I’m sure Match.com doesn’t ask any questions about how compatible you and your prospective mate would be when it comes to running a business together, and yet the concept of a couple operating a store is so engrained in our American culture that the term “Mom and Pop store” actually appears in the dictionary.  So if you’re thinking of opening a store, you might have to ask yourself “Should I go into business with my spouse?”

Thirty-three years of owning Orange Tree Imports together with my husband Dean (the young, inexperienced shopkeepers in this photo from 1978) makes me well qualified to speak on the subject. I’m happy to say that both our store and our marriage are going well, but some couples find that the stress of day-to-day contact in a small shop takes a toll. Try to look realistically at your relationship, your communication style, and your individual strengths and weaknesses before deciding if you would make good business partners.

We learned early on that for us, the secret to working together is to have separate areas of responsibility and to trust one another to make most decisions within those areas on our own. In our store, almost everything is divided into his and hers — even the office files. Dean is in charge of merchandise relating to food, cooking, and serving. He also handles insurance, advertising, and maintenance. My merchandise is broadly described as everything else, including seasonal goods and general gifts. In addition, I’m responsible for personnel, community relations, and finances. Many couples divide the work on the basis of one being better with the public and one stronger at the behind-the-scenes side of things.

 However you divide your duties, it is important to collaborate on all major decisions. We don’t always agree, of course, but we try to work out our disagreements in private and present a united front to our staff and customers.

 One of the advantages of working with your spouse is the time you get to spend with each other, working toward a common goal. There are long hours to be put in, especially when your store is new, but at least you’ll be doing it together.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

To learn more about running a Mom and Pop Shop, listen to my free podcast on the subject,or read Chapter 1 of my book, Specialty Shop Retailing: Everything You Need to Know to Run Your Own Store, available (autographed!) through our web site, www.orangetreeimports.com, or from your local independent bookseller, either in person or online through Indie Bound.