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All in the Family: Family-owned Businesses Have Rich History in Knoxville, Tenn.

July 5, 2012

Next generation seeks higher education for robust business skills

View of the Knoxville Skyline


Family-owned businesses are the heart of economies in cities across the United States; they represent nearly 80 percent of all companies, employ 62 percent of the nation’s workforce and contribute 64 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), or nearly $6 billion, according to a study conducted by Family Business Review. They spur national growth and keep the entrepreneurial spirit of the American dream alive in communities large and small. Knoxville believes its family-owned businesses foster a dynamic culture driven by diversity, innovation and family roots. Through times of adversity and times of prosperity, many of Knoxville’s family-owned businesses have maintained their commitment to the city they call home as well as to their company’s values and mission.

Succession and growth strategies often concern current leaders who desire to maintain profitability while keeping the company in the family that founded it. While more than 30 percent of all family-owned businesses survive into the second generation, only three percent sustain through the fourth generation and beyond, according to a Family Business Review study. Those that do maintain viability focus on succession as an effective business strategy. An American Family Business survey found that 85 percent of family-owned businesses that have identified a successor say it will be a family member. This new generation of business leaders seeks to uphold the foundational company values that established them as reputable businesses within the community and to build upon the company’s previous success. More company players in family-owned businesses are looking to higher education to help them cultivate a robust understanding of the many core competencies of business, including finance, marketing and management, to lead their companies into the future.

New Leaders Face Challenges in Family-Owned Business

Family-owned businesses thrive in Knoxville; however, many face a variety of operational challenges unique to this sector of the economy, including:

  • Soft organizational structure: Family-owned businesses with a long operational history often have little or no written strategy or organizational hierarchy, which can limit their growth potential.
  • Communication issues: Business decisions should not be made based on emotion; however, many family-owned businesses fall into this trap. Relationships with family members often drive communication within family-owned businesses. Continued prosperity depends on understanding how to separate family ties from business strategy. Communication issues can also arise between “outsider” employees and those employees within the family because employees outside the family may feel the company does not value their opinions and ideas.
  • Resistance to change: Family traditions often trump innovations, limiting new opportunities for business development and growth.
  • Succession planning: Most family-owned businesses prefer to keep leadership within the family. However, knowing the right time to transfer leadership to the next generation can present a challenge for current business leaders who wish to retire from the family business. Also, choosing the best candidate for leadership among multiple family members can cause added tensions within the family.
  • Inadequate training and education: Employees are often integrated into the family-owned business without a set process or strategy. Many times, these employees do not have adequate training for the management or leadership roles they assume, which causes a huge learning curve that can cost the company valuable resources and money. Earning a Bachelor of Business Administration can enhance the skills and broaden the knowledge base of the new generation of family-business leaders in Knoxville, preparing them to take the helm of operations.

With relationships on the line, business decisions are often based on maintaining decorum within the family. However, smart business strategies require trained and educated business leaders to make decisions that lead to strong growth so the company will continue to prosper. Consider earning a Bachelor of Business Administration from King College to garner advanced skills in a variety of business sectors, including finance, management, marketing and more.

Family-Owned Businesses Keep Knoxville Economy Strong

Knoxville is home to a variety of family-owned businesses that have shaped the community for generations and continue to spur its economic diversity and growth.

Brimer Monument Company (

Since 1945, Brimer Monument Company has provided families in Knoxville and the surrounding areas with quality memorials. Now in its fourth generation of service, Brimer Monument has maintained its commitment to staying on the cutting edge of the industry and uses state of the art technology to provide families with premium products and services.

Holston Gases (

The history of Holston Gases is one of growth and innovation. Founded in 1958 by Pat Baxter and Bob Walsh, Holston Gases has grown to 22 locations in four states with customers in nine states and has become one of the largest independent suppliers of industrial, medical, propane and beverage gases in the country. The company maintains its strong roots in Knoxville and is dedicated to the community that it calls home.

Martin Printing (

Operating as a full service custom commercial printer in downtown Knoxville, Martin Printing is now in its second generation of family ownership. Having acquired Walker Printer in 2007, a family-owned printing business since the late 1940s, the company is primed for continued growth and innovation in the printing industry.

Mayo Garden Center (no website currently available)

The oldest privately owned family business in Knoxville is the Mayo Garden Center (previously known as Mayo’s Seed), which was founded in 1878 on Gay Street. Mayo Garden Center has a rich history in the area and has provided Knoxville families with their home gardening needs for six generations.

Rose Mortuary ( )

Rose Mortuary, the third oldest family-owned business in Knoxville, has operated for more than 125 years. Rose Mortuary’s two locations, Broadway Chapel and Mann Heritage Chapel, make it one of the largest independent funeral homes in Tennessee.

Stanley’s Greenhouses and Plant Farm (

Now in its third generation of ownership, Stanley’s Greenhouses and Plant Farm has served to keep the Knoxville community “green” through conservation and sustainability efforts. Its reputation in Knoxville as a reputable and environmentally conscious family-owned business has spurred its continued growth throughout the years and supported the opening of a retail center in 2001.

Thompson Photo Products (

Thompson Photo Products was founded in 1902 as a commercial photography enterprise and is now in its fourth generation of operation. In the 1930s, Thompson Photo Products evolved into a retail business, providing a full range of imaging services, supplies and hardware. Its first store operated as the Snap Shop in downtown Knoxville. The company now has two retail stores in the city.

The Trust Company (

For nearly 25 years, the Trust Company of Knoxville has operated as a trust and investment management corporation chartered and regulated by the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions Banking Division. The Trust Company operates independently of any large bank or corporation and helps its customers reach their financial goals. It maintains a roster of 55 employees, including three certified public accountants, two juris doctors and two certified financial planners, and manages more than $1.4 billion.

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