Small Business Success Story: Moscow Pullman Building Supply
CEO Tyler Garrett and his dad, Pat, share inside secrets to family business success including how they navigated the transition into the third generation of ownership and how they keep the peace when working with family members.
Pat Garrett caught the entrepreneurial bug early in life. He started working in his grandfather’s store, Moscow Building Supply, in grade school, sweeping floors and stacking boards. He also delivered newspapers, mowed lawns and shoveled snow to make money.
That work ethic allowed him to eventually take over and grow the family business into Moscow Pullman Building Supply, with 170 employees at two locations totaling 213,000 square feet of retail and warehouse space.
Garrett has passed down his strong work ethic to his three children, and two of them are leading Moscow Pullman Building Supply into the third generation of family ownership.
Name: Tyler Garrett, 30
Hometown and current residence: Moscow, Idaho
Education: Moscow High School
First job: Moscow Pullman Building Supply, picking up trash and sweeping floors when I was 6 years old
Name: Pat Garrett, 59
Title: former CEO
Hometown and current residence: Moscow, Idaho
Education: University of Idaho
First job: Moscow Pullman Building Supply
How did you end up working in your family’s small business?
Pat: I started working at Moscow Building Supply in grade school, sweeping floors and stacking boards. My grandfather Ray Bugh wanted to sell the company to me but I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about taking it over and do what was necessary. I joined Copeland Lumber Yards and worked for them in a management position for three years before taking over the family business.
Tyler: I also did my own thing for a couple years, because it was an opportunity to grow and gain some construction experience, which is a big part of what we do. I had hit a plateau here so I needed something to broaden my experience with the intention that someday I would come back.
One day dad called me to say he was approached to sell the lumber yard but didn’t know how to answer the question. I said, I’ll start on Monday. And I have climbed the ranks since then.
Pat: My daughter Katie got a degree in accounting and stayed on with a big accounting firm and got her CPA license.
She had never really showed interest in the business, but one year at Christmas she said she’d like to be part of it. It was a surprise, but it was a great fit because with her CPA license she was a natural to partner with Tyler. For me, that’s a pretty huge comfort to have someone that invested in running the books at the office.
Did you encourage your children to join the family business?
Pat: It was definitely their decision as to what to do. Tyler and I had already been talking about him taking over and being 100% in the driver’s seat. We were well on that path when Katie stepped up. I could instantly see the benefits of that.
We definitely have a working family and we all learned to work at a young age. It wasn’t like there was any convincing that needed to take place.
Tyler: I have a 4-year-old son and a 1-year-old son, and I’m counting down the days until I have the 4-year-old here. That will be a proud day, absolutely. The fourth generation is soon to come – if that’s what they want.
Describe the challenges of handing down your small business to the next generation
Pat: I probably wasn’t handing it over as quickly as Tyler would have liked for the first couple years into the process. It’s hard to remove yourself from your typical activities.
When we made the transition, it went far more seamlessly than I would have ever believed. I’ve found it far easier to walk away and do my own thing. I’ve got lots of hobbies and things that I do. I’ve been building a house for Katie. It keeps me in the yard all the time, I’m just on the other side of the counter.
Tyler: We have great employee retention and a lot of longtime employees. As I have been coming up through the ranks, they have been very supportive. But it hasn’t been without frustrations or growing pains. Dad’s been a good teacher but I’ve had to poke and prod him to move the process along.
Pat: When we built the Pullman store, Tyler ran the project, overseeing the construction, hiring the new staff and managing it for the last three years. From day one, he was in the driver seat of that store. He jumped in head first and just did it. That was great preparation to take over the company.
Name one thing that prepared you for being a small business owner
Pat: I’ve always been an entrepreneur. It’s in my blood. When I was in grade school we were running paper routes and I had lawn mowing regulars, show shoveling regulars. My dad was a CPA and he was always making me keep it on paper and keep track of it.
Tyler: Being raised in and around (the family business), it was always gratifying to see what high standards people held dad to. A big part for me is the gratification knowing that we’re putting food and money on the table for 170 families and keeping people employed with a steady paycheck. We’re providing a service in the community that nobody else is. It’s not so much about being my own boss.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Tyler: Surround yourself with good people, and network. We’ve had really good success with our senior management team. We get together once a month and brainstorm new ideas, policies and procedures.
In addition, both dad and I belong to a Do It Best roundtable and that is who we network with outside of the company to get market insights and other relevant news and changes in our industry.
Pat: The cost to grow a business is a huge financial burden and you have to be very, very cautious of the rate you grow. Measure everything — whether it’s a success or failure — and figure out why.
One of the beauties of being an independent is that if something isn’t working, you can decide to change it in a heartbeat.
What advice do you have for keeping the peace in a family business?
Tyler: Know when to turn it on and when to turn it off. When you're working with family members you have to know when work is work and when is time away. Yes, it’s a family business so to some extent you never are fully “off,” but you have to know when to stop and relax with family … and when you have to be on your game for the business.
What advice do you have for other family businesses making the transition to the next generation of leadership?
Pat: I’ve always belonged to an elite group of Do it Best members and we get together in a roundtable to talk about what’s working and what’s not. A lot of us were either going to have a family member coming in and taking over or looking to the outside to sell, so we put together another group, and a good majority of them were kids of the owners, including Tyler.
Tyler would meet with his group and ask them how their transition was going, then he’d come back and say to me, he’s doing this, how come I’m not? It was a huge help. We got to watch what a lot of other folks were going through, and it gave me a nudge to give Tyler more responsibility.
Are there any challenges to working closely with a sibling in a family business?
Tyler: Katie and I do great together for several reasons, the first being that she and I have clearly defined roles and know how to not step on each other’s toes.
Secondly, Katie came into the business much later than I did and has been learning as she goes, so she has been very understanding of the dynamic of her being "second in command" and growing into her position.
Finally, you have to know when to be brother and sister and when to be business partners, and I feel we do both well. We can joke and laugh together on and off the clock and also be hard on each other when it matters most.
What role has Zions Bank played in your journey?
Pat: We have a good relationship with (our banker) Kelly Robertson. We’ve spent quite a bit of time together he knows and understands our business quite well. At the beginning phases of building our Pullman location, there were a lot of meetings with the bank to go over this process and the expenses, budgets and expectations of sales. Kelly was very, very supportive and helped us with the process of obtaining an SBA 504 loan to finance construction of our Pullman store.
Looking to transition your business to the next generation?
Zions Bank Family Business Services offers specialized education and financial guidance to help you manage growth now and plan for transitions in the future.
Zions Bank also offers online tools for entrepreneurs, including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, provide counseling and training for business owners.
Nicola McIntosh is the Social Media manager for Zions Bank.