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Craig McEwen, Published February 17 2009

Wimmer’s Diamonds owners plan for business’s future

Third-generation Fargo jewelers Brad and Randy Wimmer know they can’t run their 90-year-old family business, Wimmer’s Diamonds, forever.

They would, however, like to see the business that their Hungarian immigrant grandfather Fred Wimmer launched in 1919 stay in the family.

“Last on our list is to have a going-out-of-business sale and close it,” said Brad Wimmer, who joined the business in 1976 at age 22.

So Wimmer’s owners, Brad, 55, and Randy, 60, decided to take destiny into their own hands.

They recently held an intense, two-day summit in Fargo to determine if – some day down the road – any of five fourth-generation Wimmer offspring would like to take over.

Though Randy, who started in the business at age 26, said he isn’t quite ready to call it quits, Brad is thinking retirement might be about five years down the road.

The intent of the summit was to help three sons, a nephew and niece – ranging in age from 25 to 34 and living in New York, Denver, Scottsdale, Ariz., Minneapolis and St. Paul – guiltlessly decide if they want to carry the torch forward.

The event played out like a reality TV show.

One week prior, each participant completed a two-hour career test conducted by a New Jersey-based human resources consulting and assessment company.

During the summit they individually rotated through mini internships with Wimmer’s goldsmiths, business accountant, sales staff and office manager.

They listened to motivational speakers and heard local entrepreneurs assess Fargo’s business climate.

Family members poignantly shared memories and the rich history of Wimmer’s Diamonds – stories about a grandfather who, at age 21, came to this country in 1907 to work for Tiffany’s in New York.

“There’s a lot of emotion involved in a family business,” said Brad. “We had a lot of tears, a lot of stories, a lot of sharing.”

No one declared an immediate desire to assume ownership. A couple of family members said they might someday be interested.

And that’s just fine, said Brad, who also is a Fargo city commissioner.

The summit was meant to teach them more about Wimmer’s Diamonds and themselves and ease guilt should they decide not to join the family business, he said.

All felt it was a huge success.

“Something will happen because of it. The ball is in motion,” said Randy.

“You want to do this while everybody is alive and able,” said Brad. “You don’t want to do it in the hospital room or at the funeral.”

Planning is key

Type “Family Business Succession” into Google and you will find all kinds of consulting firms offering advice on how to pass a family business on to the next generation.

How often are businesss succession summits, like the one done by Wimmer’s, conducted?

“Not enough,” said Wayne Schmaltz, an Eide Bailly LLP family business consultant and guest speaker at the Wimmer event.

Most entrepreneurs don’t address the issue until it’s on their radar. That’s generally somewhere between 12 to 18 months before they want to walk out the door, said Schmaltz, of Boise, Idaho.

“The ideal time for succession transition is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 7 years,” he said.

Why?

“Succession transition of a closely held family business is just full of emotional issues,” he said. “It’s a process that needs to take time.”

Schmaltz acts as facilitator. His job: Flush out emotional issues that get in the way of a successful transition.

“Unless you can get the emotional issues resolved it’s not going to happen,” he said.

A great idea

The summit enabled Wimmer family members to reconnect with the business and each other, said Josh Wimmer.

“I’ve grown up with the store, but I didn’t have a real understanding of the inner workings,” he said. “It’s almost too bad that we didn’t do it a little sooner.”

Is he interested in running the business?

“I don’t think so at this point. I’m pretty happy with my life right now,” said the jewelry magazine writer and author. “It’s still a possibility and I wanted to come and get all the information I could.”

Gabe Wimmer, a Minneapolis parks employee, commended his father and uncle for holding the summit.

“It takes a lot of the stress out of it for us. It gives us something to think about now. We’re not going to be surprised in five years,” he said.

Where does he stand?

“My interest is loose. A big part of it is location,” he said.

Aaron Wimmer, a restaurant manager and server, also grew up with the business. The summit taught him a lot that he didn’t know, he said.

“I never expected it to be this in depth and intense,” he said.

Any interest?

“It’s definitely something I would be interested in down the road,” said the college graduate with a business/psychology background.

“The opportunity to even be here is huge,” said Kayci Wimmer, the youngest participant. “You don’t just walk into an opportunity like this.”

Is running the family business anywhere on her radar?

“Yeah, someday. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable down south,” said the Arizona bank employee and waitress.

Andy Benedict, a business development manager, thought the process was awesome.

“I think there’s a lot of pride in this business,” he said. “It shows that they really do value that family heritage and tradition.”

Is he interested?

“It’s really hard to say,” said the new father. “We love Minneapolis but you never know what turns life will take.”


Who’s who in the Wimmer family:


Small-business facts

Source: Family Business Review and the Family Business Institute


Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502