In the Midlands, a number of families have capitalized on their integrity, quality products and services and hard work to establish family-owned businesses lasting three or more generations (see sidebar, p. 22). Here, four of these companies share some of their history and reflect on what has enabled them to appeal to generations of South Carolinians.
Sylvan & DuBose Jewelers
622 Harden St., Columbia
According to Bruce DuBose, owner of Sylvan & DuBose Jewelers, a family that owns a business has to understand that the business sits at the dinner table along with the rest of the family — it’s that close a relationship.
Bruce explains, “When you start a business like this, it’s not just a place you go during the day; it’s actually a member of your family.” To be successful, you have to love it like a family member, Bruce adds.
The Sylvans and DuBoses have loved this “family member” for five generations now, ever since its founding by Bruce’s great-grandfather Emil Sylvan in 1922. The story: After Emil and his two brothers decided to break up their business partnership, Emil started his own watch- and clock-repair business in his house on Senate Street next to Trinity Cathedral. One of the original Sylvan Brothers and an immigrant from Sweden, Emil took his son-in-law, Eugene DuBose (Bruce’s grandfather), into the business with him and started Sylvan & DuBose Jewelers. Belva Sylvan DuBose, Eugene’s wife, helped her father and husband with the new business, using her considerable skills as a clock repairwoman. The business next passed into the hands of Bruce’s father, “Sonny” DuBose, then to Bruce, and now Bruce’s daughter, Laura, works with him.
As the business flourished, Sylvan & DuBose changed locations, added jewelry repair to its services and began carrying jewelry. Still locally owned, today Sylvan & DuBose is a full-service jewelry store that specializes in watch and jewelry repair.
“Since we’re local and don’t have a centralized buying company in some other state,” says Bruce, “we have a feel for what people like in this area, and we cater to that. That’s important because not every style out of New York City is going to sell down here in Columbia. And that’s not a bad thing.”
5108 Sunset Blvd., Lexington
Marty Rae’s, known for its quality furniture, began operations in Orangeburg as a dress shop. George Carson, son of Martha “Marty” Rose Carson (now 75 years old and still actively working as an interior designer), shares current ownership with his mom, and George says the evolution from dress shop to furniture store was actually quite logical. It’s a marvelous instance of how a simple idea can start small and grow into a profitable business over time.
About 1958, George’s mother, with the help of his grandmother, Rae Gardner, started a dress shop with the Marty Rae name in Orangeburg. In those days, his mom also started using her training in interior design to do window treatments out of the back of her station wagon. She called on her dress-shop contacts to stir up business, adding carpet and a few pieces of furniture to the mix because of requests from customers. When George was 12, he began accompanying Marty to help her hang window treatments and haul accessories she had for sale in and out of customers’ homes — all part of the service in her traveling showroom. They started doing more furniture, and in the 1970s the business really took off.
As a result, in 1973 Marty started the furniture end of Marty Rae’s, with the dress shop and furniture store operating side by side for many years. As a teenager, George worked in the furniture store after school and on holidays. In 1988, the Lexington store opened at its present location, where it has stood for 23 years and grown under the ownership of George and his mom. Since then, the years have given George perspective on his early training.
“When I was 12,” he muses, “I couldn’t see why we had to carry all those accessories to everybody we hung window treatments for, but now I realize it was added value for our customers because so many people have a hard time visualizing. To see lamps and other things in place with whatever they’ve already purchased helps customers decide what they really like. And they liked and bought Mom’s accessories. It was a brainstorm of an idea, and Mom thought of it a long time ago when no one else I knew about was doing it. Now, I do more of it than she does! Everybody benefits: extra sales for Marty Rae’s, extra service for customers. This practice has been a very powerful sales tool for us.”
McGee Real Estate Co.
560 Meeting St., W. Columbia
“My dad,” says Carroll McGee, “was a residential and small-commercial builder very early in life. He came here from North Carolina during my senior year at USC to retire at the ripe old age of 50. But he got itchy after about nine months and decided he’d better go back to work.”
Thus, Ted McGee, Sr., founded McGee Real Estate Co. 50 years ago in West Columbia. His sons came into the business with him and now share equal ownership — Ted, Jr., as president and Carroll as chairman of the board. In addition to McGee Real Estate, several other related companies fall under the McGee family umbrella: McGee Auction Gallery, run by Carroll’s daughter Holli, and Greenbrier Financial Services, an in-house mortgage company. Ted III and Kevin McGee also work with the family businesses.
Carroll, who taught real-estate market analysis at the USC School of Business for 16 years, says a business that’s going to succeed over the long term has to have cheerleaders.
