In love and business: Partners for more than just marriage

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For the last eight years, husband and wife, J.B. and Paula Chapman have shared more than a family. They, like a number of other Craig couples, are in business together and finding that the team effort makes it work.

Sharing ownership of Chapman's Automotive has brought them closer, they said.

Married for 17 years, Paula started working at the shop after the couple's two children were old enough to better take care of themselves.

Though the Chapmans say the dual venture isn't ideal for all couples, the business model works for them.

"As far as working together, the relationship has brought us closer together," said J.B. Chapman. "We work off each other's strengths."

Paula Chapman added, "People that have separate jobs don't know what each other do all day long. We often know how stressful of a day each other has had. It helps up talk about more important things than work when we get home."

An estimated 304,000 businesses nationwide were owned by two or more people in 1998 according to the latest data from the U.S. Small Business Administration. However, that number may be low because the data often misses companies owned by married couples.

According to the Craig Chamber of Commerce, about a third of their membership, or 113 local businesses, are owned by married couples, said Director Cathy Vanatta.

Working off love alone isn't enough to float any operation, Vanatta said.

"There are no guarantees that will keep a business open," she said. "If you don't have the basics like a product that people definitely want, good service and a comparable price, no amount of love can help you keep a business open."

Most mom and pop businesses generally succeed because couples share a common goal, Vanatta said.

"They have to make it work," she said. "They've got their heart and soul and income in it. It's not like one spouse is going to come home with a paycheck from another job."

To ensure a smooth-running operation, the Chapmans have hit upon a few secrets.

One is learning how to be flexible with a host of duties at the shop -- allowing each other space to develop individual talents.

For example, J.B. is mainly in charge of sales and personnel, while Paula keeps the books.

Other jobs, like dealing with customers face to face, can go either way.

"We've come to realize that sometimes people would rather talk with one of us," Paula Chapman said. "We've learned not to take that personally, it's just something that happens in business."

For married business owners Robert and Coreen McClellan, a healthy business stems from a focus on the family.

With five children, the owners of River Ridge restaurant in Craig said the undertaking does more than pays the bills.

The McClellan's children, aged eight to 16 all contribute in some way to the restaurant's affairs.

"Some people will call and ask for our small daughters or sons to wait on them," Robert McClellan said. "What they learn here goes a long way in teaching them important life skills. It helps increase their self-esteem."

Being in business together creates a common goal to make the best decisions for everyone involved, Coreen McClellan said.

Often times that means dealing with family or martial family problems head on, she said.

"Sharing a business together you can't sweep all your problems under the rug," Coreen McClellan said. "Even if you're frustrated (with your spouse) while you're working, I think, 'I've gotten through 18 years -- I can get through today.'"

Sharing a goal, business or otherwise, has the potential to help couples grow, the McClellans said.

"Businesses are tricky, and running a restaurant is even trickier," Coreen McClellan said. "I wouldn't think that part is good for everyone. But every couple that wants to be successful should do something that pulls them together, even if that's just a hobby."

Robert and Coreen are each capable of running all aspects of the restaurant. However Robert often finds himself more comfortable in the kitchen and Coreen enjoys working on the restaurant's books.

"I think we both enjoy working with the customers," Robert McClellan said.

River Ridge is the first licensed business the two have shared after dabbling in a couple smaller business ventures.

In some ways, being in business together is easier on a relationship when the venture is successful, they said.

"When we succeed it's a joint success, not at the expense of one or the other," Coreen McClellan said.

And of the day-to-day work environment, she said, "If I have to work it might as well be with someone I like."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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