Three family businesses thrive with a hand-off approach
YOUNG, ATTRACTIVE, MOTIVATED, AND FOCUSED.
Those are just some of the characteristics that describe three individuals, each being groomed to run their family’s Litchfield County business. Monique Shay Jr. at Monique Shay Antiques(Woodbury), Jonathan Derwin at R. Derwin Clothiers (Litchfield), and Amanda Seitz at J. Seitz & Co. (New Preston) are each in the process of stepping out of their parents’ shadows by taking prominent roles in their family’s retail enterprises. Their goal is to enhance the solid, 20-plus-year history their elders have created by injecting a youthful input into the mix.
Building on the sturdy foundation their parents have forged makes good economic sense to these entrepreneurs, particularly in this tough economy. In addition, both sides of the family equation enjoy a working relationship based on mutual trust and appreciation for one another’s talents—assets not to be discounted. These budding successors have been given the tools, permission, and support to grow the business—a valuable legacy designed to keep the family brand relevant into the coming decades.
LIFE + STYLE
Amanda Seitz grew up with J. Seitz & Co., the New Preston shop run by her parents, Joanna and Bill. A graduate of The Gunnery and New York’s FIT with a degree in fashion-merchandising management, Amanda has worked in the store since she was 16. Now in her late 20s, she has been a buyer for the past five years. “My parents have given me great responsibility,” says Amanda, who lives in nearby Washington. “I wear many hats, working as buyer, assistant manager, online guru, assistant to Joanna, and merchandiser.”
J. Seitz, founded by mom Joanna, specializes in stylish merchandise for men, women, and the home, including distinctive furniture, home accents, clothing, jewelry, books, candles, even folk art. Amanda has brought in merchandise from young designers, like “green” clothes made from organic fibers that have a great fit. “I have established relationships with the kids of many of our clients and with the next generation that is moving up from the city. Joanna likes a neutral palate, I like pops of color,” she says with a smile. “We thought of branching out but have decided to stay with this unique location.”
The very hip and fashionable Amanda hinted that she will be developing merchandise in new categories in the future. She also manages the store’s Facebook and Twitter pages, which she uses to introduce new ideas and new merchandise. She has added personal shopping to the store’s website and email blasts to customers, which have proven more effective than postcard mailings.
“My mother always told me to treat your job, any job, as though you are the owner of the business,” says Amanda. And, she added, with what certainly holds true for any merchant, “We all have a common goal, we want the business to do well.”
HIP AND CLASSIC
Jonathan Derwin, 33, a former dot-com executive, now resides in Torrington with his wife and two young sons. Raised in Massachusetts, he has lived as far away as Texas where he worked for Dell, and later in NYC while working for The Rockefeller Group. But two years ago, when his father, Richard, expanded R. Derwin Clothiers into additional retail space on West Street in Litchfield, Jonathan saw an opportunity to establish long-term roots.
Richard Derwin, whose West Street store sold both men’s and women’s clothing, separated the two, keeping the women’s merchandise in the original location and creating a menswear shop up the street. Jonathan focuses exclusively on the men’s store while his mother, Andrea, handles the women’s shop. Richard oversees both operations. In developing a younger customer, Jonathan has introduced merchandise with a youthful, hip fit while maintaining the shop’s signature classic look and top-level quality. He is developing blogs for both stores, redoing the company’s website, and supervising email lists and mailings. “This is the kind of business where the owner needs to be onsite and totally involved,” Jonathan says. “Now my parents can go on vacation from time to time and not worry.”
Andrea says she is living “a mother’s dream!” Retail legend Richard says that learning during tough retail times is a great experience. Even in the current economy, the stores are doing very well, so he sees this as a great time for Jonathan to be cutting his teeth.
For Monique Shay Jr., who lives in Woodbury with her young family, it’s a short drive into town and to the business her mother began, Monique Shay Antiques. The fourth of seven children and a former communications major in college, Monique Jr. is responsible for handling the sales aspect of the business. In addition to working with on-site customers, much of her work is done electronically—in daily correspondence with potential buyers, decorators, and new clients. Her mother, Monique Sr., gave her a free hand with maintaining the several-acre property, and she has installed herb gardens and a swimming pool, which quickly became a source of summer enjoyment for her mother’s 20 grandchildren.
Monique Shay Antiques has been featured in every major home-furnishings publication and is frequented by a host of celebrities and renowned decorators. Under the eye of store founder Monique Sr., all the country-style French-Canadian furniture purchased in Canada—painted cupboards, armoires, tables, chests, chairs, buffets, and sideboards—is restored by in-house artisans, then beautifully displayed in the 1814 white colonial and surrounding barns.
Thanks to her daughter’s presence, French-born Monique Sr. is now able to travel a bit more. “I have lost my authority,” she jokes. She also admits, “Having family you can trust is what has freed me.