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Fathers, sons bond as business partners

Fathers, sons bond as business partners

  • Updated

In honor of Father's Day, the Star takes a look at some local father-son business partnerships to learn how they make it work.

Dental Prosthetics Inc.

• FATHER-SON: Wendell and Andy Herr


• LOCATION: 4545 E. Fort Lowell Road and an office in Mesa

Wendell and Andy Herr's first attempt at making Dental Prosthetics Inc. a father-and-son business didn't work out quite the way they hoped.

"I felt like I wasn't contributing as much as I could," Andy said. "That first year I felt like I put a lot of ideas on paper about what we needed to run the business and grow and function as a company instead of just a start up.

"I wanted to do so much and he was like, 'Whoa! Hold back.' I had to make a little bit of a change and kind of slow things down and not charge ahead so much."

That was in 1997. Andy had graduated from college and just completed a mission for his church. He was eager to help his father grow his business from the tiny two-person laboratory Wendell started in 1969 to the 40-employee, two-office operation it is today.

"He was ready to accomplish a lot of stuff that I was too busy to help him work on and I think he got discouraged," Wendell said.

Andy had grown up in his father's lab.

"He'd worked for me as a kid, as a grunt, cleaning floors and lots of stuff," Wendell said of his son. "His mother died when he was 7, so I was a widower with him for about six years and I would take him down to the business because there was nowhere else for him to go. He did a lot of little stuff around the lab."

After that initial yearlong foray working together in 1997, Andy moved to Utah where he worked for a biotech company as director of marketing for North America. He was good at his job, but the hours left him very little time for his family. Andy realized he needed to "fine-tune" his life so that he could spend more time with his family, including his father. That meant finding a less time-intensive job.

Said Wendell, "About five years ago he was putting in some applications to make a job change and I asked him, 'Did you put in one at Dental Prosthetics?' "

Andy rejoined his father's company in 2007.

"This time around things were a lot different," Andy said. "They were wanting to grow and eager to do whatever it took and I was able to implement some of the marketing things I wanted to do."

Said Wendell: "The business outgrew my ability to handle it, so it was perfect timing for him to come and take over things. It worked out great. He got us through this financial crisis that's going on. We kept all our employees. My wife and I went to serve a mission ourselves and he ran the business almost entirely for the last four years. I go in and see what he's doing and what's going on and try to keep a little pulse on it," but he trusts his son to do what's best for the company.

"We still have our disagreements," Andy said, "but he's been really good this time around. He's left it up to me to work with the team and make things go. He's been more flexible and I've been more flexible and I think that's what makes it work this time."

Tuller Trophy and Awards

• FATHER-SON: Morton and Howard Tuller


• LOCATION: 525 N. Sixth Ave. and 5631 E. 22nd St.

Howard Tuller grew into his role as owner-operator of Tuller Trophy and Awards - literally.

"He's been down at the business ever since he could walk," said his father, Morton Tuller, who started the business with his wife, Sylvia. "He was always playing around with different parts of trophies and it was natural for him to go into the business and he is so good."

Remembers Howard: "Being the only child, I was sort of raised in it. In the early years I was down there all the time because we didn't have any sitters. As I grew up and more responsibility came my way, I was able to help out."

By the mid-1970s, Howard had graduated from the University of Arizona and opened the 22nd Street trophy shop. His father didn't have any qualms about Howard's approach to the family business.

"My dad could not have made it any easier for me. He's been terrific," Howard said.

At 91, Morton is semiretired, but still works at the shop part time.

"He loves being part of it. This is the business he built up. It's as if it were one of his children. He cares so much about it," Howard said. "He's wonderful with the customers, that's always been his strong suit."

Morton is equally effusive of his son's talents.

"He's so precise, so professional. He's very creative, very creative, and that's the basis of this business," Morton said. "The industry has changed considerably, the equipment, but the business is still basic: You have to have the touch. You have to be able to create, and he has that ability. It was a talent that I have and fortunately he has it and he's very successful.

"We've got an extremely, extremely, extremely unusual father-and-son relationship. We are extremely close familywise and businesswise. We both think the same way. I don't question anything that's being done," Morton said.

Don's Hot Rod Shop

• FATHER-SON-GRANDSON: Don Toia Sr., Don Jr. and Don III


• LOCATION: 2811 N. Stone Ave.

Don Toia Sr. knows a thing or three about working with family.

He grew up helping his dad, Leo Toia, in his various business endeavors and now he works with his son and grandson - Don Jr. and Don III - at Don's Hot Rod Shop, selling high-performance auto parts.

