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Like father, like son: 10 tips for keeping business in the family

Pins lined up at All Star Interactive, a bowling and entertainment centre in Torono

Rosa Park for The Globe and Mail

Dakota Bowling Lanes Ltd. opened in 1963 and my father began working there in 1973, soon becoming an owner. I started working at the bowling alley part-time more than 25 years ago, and when my dad bought the business in 2011, I became the manager.

After working with my father for 26 years, we've learned how to strike the right balance in work and family life. Here are our 10 tips for how fathers and sons can spare the stress and work successfully side by side:

1. Practice patience. It's easy when working with family members to let the personal stuff to get in the way of the business. It helps when you have a relationship that is built on trust and mutual respect because there will always be times when you disagree and need to work through a problem together, quickly.

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2. Communicate to resolve conflict. When you have different ideas about aspects of the business, it's important to keep the lines of communication open. If you don't agree, bring in a professional who can present the options to you without bias.

3. Seek outside advice. It's always good to have an extra perspective. For example, we saught advice from advisers, mentors, and our local RBC branch to kept us informed by recommending seminars in web design and social media, to help us continue to grow our business.

4. Have a vision. The bowling alley opened in 1963 and it was in need of a facelift. I had a vision of how to make it more functional, but that required a major renovation. My father wasn't convinced at first, but after some discussion we finally agreed on a vision and he supported it.

5. Invest in your business. In the past, we sold coffee and soft drinks, but now we have a full bar and restaurant. Dad wasn't sure about spending the money, but through education and consultation, we learned that investing in the business today can grow the business for tomorrow.

6. Try new ideas. A few years ago, we heard about a popular summer program in the U.S. called "Kids Bowl Free". It cost a few thousand dollars, but it was a new way to generate business in the off-season. As a small business owner, we're always a bit uneasy about the word 'free' but we gave it a spin and for the last few summers we've turned a profit. If you don't try, how will you know what works?

7. Network. There's a community of bowling alley owners in Winnipeg and we are always exchanging information, with larger businesses helping the smaller ones by passing on advise, or consulting on a business issue. If everyone succeeds, it's good for the game.

8. Hire good people. Having hard-working and reliable staff members, who work together as a team, can help a business thrive. Be sure to develop a plan so everyone knows what is expected.

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9. Have a succession plan. I'm not sure that father will ever retire, but we've worked with an accountant to create a plan for the future. While difficult, it's important to discuss and agree on the next step.

10. Take time to enjoy life. I've been trying to get dad to slow down, and now my parents head south in the winter. I don't work nights or weekends anymore and we always take family vacations. To have a successful business you need to take time off and have a family life.

Chad Van Dale is the general manager of Dakota Lanes Bowling in Winnipeg. For more information visit

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