I’m sure Tinder 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.  If you’re thinking of opening a store, you might find yourself asking “Should I go into business with my spouse?”

I originally wrote about this topic fifteen years ago, when I only had 33 years of experience of owning Orange Tree Imports together with my husband Dean. (At the time I thought I was well qualified to speak on the subject.) I’m happy to say that both our store and our marriage are still going well, and in fact we recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.

Some couples do find that the stress of day-to-day contact in a small shop takes a toll. Before making the commitment to be both life and business partners, try to look realistically at your relationship, your communication style, and your individual strengths and weaknesses.

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 could be 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.

I recently attended a seminar on how to plan for the future of a jointly-owned business if one or both of you retires, becomes ill, or dies. Those are complicated questions in themselves, however one attendee brought up the scenario of divorce when there is a business involved.  The law varies from state to state, but in general a business is considered marital property if both spouses are owners (even if only one is actively involved). This may mean that the business would need to be divided, with one person buying the other out. No one plans on this happening, but you might want to talk to a lawyer about this eventuality when setting up your business.

As I said fifteen years ago, a big advantage 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. We have certainly found our partnership to be very rewarding for almost 50 years.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder