Corporate Couples

Local business owners discuss highs, lows of working with their spouse

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Patty and Gordon French, owners of LJC Feed in Camas since 1995, previously worked at a car dealership in Portland. Twice a month, they escape to their second home in Lincoln City, Ore.

After a long day at work, a partner can provide companionship and a chance to vent about your day. But what happens when your partner in love also is your partner at work?

The Post-Record recently spent time with three married couples who own and operate local businesses together to discuss the benefits — and drawbacks — of working with your spouse.

Giving each other some space

For Gordon and Patty French, owners of LJC Feed in Camas, working together wasn’t easy at first.

For 12 years, they sat across from each other at the same desk, in a small room behind the customer service counter. They remedied that situation in 2007, by adding an upstairs area and putting Patty’s desk in one corner and putting Gordon’s desk in the other corner.

“I put him in the corner to have some separation,” Patty said.

She provides oversight of the store’s appearance and handles the store’s advertising, all accounts receivable and payable statements and donations to various local organizations including the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, 4H, Odd Man Inn and FFA.

Dr. Martha Martin’s advice for couples who work together:

  • Set up time to be a couple that does not involve work. This can be a scheduled date night, where the rule is not talking about work.
  • At work, maintain professionalism. Do your job, and do it well. Reinforce your partner’s successes, and listen and offer only solicited advice.
  • Assess your relationship regularly. Check in with your partner and have an honest conversation about how you see things going, both pro and con. Negotiate steps for improvement, and praise what is working. Seek professional counseling if needed.
  • Listen, listen, listen. That means hearing with your whole brain. Don’t prepare your next comeback. Instead, get ready to give back what you heard, get clarification and continue to listen.
  • Demonstrate respect, both at work and home. Be consistent. Don’t be afraid to agree to disagree.
  • Plan vacation time and short breaks — both together and depending on the individuals, apart.
  •  Remember to make the relationship the priority over business and work, and maintain your sense of humor.

Gordon, 65, prepares the store’s payroll and monthly tax reports, and can often be seen on the phone and the sales floor answering customers’ questions.

The Frenches, married for 30 years, attend trade shows together. It is the second marriage for both of them.

Gordon and Patty previously worked together at a car dealership in Portland. She was the head of the lease department, and he was the national fleet director.

Patty, 74, said one of the benefits of being married to your business partner is getting a second opinion from them regarding how to handle a situation with an employee.

However, it can be challenging for her to talk with Gordon at the office since he is busy answering calls. He also visits farms and teaches about soil, lime, pasture management and composting for Washington State University Extension.

Twice a month, they escape to their second home in Lincoln City, Oregon. Gordon enjoys kayaking for solitude and exercise, and Patty’s hobbies include shopping for antiques.

LJC Feed, 3501 N.E. Third Ave., Camas, sells food and supplies for dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds and fish, as well as lawn and garden supplies, snow, work and rain gear and children’s puzzles and toys.

Keeping the home fires burning

Dan and Marsha Dilley married in February 1998 and opened “A” Your Town Chimney Inc., in downtown Washougal, in August that year.

They took a cross-country road trip in the spring of 1999 to attend a high school graduation in Buffalo, New York, and visit with friends and family members along the way.

The Dilleys moved their business to 2126 “E” St., Washougal, in 2001.

Nowadays they take a week off every once in a while. With one part-time employee, they temporarily close their fireplace and stove shop when they take time off.

“Being gone for more than a week is challenging,” Marsha, 55, said.

In May each year, they both attend the Oregon Chimney Sweeps Association Mayday Convention, where new technology is featured and seminars are offered.

Dan, 63, a certified chimney technician, provides chimney cleaning and sweep services, as well as gas fireplace repairs and wood and pellet stove services.

“She gets to tell me where to go, because she fills the appointment book,” Dan said.

“His secretary makes his lunch for him,” Marsha said.

She obtains permits and keeps track of sales and payroll taxes for their business.

