No-debt business model helps family business thrive.
Harold Jackson jokes that there are two types of families in
Buffalo Supply Inc.: his blood relatives and his “adopted” ones—dedicated
employees who’ve become part of the family. The Colorado-based medical
equipment supplier began with Harold’s brother Stonewall and his sister-in-law
Betty. In the last 32 years, the Jackson brothers have separately held the
position of president and CEO but have recently decided to hand the reins over
to the second generation, their children. Harold reflects on the importance of
creating a close-knit work environment and his company’s no-debt business
Name: Harold Jackson
During your 11 years as
president and CEO, what challenges did you face, and how did you manage them?
Clearly, the biggest challenge was the political environment,
because a vast majority of our business is sold to the federal government. I
never dreamed that I would get into lobbying, but I did out of necessity. I
learned I needed to get involved in organizations like NFIB and the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce—one, to get me guidance on how to present my case to the
politicians and two, to get their support because what they were doing was not
only bad for my business but the recommendations would have been bad for many
other small businesses across the country.
What’s the best part of
being a small business owner?
There isn’t any question: the freedom and independence, the
ability to make your own decisions. I don’t have to wait for a board meeting or
get through several levels of management, which I always found frustrating when
I worked for the big corporation.
How would you describe
your business model?
Our business model, since the beginning, has been don’t take on
debt, and don’t buy anything if you can’t pay for it. That has served our
company well. At one point, we were building an office. When we had money at
the end of the month, we built. When we didn’t have money, it’d sit. The result
was it took us a little longer to get the office built, but when we got
through, we didn’t have a mortgage.
What else has
contributed to the success of your business?
In addition to our philosophy of not taking on any debt or
[having] very minimal debt, it’s important to differentiate from your
competitors. We spend a lot of time and effort in training our employees into
making it a pleasant experience. You call here, and you get a live person. Even
if you ask for something we can’t provide, we’ll help you find it. We want to
be your source.
The second thing is that we share the profits with the
employees through bonus programs. If we grow the business to the projections,
then everyone gets a couple hundred dollars a month in addition to their normal
check. And it is amazing how that creates a positive attitude.
How important is it for
you to build a personal relationship with your employees?
There isn’t any question, that is important. We spend a lot of
time and effort on hiring. It’s extremely important to not just find people
with the education level and the skill level, but also the personality to go in
our organization—to keep the attitude positive and moving forward.