According to the Family Firm Institute, family businesses make up 80 percent of all small business in North America and employ 62 percent of the U.S. workforce. With that statistic in mind, it’s no surprise that stories of students with small business start-ups are common in the Merrick School of Business. But the family firm that junior accounting major Rita Delp has with her older brother Wayne is unique. Working side by side at Ridgeway Mower Service and Maintenance, a small business located in southwest Baltimore, these siblings seem to have the chemistry to help the business grow.
In 2007, Wayne Delp started a mobile maintenance company after the company he worked for ceased operations. He was 20, and he knew he would need help to build momentum and get the company on its feet. So, he hired Rita. She was 17 and now one-third owner of the family business.
Rita had already had some exposure to business concepts in high school, and even ran her school’s snack shop. But her experience at Ridgeway has helped her understand the interconnectedness that each business discipline has with each other.
“I have been able to apply the concepts I learned in the classroom to what we do at the company,” she said. “Accounting has helped me understand the position of each transaction in the scheme of the whole business. Marketing has helped me to take a step away from the business and look at the company through the eyes of the customer. Entrepreneurship has helped me think about and plan for expansion. Management has helped me to better understand the responsibility that comes with expansion. These are just a few examples of the many ways that concepts learned in class relate to our business experience.”
Rita is already planning her future and considering the ways that her degree and the CPA certification would enhance her role at Ridgeway.
“I plan to take the CPA exam one day and to gain additional experiences at an accounting firm,” she said. “Both of these are important in my professional development and my role at the company.”
The Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center, which resides in the Merrick School of Business, has identified family businesses as a core focus area for the center.
“Family-owned business may be one of the most difficult kinds of business to run,” said Jim Kucher, executive director of the EOC. “There are emotional ties, issues of legacy and responsibility. While the owners may see it as an extension of their family, you have to be smart about drawing boundaries between your personal relationships and the business. At the same time, it can be especially rewarding to do what Rita and Wayne are doing with Ridgeway.”
As Rita put it, in an article that was published about the business in the Catonsville Times, “I think, for us personally, it's been a really good experience. We get to spend time together and make our own schedules together and work through problems together.”