Of the 5.5 million family controlled businesses in the United States, historically, fewer than 15% survive transfer to the third generation, according to government figures.
But some local businesses defy those odds, succeeding for 50, 100, even 150-plus years. Through recessions, depressions, expansions, technological advances and now, a pandemic, many area businesses have not only survived but grown, continuing to support their community’s changing needs.
What’s their secret?
We talked to four local companies with a combined 520 years of service to the community.
They say excellent staff, connecting with the community, focusing on customer service and adapting to change all play a role in their longevity.
The Moravians, who established the first European towns in what was then the backcountry of North Carolina, built mills, tanneries, and wagonworks. Their religious philosophy saw no division between home, business and church, each needing to be successful to support the others.
Salem, the oldest planned community in the state, became home to the funeral business begun by cabinet and coffin maker Alexander Vogler in 1858. The company provided the first horse-drawn ambulance to the community and the first motorized hearse in 1913 .
A sixth generation of Voglers operates Salem Funeral & Cremation Service from the same building today.
As church interests came into conflict with commercial interests, however, many businesses moved a mile north to establish the new town of Winston, which had fewer restrictions and, as time moved on, better access to transportation. Transportation in the form of the railroad attracted the brash young RJ Reynolds whose impact on Forsyth County cannot be overstated.
Burton Craige, third generation of what is today the oldest law firm in North Carolina, moved from Salisbury, where the firm was established in 1832, to Winston to become legal counsel for Reynolds Tobacco in 1911 and later opened an office of Craige & Craige here.
Craige’s son and nephew continued after him. Though the firm passed out of family hands in the 1960s, it retains the names of the founders to honor that uninterrupted history.
The law firm, which didn’t use newly-invented typewriters when it opened, bought its first computer in 1986.
As textile and tobacco businesses grew to become major employers, the city’s population expanded, driving demand for homes and community amenities.
Among the many small businesses established in the early 1900s, Sam Pfaff created a glass-glCrazing business that serviced the factories of Hanes Hosiery and Reynolds Tobacco as well as the schools, churches and businesses of the sprawling neighborhoods. That business has grown and is operated by the third generation.
As GIs returned from World War II and Korea, they started families, driving one of the strongest economic booms America has ever seen.
In Forsyth County, the population ballooned nearly 30% in the 1950s with wages that established a solid middle class.
As home ownership grew, families invested in real estate, and John McCullough was among the entrepreneurs who provided the services they needed when he opened his tile company in 1962. Today his daughter and grandson carry on the company’s dedication to quality workmanship.
SALEM FUNERAL & CREMATION SERVICE
Established: Family started in the business in 1858, renamed in 2006
What does your business do? We are a full-service funeral home and crematory, which allows our staff and facilities to help families care for their loved ones’ bodies and commemorate the life of the deceased individual. We support families in planning funeral services, memorial services and cremations, as well as assist with burial and cremation insurance for families that are interested in pre-planning their arrangements.
How has it changed through the years? Since A.C. Vogler established his funeral home on Main Street in Salem, it is safe to say there is hardly a corner of the business that has not experienced change, particularly with the introduction of new, cutting edge technologies.
Prior to the Civil War, families often cared for their own loved ones, but with the Civil War, many families requested the bodies of their loved ones be returned home, which, in turn, encouraged the practice of embalming to become more mainstream because it enabled bodies to safely travel longer distances.
By the 1900s, our staff and undertakers became not just tradesmen building coffins, but licensed professionals trained as keepers of public health. They provided the first horse-drawn ambulance and emergency services in the community. They introduced the first motor hearse in 1913.
The staff has continued to adapt to changing cultural and environmental movements and societal norms, with the most recent occurring in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic found its way to our community, the use of technology, specifically e-signatures, created a new approach for families to plan for cremations. We have since launched online programs and services, which allow families to plan for their loved one from the comforts of their own homes. It has been a challenging and immensely rewarding opportunity to serve our families during this unprecedented time.
What is the secret to its longevity? In a business like the funeral industry, the incredible loyalty, sense of duty, and resilience of our staff is the most critical factor to the company’s longevity.
Just in the past year, our staff has proven they truly care about the families they assist, not least by their willingness to come to work every day with humble, positive attitudes during a pandemic while simultaneously not fully understanding at the time how COVID-19 interacted with the deceased. They understood that this was not just a time of challenge, but perhaps the most important time that they could live their duty of service to the community.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about your business? When A.C. Vogler started in the business, he began as a furniture maker, specifically cabinets. After the Civil War, he transitioned the business into a funeral home only after he flipped a coin to make the decision to either continue as a cabinet maker or establish the Vogler’s family funeral home.
• 120 S. Main St., Winston-Salem
• 2951 Reynolda Rd., Winston-Salem
Web site: SalemFH.com
McCULLOUGH TILE & STONE
What does your business do? We are a wholesale and retail tile distributor. Our design center/showroom is open to the public for tile selections. We have five tile designers on staff to assist with each client’s needs.
How has it changed through the years? We are now very specialized having unique products that are exclusive to our tile showroom.
What is the secret to your longevity? We still pride ourselves on quality and customer service.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about your business? We are a third-generation business, still family owned and operated.
Location: 8101 North Point Blvd,. Winston-Salem
Web site and contact info: McCulloughTile.com
Phone: 336- 744-0660
What does your business do? We sell interior and exterior paint, wallcovering, blinds and offer a wide range of decorating services, including painting, design, and wallpaper for residential and commercial clientele. Our Contract Glazing Division works with contractors and architects on projects from small store fronts to high-rise buildings. We produce glass for all needs from shower enclosures to doors, mirrors, replacement windows and more.
How has it changed through the years? We’ve added products and services as social and individual needs evolved.
In the last year, we were able to adapt and remain open while taking precautions to protect customers and employees alike. We’ve made extensive use of technology and social media during COVID to maintain our high standard of customer care.
What is the secret to its longevity? Dedicated employees who are proud of their work.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about your business? That Pfaff’s provides more services than paint, glass and wallpaper.
Location: 1550 S Stratford Road, Winston-Salem
Web site: Pfaffsinc.com
Phone: 336- 765-1260
CRAIGE JENKINS LIIPFERT & WALKER LLC
What does your business do? We provide specialized advice in all areas of the law that affect your family and your business. Whether you are going through a difficult divorce, navigating a guardianship, buying a home, or starting a business, we have the skills necessary to guide you through it and help you manage the stress.
How has it changed through the years? Technology has made the largest amount of change to the firm. We existed before typewriters and even before the first law school in North Carolina. In 1986, we bought our first computer.
What is the secret to its longevity? Our people. First and foremost, we recruit and retain great attorneys and staff. Several of us have spent an entire career at this firm.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about your business? We are a larger sized firm that has not lost sight of the needs of the individual client. We are involved with several charities and nonprofit organizations throughout the area, volunteering our time and money in an effort to really support our community.
• 110 Oakwood Drive, Ste 300, Winston-Salem
• 500 Pineview Drive, Ste 203, Kernersville
• 6235 Shallowford Road, Lewisville
Web site: craigejenkins.com