Leo, the son of a Detroit grocer, spent his childhood peddling fruit on the street. Later he sold fish, plucked chickens, stitched seat covers and ran a pool hall before moving his family to Arizona, where he opened a gas station in 1947 before converting it to an auto-parts store. Eventually he added camping and fishing gear and housewares as well.

Now the shopping center on North Stone Avenue is packed with Toia family businesses, including the Hot Rod Shop, which Don Sr. opened in the 1970s behind his dad's automotive shop. The shopping center can't be missed. A 20-foot-tall fiberglass lumberjack stands on the corner. A bit of self-promotion Leo added to the property in 1964.

Leo died in 1988 at the age of 77, but the tradition of family working together continues.

"I do most of the ordering and stuff and he's in the sales part of it. It works out fine," said Don Sr. of working with his son. Just next door to the parts store the daughter and granddaughter of Don Sr. run a hot-rod themed café.

Don Jr. grew up around cars and has an inherent interest.

"I was into the car thing like he was and that was pretty much what set my deal," Don Jr. said.

"He's easy to work for - for me anyway. He pretty much runs the office part of it and I pretty much run the … sales floor."

Don Jr. was 14 or 15 when he began working in the shop, starting "just like everybody else, at the bottom cleaning up and learning all the stuff to go along with it. You have to like cars to want to do it."

When Don Jr. was a freshman in high school, he and his father spent 18 months building a hot rod. "He didn't really teach me a lot, but he steered me in the right direction, because if you didn't learn it yourself, you wouldn't know how to do it."

Don III, 20, a semipro soccer player, is picking up the parts business more slowly because he didn't have the level of interest in cars that his dad had in high school, but "he learns a little bit more every day," Don Jr. said.

Said Don III: "I'm just helping out as much as I can and putting the parts away and trying to learn the parts as much as possible. They try to help me as much as possible. I'm just trying to learn it all. I would like to learn the car parts like my dad and my grandpa do.

"They both have different ways of doing stuff, but both ways are the right way, and if it gets the job done - either quick or slow - whichever way doesn't matter as long as it's the right way," he said.

There is one trait, though, young Don does not want to inherit from his father and grandfather: "Hopefully I don't become bald like either of them."

"Being the only child, I was sort of raised in it. ... As I grew up and more responsibility came my way I was able to help out."

Howard Tuller,

owner-operator of Tuller Trophy and Awards

Ace Hardware

• FATHER-SON: Michael McAuliffe and Michael Jr.


• LOCATION: 115 W. Esperanza Blvd., Green Valley

• QUOTE: "It is really a dream come true to work with my dad, my father-in-law and my son," said Michael McAuliffe, who also works with his wife, Marie. "Together we've continued to make this a successful family business."

Achilles Air Conditioning Systems

• FATHER-SONS: Preston Achilles and sons Jon and Matt


• LOCATION: 1331 E. 16th St.

• QUOTE: "For us it works really well. We have a pretty good working dynamic together. We all kind of specialize in different areas. That makes it easy to communicate and stay out of each other's way," said Jon, who has worked at Achilles for 16 years. "Working for family, my brother and I, we have an understanding of what is expected from us on a daily basis. When we look at our commitment, we never question how much we give to the business. We give 100 percent all the time."

Excel Mechanical Inc.

• FATHER-SON: Jim and T.J. Zarling


• LOCATION: 929 S. Tyndall Ave.

• QUOTE: "Since my son has joined the company we have experienced some of the best years we have been in business because of his innovations, creation of a team effort and most importantly customer and community service is mandatory," Jim Zarling said of T.J., Excel's purchasing manager.

Hamstra Heating & Cooling Inc.

• FATHER-SON: Jeff and Wade Hamstra


• LOCATION: 2035 E. 17th St.

QUOTE: "Working with dad is great. We pretty much run it as a partnership. All the management decisions come from both of us as a team," said general manager, Wade, whose grandfather, Glenn, now retired, started the company. "I'm very fortunate to have a dad who is so open to my ideas and allows me to contribute to the company in the way that I can."

Jack Furrier Tire and Auto Care

• FATHER-SONS: Jack Furrier and sons Mike, Rick, Jeff, Sean, Tim


• LOCATION: 12 locations in the Tucson area and Sierra Vista, with a 13th opening this summer

• QUOTE: "We like each other. We all hang out together; we will go to the lake or on vacation together," which is a key part of working together in a family business, said Sean Furrier, who was in junior high when he started working with his father. "My dad, from a young age, had everyone working hard. Jack, he's the hardest-working guy. He set an excellent example. He's never been a guy who had to do absolutely everything himself. It's a fairly collaborative effort, so we share a lot of resources. We try to help each other out."

Miles Label Co.