When the Dilleys go out to eat in the Camas-Washougal area, they see customers who want to talk about the business.

Marsha said it can be challenging when she needs to discuss something work-related outside the office, and Dan does not want to talk about it.

“Spending too much time in the business wears on you,” she said.

Marsha said their home life and work life “intertwine a little bit.”

“We keep them separate for the most part, but not always,” Dan said.

Serving up a veritable Feast of honesty and humor

Tim and Melissa McCusker, owners of Feast 316, a steak and seafood restaurant in downtown Camas, share in the workload that includes running their business and raising their three children.

Melissa, 40, said it is rewarding to accomplish something together as a couple.

“You know the other person is going to be honest, positive or negative” she said. “It is hard to hear honesty from a person you care about, but it can make you better.”

Melissa said it can be challenging to always be around your spouse.

“You go home, and there they are again,” she said.

If there is an argument at work or home, Melissa said they have to let it go or revisit the issue after they have cooled down.

“Or scream and holler,” she said. “We have not necessarily figured it out.”

Tim, 45, said despite the “odd dispute or argument,” he and Melissa have a great working relationship.

“There’s a lot of humor in our world, which keeps us going,” he said. “We both laugh at it together — be it the crazy customer requests and stories, or maybe it’s just something that a member of staff did.”

“It’s kind of fun working together and sharing all these funny situations with each other,” Tim added. “It’s almost like being in our own sitcom like, ‘The Office.'”

He described himself and his wife as both being very independent with a great business sense.

“Trying to find that middle ground on ideas or plans sometimes gets a little hairy, but it always ends up just working itself out,” Tim said. “We both have a strong work ethic, so we are actually a pretty good team.”

He and Melissa both agree that drinking wine helps them handle the challenges of working with their spouse.

“After that, we sort of divide and conquer,” Tim said. “We both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we tend to just split up the obstacles and hurdles to the best of our abilities.”

The McCuskers, married since 2000, first worked together in 2001, at a Mexican restaurant in the Baltimore, Maryland, area. They owned a catering company and restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, before moving to the Northwest in 2008 and working for others.

They opened the restaurant, Harvest, in 2012, at 401 N.E. Fourth Ave., in downtown Camas, and then changed its’ menu and name to Miss Nola’s Cafe in 2015. They opened Feast 316, at 316 N.E. Dallas St., in January 2015, and owned and operated both restaurants before deciding to close Miss Nola’s in September 2017.

Melissa said one of the rewards of being married to her business partner is she does not have to worry about what the boss is going to say about her bringing the children to work to do their homework after school.

Tim said their children are hilarious, and it is great that they are always around. He added that he and Melissa are very good friends, which helps them work together and get along.

Melissa, a former junior varsity girls’ lacrosse coach at Wilson High School, in Portland, coaches a girls’ soccer team for ages 6 and 7, in Vancouver.

Tim and Melissa take turns driving their children to gymnastics meets and soccer and basketball tournaments.

“There’s always a trip to Seattle or California or some beach,” Tim said. “On the weekends there is always something happening, and it’s just a complete escape from the hustle and bustle of being a restaurateur.”

Finding time to focus on individual interests

Dr. Martha Martin, a Washougal psychologist, said the rewards for couples who work together include the chance to spend more time together.

“Sharing a business means you have one trusted business partner,” Martin said. “You can divide the workload, sharing the burden as you build your business.”

She added that if couples have children, they can divide up their time and make their own schedule.

It can be challenging if couples spend too much time together. Martin said they need time away from each other to focus on their own interests.

She said it helps if couples understand and accept the strengths that each brings to a business.

“If one is more organized, and the other is the idea person, get those egos out of the way and utilize each other’s stronger areas,” Martin said.

She added that each person must be emotionally developed enough that they know who they are, know their strengths, can speak up for themselves and be able to compromise.

“Each must be willing to open themselves up to their partner, to allow themselves to be vulnerable and develop trust, but keeping healthy boundaries is also part of this equation,” Martin said.