This story was first published by NHSDC in December 2014.
Garland Mill Timberframes in Lancaster has been operating as a family business for something like 40 years, and that’s why the business advisors at the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center were originally consulted. Garland Mill's co-owners and cousins, Ben and Dana Southworth, had purchased the company from their fathers and, near the end of that process, had realized that they might need an exit plan for getting out of the business when their time came.
Ben explains that one of his own employees had been helped by Stewart Gates, the NH SBDC business advisor based in New Hampshire’s North Country, and recommended him highly as a person who might help with building the exit strategy. That was sometime around the economic downturn of 2008 and, as Ben explains it, he and his cousin had time on their hands.
Today there’s not just an exit strategy in place, but Ben says he and his cousin are better businessmen because of their long-term relationship with Stewart. “He’s really, really just done a marvelous job of helping us learn about business. We knew nothing. We were family and we were designers and builders. Stewart helped us learn how important it is to take the business end of our business seriously.”
“Stewart’s first question to us was how much money had we made in the last year,” Ben said. “We hemmed and hawed and tried to tell him we weren’t in it for the money, and hot air like that.”
Today Garland Mill Timberframes is doing very well, has great employees, great suppliers, and they are all very busy. And because of the things learned under Stewart’s patient prodding, Ben says, he and his cousin get excited about their latest innovation—a financial statement that presents a snapshot of their standing on a weekly and monthly basis. Stewart helped them set up the process and they’ll use their bookkeeper (another recommendation from Stewart) to implement.
Ben says they owe a lot to their long-time business advisor. “Luckily he's smarter than we are and has more patience; he waits us out,” Ben said, “Every year in spite of ourselves we learn a little more about running our business than we had the year before.”