Today (March 29) is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day. While it sounds a lot like Small Business Saturday, and has no Wikipedia page, any observance of small businesses, the backbone of the American economy, would seem a worthwhile effort.
On several Internet sites, the day’s creation is credited to Rick Segel, whose parents, it is said, opened a hat shop in Everett, Mass. on March 29, 1939. The business eventually expanded to 10,000 square-feet and produced more than $2 million in revenue before it closed in 1997, according to the Internet posts. Supposedly, he created the day to honor his parents and the entrepreneurial spirit of people like them.
Whatever its origin, the day reminds us that the challenge for many growing businesses is to hold onto that mom and pop ethos—taking personal responsibility for the customer’s satisfaction--with which they began. That can become harder to do when your enterprise is farther flung than the single location that, perhaps, started it all.
Sleep Outfitters (Mattress Warehouse) began as a mom and pop operation when then 23-year-old University of Kentucky graduate Kim Knopf borrowed money from her father-in-law to open a mattress store in South Charleston, W.Va.
In an interview with the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, Kim said, “"I had to learn about everything. My father-in-law worked at Union Carbide, and he would come down on his lunch hour and weekends and spell me, and my husband would come down in the evenings and weekends. I had to learn bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, financial statements, merchandising, recruiting, interviewing, advertising.”
In the first 20 years, Kim’s business grew to 20 stores. In the last 13 years, she’s added another 136, for a total of 156 locations in six states.
That’s a far cry from the single store opened in West Virginia nearly 33 years ago, but the mom and pop-inspired mission remains.
“We are committed to exceeding your expectations with the best personal service, quality products and outstanding values,” reads a huge sign, featuring Kim’s and daughter Karrie’s photos, hanging on the walls of many of her stores.
Often, when you start a business, you have to become proficient in every part of it, just as Kim Knopf did 33 years ago. Today, she remains closely involved every day in all aspects of her successful company.
When you’ve built a business on great customer service, with your own two hands, it’s difficult to be hands-off. It’s just the mom and pop way.