Customer Wise: A winning balance for a family business

Michelle Di Gangi
Posted by Michelle Di Gangi
Small Business Banking

For many family-owned businesses, a delicate balancing act can be a key to success. We’ve got a great example of that in our latest “Customer Wise” interview.

Theresa Lyngso on the grounds of her garden materials company.Theresa Lyngso is president and part owner of Lyngso Garden Materials Inc. in Redwood City, California. The company, founded by her parents nearly 60 years ago, provides homeowners and contractors with a large variety of garden and landscaping products.

In the Q&A below, I like the way Theresa keeps family dynamics and business needs in perspective, and her emphasis on values can help us all.

Q: Thinking back, what do you wish someone told you before you got involved in leading and owning the business? A: I wish someone had told me that it’s important to — and this is something that I did, but I wish people had talked about it — stay with your values. Having strong values and being driven by them kept me centered in the business. For example, relationships are very important to me — with employees, customers, and the community.

How prepared were you when you started taking on major responsibility for the business? What helped you prepare?

I was not very prepared; I was very young. But I had been active in the business for a few years and run various aspects of it. I had to think on my feet, and I had to develop my relationships within the company.

And then I had to develop my mentors. I had some really good mentors — an accountant, a really great attorney, and an insurance agent. Plus I had a strong relationship with my family, so I could always call upon them — especially with my mom and dad, who are the founders of the business.

What are you most proud of as a business owner?

I am most proud of the people that I work with, the quality of products that we sell here, and our community relationships. We are involved a lot with our local community, helping with various projects, like school gardens. Also I’m really proud of our weekly free clinic here on all sorts of gardening topics. We’ll bring in 30 or 40 people on a Saturday for two hours to learn about something to do with the garden.

What advice would give to somebody who’s thinking of starting a business?

Find a way to try and bring something that will make things better in the world, for people or for a place. If you know that what you’re doing is actually helping people or the environment, it just makes it a whole lot of fun to get up and go to work every day.

As a family business, what are some unique challenges you’ve had to face and what did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge with a family business is appreciating the differences between family members and being willing to create space for some differences to exist so that you’re not letting the business break the family relationship. It’s a balancing act to try and figure it all out and address individual needs, but I think you can do it if you’re willing to talk honestly with one another and work together to see how it best fits together for the individual and what the business needs.

I always like to focus on the needs of the business, and that can sometimes take a lot of the emotional stuff away.

If given the chance, would you do it all again?

There is nothing like a small family business to really broaden you. There is so much you learn, from technical details to dealing with people, emotions, and finance — it just really broadens you as a person. It’s never boring!

You can learn more about Lyngso Garden Materials at the company site

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