Schneider's Florist, Benjamin Steel among generational businesses thriving in Springfield

When Aaron Ardle was deciding whether to join the family business, he attended trade conventions and heard a common refrain: In many cases, the next generation just isn't interested.

Ardle, whose parents own Schneider's Florist, opted to join the shop full-time in 2014. A few miles away at Benjamin Steel, third-generation sibling co-owners Teresa and Nick Demana also found their ways to the family business.

Ardle and the Demanas are the exceptions that prove that multi-generational businesses are alive and thriving in the community.

“This was a thing we talked about my entire life,” says Ardle, the florist's general manager.

But it wasn't a foregone conclusion. Ardle spent 13 years in the event and entertainment business, including as a stagehand and then lighting director for some large concert facilities in Columbus. He tired of the long hours and looked toward Schneider's as a family-friendly business where he would also get to spend more time with his wife, Carol, who is now the office manager.

Schneider's Florist was founded in the early 1900s by Glenna Schneider, and when Kathy and Bill Ardle purchased the business in 1971 they were only the third owners. Their son attributes its longevity to Schneider's visible location at 633 N. Limestone St., along with its personalized service and ability to adapt to change.

“When new things happen, we embrace them,” Ardle says.

For example, the shop got a website as soon as it was able, and it purchased a computerized point-of-sale service for florists as soon as it was available. Schneider's also has expanded to include more than flowers, becoming a one-stop shop for items such as tuxedos, table linens, chocolates and gift items.

In addition, Schneider's offers personalized services that help it stand out. One of the shop's specialties is to place flowers at Ferncliff Cemetery for customers throughout the country, and then follow-up by sending them a photo of the finished display, Ardle says.

“It's the little touches that people really appreciate and seek out,” he says.

While there used to be 14 flower shops in Springfield, Ardle says there are now only three. About half of family-owned florists across the U.S. have closed since the early 2000s, he adds.

“The industry is really changing a lot right now,” he says.

Adapting is also what has helped Benjamin Steel survive for so long, the Demana siblings say.

“We've had to change, and we've had to figure out how to manage change,” says Nick Demana, who serves as chief executive officer.

The company traces its roots to 1935, when Dominick Demana, an immigrant from Italy, began buying and selling metal and paper scrap. Demana Scrap Yard moved out of his backyard after World War II.

His son, Vince, took the reins in 1962 and expanded the company, buying scrap yard and steel warehouse Benjamin Iron and Metal a few years later. Eventually the business's name was changed to Benjamin Steel Company, and the scrap business ended. Today the company focuses on steel products and services from its headquarters in Springfield, with branches in Lima and Mansfield, and a Cincinnati-subsidiary, Frederick Steel.

Both Nick and Teresa began working at the company during summers and after school while in their teens. Nick says he “started at the very lowest level,” stacking steel and whacking weeds. He joined full-time in 1989, after studying small business entrepreneurship and management information systems in college.

“I did early on come to appreciate our company, the family business, and the work that we do,” he says.

His sister, who is the company's director of communications, was even more succinct. “Nick has steel shavings running through his veins,” she says.

She spent several years after college in Atlanta, but returned in 1998 to join Benjamin Steel. The two took the first steps to initiate joint ownership that year.

Yes, the company provides a living for the Demanas, but Teresa says they know that they provide a living for a lot of other people at the same time. The company has 240 employees, including 90 in Springfield.

“It's not what we get out of it, it's how we can be good stewards of this business,” she says.

When their generation took ownership, Teresa says they realized that with their new positions came not only the responsibilities of a job, but something “much higher and deeper than that.”

Trust and respect have been at the foundation of how the business is governed, Nick Demana says.

“We've gotten the right people, and we've been able to see them develop and build,” Teresa says. “That is truly how we've been able to adapt.”

Nick Demana says that a company's greatest accomplishment will be passing it along. Ideally that would be to the next generation, but the goal is to keep the candle burning whether or not it is to a relative.

“I fully believe family businesses are what have built this country and have been the engine of moving this country forward, and it's going to continue to be like that,” he says.
 

Read more articles by Diane Erwin.