Set clear-cut goals. Be specific and set realistic goals for yourself. It’s important to set goals that you can achieve, but you want to be sure not to limit yourself either. Make sure you can measure and attain what you’ve put forth for yourself.
As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcel Olshansky.
Marcel Olshansky is a 31-year-old, Illinois native who loves his city. His family opened the first Liquor Barn location in the suburbs of Chicago more than 30 years ago. When he was 16, he took his first official job at the store stocking shelves. Through the years he has learned the ins-and-outs of running the family business and has taken over operations for all three store locations.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Liquor Barn is a family business, so I was always interested in what my grandfather and father were doing. When I was 16, I started working in the stores as a part-time stocker. I eventually moved up through the ranks and learned every facet of the retail industry. When my grandfather exited the business, I was handed more responsibility and the rest is history.
Can you tell us a bit about your family business and your role in it?
My family is a first-generation immigrant family from Ukraine. My father and grandfather put every penny they had into opening Liquor Barn back in 1982. The first store was roughly 3,000 square feet, and today our locations span over 15,000 square feet. We offer an exceptional selection of wine, beer and spirits at a fantastic price point and provide personalized customer service. Since its inception, Liquor Barn has become a destination for the local community. I oversee the overall operations, from purchasing to marketing, and very much enjoy playing a role in every aspect of the business. I spend time on the sales floor every day and have the opportunity to interact with customers which is by far one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
I’d have to say that when I supplied the Chicago Cubs with a very rare bottle of bourbon, following their first World Series Championship title in more than 100 years, it was pretty epic! The team was looking for a bottle that was completely out of stock. Someone passed my contact information along to them, and I was able to accommodate the request. The best part was that I hand delivered the bottle and had the opportunity to meet the majority of the team. As a Cubs fan, it was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’ll never forget.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One day, early on in my career, I was following someone around who I thought was a fellow Liquor Barn employee. He was dressed in a Liquor Barn t-shirt and was walking up and down the aisles for about 30 minutes, glancing at various bottles. I was very curious why he was not interacting with any of the other employees, but hey, I figured he must be onto something, right?
Well, it turns out that gentleman was actually a customer, perusing the aisles for his next great find! My father had offered him a Liquor Barn branded t-shirt to change into after he had spilled one of the samples on himself. The lesson I learned from that experience was incredibly important — know all of your employees and their roles at the store and foster that personal connection with each one. Since then, I make it a point of knowing every person that works with me. I can assure you I will never mistake a customer for an employee again!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have the ability to extend highly competitive pricing and an extensive selection of beer, wine and spirits just like chain stores, but what makes us stand out from the competition is our personal touch. We are a family-run business, and despite the size of our stores, when you walk through the door you’re greeted with a small business feel.
As a small business, we’re able to act quickly and have been able to help customers fulfill their needs for special occasions, including weddings. We’ve helped a number of people who found themselves in a bind when their caterer didn’t come through, and we were able to deliver and save the day. Our customers know they can count on us. Trust is something we have earned from our customers, and we are extremely proud of that fact. That’s what good business is all about, right?
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are always seeking new opportunities and ways to improve our business. We recently opened our third location in Vernon Hills, Illinois, and are currently looking to expand to more store-front locations. Additionally, we are in the process of developing relationships with Instacart and Drizly. Our customers will soon have access to our vast selection right at their fingertips — delivered quickly and at our low prices!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
No question, my father has been my mentor from day one. He taught me every aspect of the business. From stocking tips to purchasing techniques and tricks, I learned by listening and observing. When I started, I shadowed my dad from a chair in his office that he pulled up right next to his own. Eventually, as I learned, he began to give me more and more responsibilities. It was his way of training me, and it worked.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We contribute to a variety of charities consistently throughout the year. Much of the time, we donate rare bottles for charity auctions, but what I am most proud of is our annual tasting event where we raise money for local charities. The event draws more than 1,500 people and the proceeds benefit organizations such as Clearbrook and Orphans of the Storm Animal Shelter. It truly is a wonderful way for us to engage with our community and small businesses around us, while helping those in need. This event has been on hold, as so many others have as well due to COVID, but we are very much looking forward to getting back on track and planning the next one very soon!
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main parts of our interview. How do you define a family business? How is a family business different from a regular business?
A family business is tremendously different from a large corporation. The family business model allows us to operate at a different pace than corporate. We can often get things done much quicker without the need to go through various layers of management, and I can make a snap decision without having to wait for approvals. It allows me the power to respond to my customers quickly and establish confidence and trust.
