery recharges Bill's batteries, while working on the house clears Becky's mind.
"Last weekend we worked in the yard all day
You really can't have two people being in charge because the employees don't know who to follow. Figure out who's good at what, then figure out who's going to make certain decisions in those areas.
— Tom DeCotiis, CEO, founder CorVirtus
Before couples get into business together, Charles recommended they decide what they want to commit to it emotionally and financially. If one partner wants to go global, but the other wants a single unit, conflict is all but guaranteed. Having a mutually shared vision fortifies the partnership to endure lean times and long hours.
While some couples working in a single store need some occasional separation, the Reinhardts actually miss working side by side. When they opened a second Papa Murphy's about 20 minutes away in Clarksville, Ind., this year, Gary left to run it and Gaye stayed behind. They talk on the phone regularly, but both said that's no substitute for conferring face to face. Prior to opening their pizza business, their evenings and weekends offered more free time, but since dividing their time between two stores, moments together are limited.
"Just to have an hour together at home at night, time to have a glass of wine and a quiet dinner is great," Gary said. "I'd have never thought you could pack so much into one hour."
But does the newfound stress of having their own business make the Reinhardts wish they'd done otherwise? Not a chance, they said.
"If I would have missed the opportunity to work this closely with Gaye, then I'd have missed an awful lot," he said. "When we do throttle back someday, we'll still have a relationship that's strong and growing."