Two of them are self-described "black and white" thinkers. The other two, meanwhile, come at the world from a more intellectual point of view — they're what you could call the "gray area."
But this mix of philosophies — and the ensuing potpourri of ideas — has brought versatility to Ahearn Equipment in Spencer, a 30-year company jointly run by two generations of its namesake family.
"The dynamics of the four of us is what makes it work," said Tim Ahearn, patriarch and founder (and admitted "gray area" thinker), speaking of his family members and business partners, wife Donna and sons Jeremy and Josh.
The one trait shared by all? "We're all very driven to succeed," Tim noted. "I'm not a believer of luck. I think you create your own luck."
On The Farm
Indeed, it was a risk, rather than luck, that launched the business in 1977. It hatched in the stone basement of the family's home in North Brookfield. Tim, who holds a degree in agricultural engineering and grew up on a dairy farm — he disliked the cows but enjoyed the field work — began repairing farm equipment. (His father-in-law, coincidentally, owned and ran a milk processing plant.)
Soon, the business expanded to selling farming staples, such as hay balers and manure spreaders. To accommodate the business, a 40-foot by 60-foot building was raised behind the house.
As Donna described it, they were "living the business," integrating family life with company demands, and vice versa. "That's an advantage of a family business," she said.
As local agriculture began its rapid decline in the 1980s, Tim shifted the focus to lawn equipment. Growth stayed steady, and by 1988, the equipment dealership had outgrown its backyard status; it moved to its current building, situated on a busy stretch of Route 9 in Spencer. In 2006, the facility was doubled to 27,000 square feet.
The seven-day-a-week retail operation, with 40 employees, has also expanded to equipment rentals — now in double-digit growth, which Tim attributes to the economy — and repairs. The company is also a Napa Auto Parts dealer, an expansion made in 1991.
As for the most recent growth spurt, mom and dad attribute it to the fresh perspective of the second generation. When the younger Ahearns came on within months of each other in 2002 and 2003, it was a time to "take a big leap or stop growing," noted Josh, who handles the company's sales and marketing.
In the end, the big leap was the outcome — between 2002 and 2008, the company more than doubled in sales from $4 to $10 million. As for the long-term, the sons didn't commit to any cemented plans. "Our goal is to be the most well-run equipment dealership in the country," said Josh. "If that leads to expansion, then that's where we're going."
Admitting that the industry is "old-school," he added that they've had an advantage in capitalizing on marketing through a web site, and, most recently, Facebook and Twitter.
Similarly, through radio ads and a comedic, advertorial show that premiered in May on Worcester's Ch. 3, the brothers have adopted the moniker and personalities of "The Tractor Guys."
Clearly, they like to have fun with it — but, still, neither rides on the fact that they're the boss' kids, they said.
There's no special treatment, they asserted. Before coming on, both went through the typical application process, and Josh even gave a presentation for his parents (and prospective bosses) to illustrate how the business could support a position for him. "They certainly made me earn it," he said. He added that "we were encouraged not to come work here. There was no pressure — it was completely of our own desire."
After starting in entry-level positions, both sons worked their way up to management.
A separation of work and home life (and the ensuing quibbles and joys of each) is key to survival as a family-run business, the brothers noted. "I don't think of my mother as my mother when I'm at work," Josh said. "We treat each other as co-workers."
Still, the family aspect does arm the company with innumerable strengths. "It gives our employees a sense of belonging, an extended family," said Jeremy.
Flexibility is another benefit. "We can adjust on the fly," said Josh. "It sounds so clichéd, but service is everything to us. It's a culture, we live it every day."