By Hanah Cho The Dallas Morning News.
For the past three decades, Jane Boyle kept her Denton-based bakery humming through on-the-job training like many small business owners. Various family members, including her children, have joined her on the ride through the years.
Now, Boyle is turning to an unlikely source to help navigate issues as she plans for the future of Candy Haven and Cakes: students at the University of North Texas.
As part of a class offered for the first time this fall, Boyle is opening up her family business for examination. Through the process, Boyle hopes to receive guidance on a business succession plan and social media marketing.
"It makes me feel vulnerable," Boyle said. "On the other hand, the reward will far outweigh the sacrifices and having them know that I'm not perfect."
The course is one aspect of a broader Family Business Initiative at UNT's College of Business to help students, alumni and community members tackle the emotions and business dynamics of family-owned enterprises.
Faculty members were interested in family businesses as a teaching topic and also as an area that could serve the Denton area, said Danielle Cooper, an associate professor of management.
The Family Business Initiative received an internal university grant to write a case study on Boyle's business as well as sponsor a networking event in the fall for students and local family-business entrepreneurs, Cooper said.
"We're hoping a lot of our students have the goal of starting their own business some day, and we want to give an example of someone who's done this," she said.
Mike Sexton, a senior lecturer in management, is teaching the inaugural twice-weekly family business course, which began Aug. 26
Over the years, Sexton said, he would frequently get calls from family businesses seeking help and guidance.
"I could teach anyone strategy, how to create a marketing plan, et cetera," he said. "The problem is when we become emotionally attached and there's family dynamics. When folks call me, that's usually the problem."
The course will delve into conflict resolution, communication strategies and governance as well as the cultural dynamics of a family business.
"Many of our students are going to try to work for corporate America, but many will end up working for a family business. That was the case for me as well," said Sexton, who spent 23 years in the retail industry.
The case study involving Candy Haven and Cakes presents a unique opportunity for the students because "it is an actual live customer," Sexton said.
Sexton expects students to sign confidentiality agreements because Boyle has agreed to open up her books.
Business at Candy Haven and Cakes has picked up recently, and Boyle feels confident about this year's sales. It's a welcome change from lackluster sales that started in 2007 and lasted to last year amid the recession and slow economic recovery.
"We learned to be more efficient," Boyle said. "This year, I think we will probably increase our sales."
Boyle, 60, started the business in 1983 after her family settled in Denton. The bakery makes custom cakes and baked goods for weddings and other occasions as well as sweets such as fudge, nut clusters and chocolate barks.
In 2007, Boyle opened Kolache Haven, adjacent to Candy Haven and Cakes. Between the two stores, Boyle employs 21 workers. Over the years, her husband and four children have worked at the family business.
Currently, her youngest son and his wife, as well as a close family friend whom Boyle considers a son, work for the business. A granddaughter works at Candy Haven part time, Boyle said.
Running a family business is a constant challenge, she said. "Even those that don't work here but have worked here have input. It's challenging but it's also endearing. It is such a big part of our lives."
While Boyle is not near retiring, she wants to start planning for her future and have enough time to "figure out what is the best step for my family and me."
"I'm not sure if any of our children wants to take on a business that's about every weekend," she said. "I've taken more Saturdays off this year than I've taken off in 30 years."