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The family business heartland: Top 10 US family businesses

The United States is home to some of the most successful family businesses in the world. From homespun cotton to farm fertiliser, family values matter in the land of opportunity, and are often the key to commercial success. Here are CampdenFB’s top 10 US family businesses to watch in 2014.

The United States is home to some of the most successful family businesses in the world. From homespun cotton to farm fertiliser, family values matter in the land of opportunity, and are often the key to commercial success. Here are CampdenFB’s top 10 US family businesses to watch in 2014.




American Eagle Outfitters
• FAMILY: Schottenstein
• SECTOR: Retail fashion
• REVENUE: $3.48 billion (2012)

A war is heating up in the teen clothing market and American Eagle Outfitters is front and centre in the fight for this lucrative demographic. While American Eagle was founded in Pittsburgh in 1977 by brothers Jerry and Mark Silverman, the Schottenstein family bought and restructured the retailer in the early 1980s. Since 1999 it has been embroiled in a struggle with chief rival Abercrombie & Fitch, which has included a series of lawsuits for design and advertising infringements. American Eagle has always come out on top and while its recent sales figures haven’t been outstanding, it has beaten both analyst expectations and its competitors. American Eagle’s growth plans for 2014 are threefold – increased focus on e-commerce, faster production of fashion-leading designs and international expansion.

Dart Container
• FAMILY: Dart
• SECTOR: Containers and packaging
• REVENUE: $3 billion (2012 estimated)

The humble plastic drinking cup is the secret behind this family business’s 50-year success story. In 1937, William F Dart founded his machine shop in Mason, Michigan, producing ID tags for the US Army. By the 1950s, Dart Manufacturing Company, as it was then known, was a pioneer in foam drinking cups, and is now the world’s largest manufacturer. Brothers Kenneth B and Robert C Dart still own the firm, which in 2012 bought chief rival, the iconic Solo Cup Company, for a reputed $1 billion. In 2014 it is due to complete a $47 million expansion of its Michigan HQ. Practically self sufficient, Dart’s vertical integration means it manufactures its own factory equipment, produces its own raw materials and delivers its finished products with its own transport infrastructure. It has 14 US and six international production facilities.

Five Guys
• FAMILY: Murrell
• SECTOR: Fast food
• REVENUE: $1 billion+ (2012 estimated, total chain sales)

Since 1986, this Virginia-based family business has been feeding serious burger enthusiasts in the Mother State. But lately, with more than 1,000 restaurants in North America (and several more recently opened in London, England) Five Guys Burgers and Fries has become the fastest growing restaurant chain in the US with 792% growth since 2006. The “five guys” are founder and chief executive Jerry Murrell’s five sons: Jim, Matt, Chad, Ben, and Tyler, who all work in the company – Jim in operations, Matt opening new locations, Chad developing training, Ben in IT, and Tyler as head of bakeries. This family’s secret? No nonsense, high quality burgers and fries.

L.L. Bean
• FAMILY: Gorman
• SECTOR: Outdoor apparel and equipment
• REVENUE: $1.52 billion (2012)

Leon Leonwood Bean was certainly ahead of the curve in 1912 when he opened his mail order business for outdoor apparel in Freeport, Maine. Starting with only one product – the iconic L.L. Bean boot (originally called the Maine Hunting Shoe) – Bean soon branched out into ammunition, backpacks, firearms, tents, and the clothing line, which is now L.L. Bean’s primary revenue stream. Over a hundred years later, the Bean name is synonymous with functional fashion and equipment for the great outdoors. In May 2013, Leon’s great grandson, Shawn Gorman, was elected as chairman, but since 2001, longtime L.L. Bean employee Chris McCormick has served as the private company’s first non-family president and chief executive.

• SECTOR: Construction and engineering
• REVENUE: $3.7 billion (2012)

This infrastructure engineering and construction company, based in Coral Gables, Florida, is one of the most successful Cuban-American businesses in history. The firm was co-founded in 1994 by anti-Castro agitator and gifted entrepreneur Jorge Mas Canosa, and his son Jorge Mas, the current chairman. Another of his sons, Jose Mas, is chief executive and president. From telecommunications to electricity supply, gas and oil pipelines, renewable energy, and water and waste management, there aren’t a lot of large-scale infrastructure projects in which MasTec doesn’t have a track record. Last year the family-controlled, NYSE-listed firm garnered annual revenues that were up 32% year-on-year.