In your opinion or experience, what are the unique advantages that family-owned businesses have?
Family-owned businesses have a few key advantages. The biggest one being the family itself. We’re all invested in one way or another and can rely on each other to step in if someone gets sick, has a question or an issue arises. I have also found that when we find ourselves in a quarrel, which happens in any family dynamic, our disagreements are easily resolved because we understand that we cannot compromise on our quality and store name due to a silly dispute. The success of the business means success for our family as well, and we’re all in it together.
What are the unique drawbacks or blindspots that family owned businesses have?
The biggest advantage can also be the biggest disadvantage. My family is counting on me to make sure the stores are running smoothly and efficiently. Oftentimes it’s hard for me to disconnect, and I end up bringing work home with me. What a lot of people don’t know is that I rarely have the opportunity to take a true “day-off”. I work seven days a week and while one or two of those days might not physically entail me being in the store, I’m always working. That being said, I do believe that’s what also makes our business so successful. I’m truly invested and know that the success we have with our business is directly linked to our success as a family.
What are some of the common mistakes you have seen family businesses make? What would you recommend to avoid those errors?
One of the most common mistakes is overlooking the importance of identifying clear-cut leaders for each aspect of the business. When there’s a difference of opinion on how to move forward, you must have someone to turn to that is the decision maker. For example, someone should be in charge of customer-facing operations, such as purchasing and pricing, and someone else should oversee back-end functions, such as marketing and human resources. When everyone has a defined role, you avoid stepping on one another’s toes and ultimately negates potential issues that may arise otherwise.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders of family businesses to help their employees to thrive?
Build a personal connection with each and every employee. They are the heart of your business and pump blood to the rest of the body. You need to nourish that and be sure that each employee is happy.
We place emphasis on making sure our employees know that they’re all important members of the Liquor Barn “family”. We do this by acknowledging every birthday in a special way, and we work hard to stay involved with each employee’s life — to know their kids’ names and what they enjoy doing outside of work. This might seem insignificant, but it goes a long way to establish a strong, reliable team.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean with a story or example?
I define leadership as the ability to listen and to inspire others to work together towards a common goal.
In recent years, I have begun to pivot my leadership style. Rather than taking everything on myself, my focus is now on leading my team. Where I know I have a weakness, I will assign tasks to team members that excel in that area. The end result comes out much better than if I would have tried to do it all myself, which encourages thought leadership throughout the business and gives my employees the opportunity to grow and develop themselves.
Here is our main question. What are the “5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Understand the marketplace. Learn as much as you can, about as much as you can. Constantly read, study trade websites, and figure out your competition. To be effective in innovation, you need to understand your market really well. Be the best.
- Set clear-cut goals. Be specific and set realistic goals for yourself. It’s important to set goals that you can achieve, but you want to be sure not to limit yourself either. Make sure you can measure and attain what you’ve put forth for yourself.
- Grow and evolve… or be left behind. As the world changes around us on a daily basis, your leadership style needs to evolve. Take time to reflect on your past and see how you can move forward to adjust with what’s happening around you.
- Build a great team. Businesses need fresh, new ideas to succeed in our competitive world. To do that, you need a diverse and inclusive team with extensive experience.
- Push past your failures. There was a great quote that stuck with me, “The only constant in life is change and you can always rely on it to help make the experience different the next time”. I think people need to understand that failing, in some regards, is a fact of life. It just happens. What happens next is up to you. You must re-evaluate and push forward. If you continue to let yourself get tangled in your failure, you’ll never succeed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Benjamin Franklin once said, “To be ready to fail is to be prepared for success.” In every decision I have made in business, I have always looked at what the consequences would be if we failed. I always wanted to be prepared for failure and have a plan for it. This has always helped me to move forward, and I hope it might inspire some of your readers to do the same.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Elon Musk. Elon has always thought outside of the box and believed that if he can think of an idea, he can execute it. That kind of creativity and thought leadership is what helps the world progress and move forward. Elon, if you’re reading this — a beer of your choice is on me!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Working within the beverage industry, I would really love to see a world where everyone has access to clean water. This might seem cliché, but water makes up 70% of our body and we need it for just about everything. Can you believe that in a world of over 700 billion people, 1 of every 9 people don’t have access to safe or clean drinking water? If you have a spare dollar, head over to Water.org to find out ways to get involved.
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Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.