Partners, in business

Posted on 27 Jul 2012 at 10:30am

Couples say communication is key to successfully running a company together, but attorney recommends having paperwork in order, too

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WELL PROTECTED | Chris Watts and Todd Fisher, owners of The Petropolitan, incorporated to protect each other’s shares in the business in case something happens to one of them. Shares would transfer to a surviving partner, and they have a strategic plan if one wants to leave the business. (Amy Price/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

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Before becoming president and CEO of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, Tony Vedda started a small business with his partner.

“Communication is the key,” Vedda said. “Have clearly defined roles. Know who’s responsible for what parts of the business. Be both supportive and receptive.”

He added that if the business is structured as a corporation with a hierarchy, leave those roles at work.

Other local gay couples who are in business together had similar advice.

Michael Brown and Christian Hamilton moved to Dallas to purchase Goodsense Deli on McKinney Avenue at Howell Street in Uptown. The business had been failing and the couple made an offer. Brown had been working as training manager with the company in Kansas City.

He said it took them a year to turn the location around, but in year-to-year sales, they are up 88 percent, ranking them first in the company that has 92 locations in nine states.

He said working with his partner is an anomaly, adding that none of their friends do so.

“But we get along well,” he said.

When they occasionally have a power struggle, the resolution is simple, he said.

“I get my way.”

But as Hamilton laughed, Brown changed his answer.

“I get my way at the restaurant,” he said. “He gets his way at home.”

Brown said having clearly defined roles is a way for a couple to manage working together.

Hamilton handles marketing and social media, and they have a general manager.

“Operationally the GM does everything,” Brown said.

He said that working together involves compromise and a sense of humor. Often they take turns giving in to each other.
Although Brown has had 15 years of restaurant experience and Hamilton only four, if Hamilton  feels strongly about doing something one way,

Brown will sometimes concede, even if he knows the idea won’t work. And when it doesn’t work, he won’t make too big a fuss.

But they enjoy having the business together so much that they’re looking for a second location.

• Henry Ramirez echoed the idea of open communication. He not only works with his partner but with other family members as well.

After five years at Resource Center Dallas, Ramirez left the agency to work with his partner at Mocha Bakery, a business started by several  of Ramirez’s family members. Ramirez said his family has been baking since he was a kid and decided to make it a business.

The bakery specializes in designer cakes, cheese cakes, kolaches and recently began baking bread and rolls. They have no storefront, instead catering large events and weddings.

Ramirez said he was working at the bakery whenever he was not at the center and as demand grew, he decided to come on full time.

Before going into business together, he said he and partner Tony Gipson talked about problems they knew other couples faced.

“We talk and work things out,” he said. “We’re open about finances, distributing work and creating a good work environment,” Ramirez said.

• Chris Watts and Todd Fisher spent quite a bit of time planning before opening The Petropolitan, a dog grooming and spa services provider.

Watts said they sold some assets to make sure they wouldn’t be overwhelmed in debt if the business didn’t succeed. He said he knows working together isn’t for every couple but works well for them.

“We can be a sounding board for each other,” he said. “We both know on a daily basis what we’re going through.”

He said they built their business plan backwards by starting with what they knew didn’t work for similar businesses and then located in an unlikely place.

When they opened downtown six years ago, they were at the beginning of the boom in repurposing old office buildings into new living space.

They wanted to encourage urban core dwellers to have animals.

They structured their fees so that everything’s included.

All pets get the same attention and care.

And their partnership has worked because they respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Talk honestly,” Watts said. “Listen. Realize what your partners fears are.”

He said that a couple that argues about everything at home shouldn’t think about going into business together.

“But if your partner energizes you and gives you strength, if you have have similar passions,” he said, that could translate into a great business partnership.

Watts and Fisher have also put paperwork in place to protect themselves and the business.

“We’re incorporated to protect each other’s shares in the business in case something happens to us,” Watts said.

Shares would transfer to a surviving partner and they have a strategic plan in case one wanted to leave the business.

Attorney Rebecca Covell said that just as gay and lesbian couples need special paperwork to protect themselves, businesses run by same-sex couples need special protection.

“Exactly what they need depends on the structure of the business,” she said.

She suggested a business partnership agreement. Or if a business has a more formal structure such as a corporation or LLC, the protection might be built into the corporate documents.

She said couples need to protect themselves against the three Ds — death, divorce and disability. Divorce, she said, covers divorce from each other or divorce from the business.

In case of the death of one of the partners, families could become involved.

With the proper paperwork in place, the family might get some money, but without it, they’d get half the business. Covell said proper documents should simply leave the surviving partner full ownership.

Covell said that partners who go into business with each other should be very careful to have all of their paperwork in order.

“You can’t be overprotected when it comes to your business” she said.

 This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 27, 2012.

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