• FATHER-SON-GRANDSON: Paul W., Paul "PJ" and Bobby Miles


• LOCATION: 7720 N. Arizona Pavilions Drive

• QUOTE: "We've made it work for six generations," said PJ, whose great-great-grandfather started the business in Iowa in 1912 before the operation was moved to Arizona in the '60s. "I'm more the operations side of the game where my father and son are much better at the front-end sales and money side of the game. Just like anybody else you're going to have differences here and there, but we always work it out and it's always for the betterment of the company and the family."

P&H Contracting Inc.

• FATHER-SONS: George E. Herman and sons, George J., James and John


• LOCATION: 930 W. Glenn St.

• QUOTE: "Other than my children, it's the best thing in my life, working with family," said son George. "Between everybody's own children and lives, it's the only time I really see these guys."

Papa John's franchise

• FATHER-SON: Jeff and Matt Quick


• LOCATION: 6860 E. Sunrise Drive

• QUOTE: "I was a little hesitant at first, wondering what it was going to be like working with my folks," said Matt, who runs the day-to-day operations while his father, Jeff, a CPA, keeps the books for the franchise, and his mother, Tracey, works in an administrative capacity. "But my dad has always been my hero. He's a really smart guy. He's been in business a long time, so he gives me a lot of moral support. If it's a slow week, I get kind of bummed out. He tells me, 'Be patient, Matt. Keep trying to do a good job and make the customers happy.' "

Poly Print Inc.

• FATHER-SON: Ron and Joe Genova


• LOCATION: 2300 W. Wetmore Road

• QUOTE: "He started with us 20 years ago when he was 10 years old," said Ron of his son Joe growing up at the family business. "I wouldn't let him around the machines. I'd let him sweep the floor and keep him busy. The guys got to know him - the boss's son - and they taught him stuff. He's like his mom. He's smart, he has a good aptitude for the business. You don't have to tell him too much. My wife, Elsie, handles the money. He does all the back end. I do the sales and marketing. It all works. We all like each other. We all work together. We all trust each other. It works. Everybody's got their job and they do it."

Riata Ranch Co.

• FATHER-SON-GRANDSON: Robert, Michael and John Powell


• LOCATION: 11405 E. Calle Catalina

• QUOTE: "It's a very neat experience, especially with my grandfather. I'm not sure, if we didn't have this small business, that we'd be spending as much time together and speaking to each other on the phone," John said. "My father, he's a serial entrepreneur, that's what he calls himself. I get to learn from my grandfather, from his experience and his wisdom, and also from my father starting his 16 small businesses."

Sellers & Sons Inc. commercial construction

• FATHER-SON (Tucson): Mike and Benjamin Sellers

• FATHER-SON (Buckeye): Jack and Spencer Sellers


• LOCATION: 2845 E. Ganley Road in Tucson and an office in Buckeye

• QUOTE: "There's a pecking order and everyone just does their jobs. We get along really well. And, there's a lot of love," said Mike, who owns the company with his brother, Jack. Their parents, James and Gerry Sellers, started business in 1957. Mike's wife, Angie Sellers, also works for the company as do Jack's wife and daughter, Stephanie Sellers and Stacey Holly. They also adhere to a family philosophy for success: "Work hard, pay your bills on time and provide a very good product."

Sonoran Gardens residential landscape design

• FATHER-SON: Chris and Matt Niccum


• LOCATION: 4261 W. Jeremy Place

• QUOTE: "We really not only respect each other and are very open to allowing different views, we also respect the chain of command," said Sonoran Gardens President Chris, whose wife, Jean, is the office manager. Their son, Matt, is the construction manager and their daughter, Kira, is operations manager. "It's worked well for us."

SunWestern Contractors Inc.

• FATHER-SON: Tom and Eric Hutchens


• LOCATION: 2925 E. Ganley Road

• QUOTE: "I'm the youngest of three kids. Because my dad has had the company ever since I was 7 years old, for me SunWestern was always there for me," said Eric, who worked for other companies after college before joining his father's business. "I don't try to pretend he's not my father. I call him 'Dad' in the office."

Vasquez Construction Co. Inc.

• FATHER-SONS: Twin brothers Bob and Dick Vasquez and Dick's sons Mike, Chris and Robert


• LOCATION: 123 W. Delano St.

• QUOTE: "It's a very close-knit family thing and we're very proud of what we do. We're very blessed," said Chris, whose uncle, Bob, has no children, but acts as a father figure to him and his brothers. "We all enjoy our roles in the company. It's a really simple philosophy: You've got to enjoy what you do, first of all, and you've got to enjoy the people you work with. It's got to be a good environment all the way around."

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at or at 573-4191.

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