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HFA Reports: Succession—Miskelly Furniture

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Miskelly Furniture ensures succession success— challenges the next generation to create its own path.

With so much of our industry made up of family-founded businesses, concerns about succession and carrying on tradition are not new. They've always been a struggle for companies, no matter their size. Will the next generation want to continue the business? Will they take on the responsibility?

Many furniture store owners I speak to have no succession plan. That doesn't mean they don't have large families. It means that their kids, nieces and nephews haven't as yet shown an interest in entering the family business. If you find yourself in this situation, how can you interest them in becoming part of the company? Just because they grew up in and around your store doesn't mean that they're going to want to be involved for the rest of their lives.

How did he manage to get not one but three of his kids interested in working as part of the family business?

There are some incredible examples out there of the next generation stepping into family furniture businesses. Nowhere can you find a more interesting approach than Miskelly Furniture, operating with four locations in Mississippi. Oscar Miskelly and his brother Tommy currently run the business, but they have set themselves up for the Miskelly name and Miskelly Furniture to carry on for a long, long time. While Tommy has a daughter working at Miskelly, Oscar has three kids who are vital parts of the business. Daughter Elizabeth Ann, 30, leads Miskelly's visual merchandising efforts. In fact, there is a boutique inside Miskelly stores that bears her name. The Elizabeth Ann collection focuses on the tastes of younger customers. Son Caleb, 28, is director of sales, while youngest daughter Anna Katherine (AK) is part of the visual team.

How did Oscar do it?

How did Oscar manage to get not one but three of his kids interested in working as part of the family business? His first step was to point them away from Miskelly's, insisting they do something else for three to five years.

“I let them go out; I encouraged them to experience life and professions they wanted to try,” Oscar told me. He wanted them to find their passion and do something they enjoyed, not feel obligated to work in the family business. Elizabeth Ann was a schoolteacher before coming to work at Miskelly. Caleb gravitated toward home furnishings, but he took sales jobs with other retailers to see what life was like outside Miskelly. AK was pulled toward fashion.

Coming around to Miskelly was not something they each naturally gravitated towards. “I saw the business as made up of old guys and that the furniture industry was stale,” was Elizabeth's initial outlook. For Caleb, “I was used to doing my own thing and didn't know what to expect.” AK had concerns coming home to the family business. “I had a fear of not being successful, knowing that dad would set a high standard.”

I saw the business as made up of old guys and that the furniture industry was stale,’ was Elizabeth's initial outlook.

To ease those concerns, Oscar had another idea up his sleeve. Each one of the kids was challenged to carve their path at Miskelly. He wanted them to play to their strengths, not plug into any job.

“We have our areas, and we don't step on each other,” Elizabeth Ann told me.

Listening to his three children talk about the business he started 43 years ago does a father's heart good. “There is nothing that brings more pride to a dad than seeing your children succeed.” And their involvement in the business is also good for the soul. “They have rejuvenated me. There is new energy, a new vision. I thought I would have to sell the business,” Oscar said.

Not anymore. Elizabeth Ann, Caleb, and AK are looking ahead, way ahead. “We want it to be our kids and us. We want to be a 100-year-old company,” Elizabeth Ann says matter of factly. That is precisely why the root of the word “succession” is success.

Pictured left to right: Caleb, Elizabeth Ann, Anna Katherine and Oscar Miskelly.

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