“You’ve got to make friends and have associations with people who are always recommending you,” he says. “Ted and I have had a lot of associations with great people, and we’ve been active in the community with chambers of commerce and Rotary Clubs for decades. So we know a lot of people through Rotary, and we’ve sold a lot of property for Rotarians.”
What keeps this business eminently satisfying for Carroll and Ted McGee? They love the business so much that they “come to work in the morning and get a lot accomplished, but it doesn’t feel like work.”
611 Harden St.,
Bruce Miller, who with his mom owns Groucho’s Deli in Columbia’s Five Points, doesn’t physically resemble his grandfather Harold “Groucho” Miller, who founded Groucho’s in 1941. But he does share with his grandfather, as well as with his parents, Ivan and Faye, a passion for the family business and an understanding that legacy is important. This understanding has driven Groucho’s to hold to the core menu items that have always made it a favorite food hangout in Columbia, items like the potato salad, cole slaw and famous 45 Sauce that were invented by Harold during his childhood in a Philadelphia orphanage. Bruce’s father recognized that a business must also cater to the present-day customer, so he didn’t hesitate to add low-fat and vegetarian offerings to the menu. Moreover, in 2000 Bruce began franchising, and to date Groucho’s has opened 25 new locations. Now an experienced entrepreneur, Bruce recalls with amusement one of the techniques his dad employed to teach him the business.
“My dad had me working the cash register when I was 11,” says Bruce. “He also made me thank every customer and give a compliment to every lady who came to the register. That was tough for a little kid. What did I know about giving compliments to ladies? I remember ringing up a lady who’d had an Apollo sandwich for lunch — I think her bill was $3.82 — and my dad was nudging me in the ribs about giving her a compliment. I saw she had big hoop earrings, so I finally just blurted out, ‘I really like your earrings!’ She smiled so big her earrings lifted about two inches, and she tipped me $2!”
Bruce isn’t neglecting to introduce his own children to the business. Max, 11, comes in sometimes on Saturdays to bus tables and clean up, while daughter Emma, 5, sometimes helps pack sauce into cups and puts them up (when someone will let her). “All her friends come here with their families,” says Bruce, “and she’s not afraid to socialize and work the room.”
A recent honor for its 70th-anniversary year: Groucho’s has been named to Entrepreneur magazine’s 2011 list of Top 500 Franchises.
Other Multi-generation Businesses in the Midlands
Ace Glass, Columbia, Price family, founded 1964, 3 generations
Bob Andrews Motors, Columbia, Andrews family, founded 1923, 3 generations
Britton’s, Columbia, Levinson family, founded 1947, 4 generations
Cromer’s, Columbia, Cromer family, founded 1935, 3 generations
Ed Robinson Laundry & Dry Cleaning, Columbia, Robinson family, founded 1919, 4 generations
Flooring by Cogdill, Columbia, Cogdill family, founded 1970, 3 generations
Four Oaks Farm, Lexington, Mathias family, founded 1929, 4 generations
Jeffers McGill, Columbia, McGill family, founded 1961, 3 generations
Leevy’s Funeral Home, Columbia, Leevy family, founded 1932, 4 generations
Lizard’s Thicket, Columbia, Williams family, founded 1977, 3 generations
Long’s Pharmacy, Columbia, Long family, 1951, 3 generations
Lorick Office Supplies, Columbia, Lorick family, founded 1937, 3 generations
Love Automotive, Cayce, Love family, founded 1932, 4 generations
Manigault-Hurley Funeral Home, Columbia, Manigault family, founded 1917, 4 generations
Mann Tool and Supply, West Columbia, Mann family, founded 1944, 3 generations
Maurice’s Piggie Park, West Columbia, Bessinger family, founded 1955, 4 generations
The Mungo Companies, Irmo, Mungo family, founded 1954, 3 generations
Non(e)such, Columbia, Davis family, founded 1978, 3 generations
Roof Basket Works, Inc., Lexington, Roof family, founded 1946, 3 generations
Rush’s, West Columbia, Rush family, founded 1940, 3 generations
Tiffany’s Bakery, Columbia, McMillan family, founded 1977, 3 generations
Todd & Moore, Columbia, Todd family, founded 1944, 3 generations
Villa Tronco, Columbia, Tronco family, founded 1940, 4 generations
W. B. Guimarin & Co., Columbia, Guimarin/Heyward families, about 1903, 4 generations
Walter P. Rawl & Sons, Inc., Gilbert, Rawl family, founded 1925, 3 generations
The Wolfe Co., Inc., Columbia, Wolfe family, founded 1945, 3 generations
This is a partial list and does not include all multi-generational businesses in the Midlands.