MSC Industrial Direct Group
• FAMILY: Jacobson
• SECTOR: Industrial equipment
• REVENUE: $2.36 billion (2012)

When Sid Jacobson founded Sid Tool in Little Italy, New York City, in 1941, he probably didn’t realise he was planting the seeds for one of the largest direct marketers and distributors of industrial parts in the world. From cutting tools to industrial fasteners, from measuring instruments to plumbing supplies, MSC Industrial stocks over 500,000 products from over 2,000 suppliers. It services small-to-medium-sized manufacturing companies from its Melville, New York, headquarters and warehouses around the country. In 2011, Sid’s grandson, Erik Gershwind, was appointed president and chief operating officer of the firm and despite a tough manufacturing environment, the following year MSC’s sales were up an impressive 16.5%. With US manufacturing making a comeback, MSC’s star seems to be in the ascendant.

RaceTrac Petroleum
• FAMILY: Bolch
• SECTOR: Gas stations and convenience stores
• REVENUE: $5.75 billion (2011)

With around 600 retail properties in 12 states, practically everyone who has ever driven through the South has fuelled up at one of the Bolch family’s roadside oases. Founded in St Louis, Missouri, in 1934, the firm was an early pioneer of the self-serve gas station. The second generation took the driver’s seat in 1967, moving corporate headquarters to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1976. On December 31, 2012, then chief executive Carl Bolch Jr handed the wheel to his daughter, Allison Bolch Moran, remaining chairman of the company. Last year the company began expanding its convenience store offerings, with the addition of free wi-fi internet, frozen yogurt, and indoor and outdoor seating.

• FAMILY: Sheetz
• SECTOR: Gas stations and convenience stores
• REVENUE: $5.23 billion (2011)

Along with Philly cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, Sheetz is a Pennsylvanian institution which has found widespread popularity outside the Keystone State. Founded in 1952 by Bob Sheetz with one convenience store in Altoona, the gas station chain now has around 450 properties in Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. Bob’s son, Stan, served as president from 1995 to September 2013, when he handed the reigns over to his son, Joe. Extremely competitive in the crowded Mid-Atlantic gasoline market, the Sheetz family are proven innovators, and have lately tried their hands at their own soda brands and restaurants. They even took on Pennsylvania’s government over the state’s arguably outdated alcohol sales laws – and won.

Swift Transportation
• FAMILY: Moyes
• SECTOR: Transport
• REVENUE: $3.49 billion (2012)

Jerry Moyes is still chief executive of the Phoenix, Arizona-based $3.49 billion trucking firm he started in 1966 with just one truck. Revenues have rebounded since the 2008 global financial crisis, and continue to grow steadily – Swift’s freight operations now consist of a fleet of 16,300-plus tractors and 52,200 trailers, via 40 terminals. The firm ships a variety of products throughout North America, including building materials, food, paper products and retail merchandise. While some retail and institutional investors are currently bearish on the NYSE-listed stock, as of December 2013, earnings estimates for 2014 are moving higher for the company, and the firm looks set to succeed in the long haul.

Wilbur Ellis
• FAMILY: Wilbur and Thacher
• SECTOR: Agricultural products and services, chemicals
• REVENUE: $3.06 billion (2013)

In 1921, three University of Washington classmates – Wilbur, Ellis and Franck – pooled together $5,000 to start up an import-export brokerage in San Francisco. Almost 100 years later, the multi-billion dollar organisation is a leader in all three of its main product areas – agribusiness (crop production technology, pest diagnosis, yield monitoring, soil analysis), feed (livestock, pet food, aquaculture) and chemicals. In the 1930s Wilbur Ellis moved into the Asia Pacific region with the acquisition of food distributor Connell Brothers. By the 1980s Connell Brothers had narrowed its focus to supplying specialty chemicals and ingredients for producers of coatings, food, paper and plastics. Diversification and strong links to Asian markets are ensuring Wilbur Ellis continues to go from strength to strength.

Images copyrighted to Press Association/ Associated Press/ Amber Nicholson 

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