A family affair
Mother and daughter rely on strong bond in flourishing business partnership.
By Chris Cunningham
For Special Publications
Photos by Collin Andrew
Twenty-eight-year-old Petrel Farkas was a babe in diapers when she showed an interest in her parents’ pewter manufacturing business in Eugene, then known as the Tin Woodsman Pewter Co.
Her mother, Deborah Chapman, 53, says unlike her two other young children, Petrel “loved anything to do with the (Tin Woodsman) business,” now renamed Crosby & Taylor.
Crosby & Taylor sells its pewter artisan jewelry and household accessories to independent retailers at trade shows, in more than three dozen states.
It was through Petrel’s attendance at trade shows with her mother that the young woman realized how much she liked talking to customers about her parents’ products. Similarly, she observed that her mother was at her best designing and supervising the castings of pewterware measuring cups and spoons with renderings of dragonflies and fish, and ceramic canisters with pewter accents.
“You love to be behind the scenes,” Petrel says admiringly to Deborah, on a recent morning inside the Crosby & Taylor office in north Eugene. “And, I like to be out with customers.”
Even so, mother and daughter admit they are more alike than not, preferring customer contact and product design to ledger sheets and profit and loss statements.
Mother and her daughter always have been close, Deborah says. And as Petrel matured, their work styles also began to “complement each other.” It made sense that one day, Petrel would join the family business.
Their separate ways
But, following her graduation from South Eugene High School in 2002, Petrel left for Atlanta, Ga., to attend Emory University.
And, after earning her degree in Italian Studies, Petrel moved back to Oregon, to Portland, where she accepted a position as a social events manager at the Embassy Suites.
She was on the verge of entering the University of Oregon’s MBA program in 2009, when The Wedding Cottage, a boutique gift shop in Beaverton, came on the market.
The potential business opportunity gave Petrel pause: She wondered if studying business at the graduate level was the best way to get expert training as a business owner.
She knew she easily could tap into the expertise of her father Jim, and her mother, who have owned their manufacturing business for more than 25 years. After all, her mother actually had been mentoring her in business practices for years.
“(These) are some of the reasons I bought The Wedding Cottage,” says Petrel, who married Jacob Farkas in 2010. “It’s nice to have someone who understands” both the retail and wholesale sides of business.
Out of respect for The Wedding Cottage’s long-time customers, Petrel hasn’t changed the shop’s name to reflect her expanded merchandise that includes Crosby & Taylor pewter kitchen tools, wall signs, salt cellars and jewelry, in addition to the shop’s traditional wedding cake toppers, garters, hankies and toasting flutes.
Now, with the emergence of Crosby & Taylor’s new pewter line called the “Oregon Spirit,” touting the University of Oregon logo on charms and keychains, wine stoppers and salad servers, Petrel is confident The Wedding Cottage will attract a share of UO alums living in the Portland metropolitan area.
Mother and daughter say the two-hour commute along the I-5 corridor hasn’t diminished the frequency or value of their communications. Deborah drives up to Portland once a week for their business meeting, during which they keep an agenda and “stay very focused,” she says. They also Skype frequently.
One of the many advantages of doing business with her mother, Petrel says, is that she “can speak freely.”
While not a sure recipe for success in many personal and business relationships, Deborah admits, “We can be brutally honest. We can’t offend each other. We love each other so much.”
Both mother and daughter say their conversations remain fresh. In fact, both say they cherish their time together, whether for leisure or business. In their free moments, Petrel says they like “hanging out with family,” which now includes siblings and their spouses and children, and nieces and nephews and in-laws.
And they do love to go shopping, Deborah says with a broad smile. A perfect day for mother and daughter begins with forays into new boutiques. Then there’s lunch and family talk — and, inevitably, business.
Copyright © 2012 — The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA