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Family-owned firms stand strong in Las Vegas

Massive mergers and big buy-outs seem to be the trend in business, particularly in this slow economy. To some, this is sound strategy that makes sense since this will keep the company financially viable. But there are business owners who veer from this thought and continue to think that success is spelled by the loyalty of their customers, love of their employees and the pride and joy of having a company they can call their own.

“I don’t think this business would ever shut the doors because we’ve got too much pride in doing what we do,” said Steve Hansen, owner of Las Vegas Plumbing. “I love what I built. I’ve got too many customers I would let down if I bailed out.”

For her part, Herbally Grounded owner Angela Curtis concurred.

“It’s a family business and we have lots of our friends working with us that are considered family,” she said. “If they are not our best friends to start, they become our best friends, like family.”

Both businesses are based in the continuously expanding city of Las Vegas and have made their marks with the locals. Both also survived the effects of the Great Recession, which as everyone knows, has been particularly harsh in Nevada.

“When the recession hit, it was like night and day within two months. You can see a total difference in the business,” Hansen said. “(But) my son is a survivor and I am a survivor. This business will be here for a long time,” he said of his 29-year-old company.

On the other hand, Herbally Grounded, which started in 2004, just a few years before the souring of the economy, was not badly hit by the downturn.  

“We’ve been extremely blessed and haven’t felt that affected by the recession. We believe this is in part because we try to accommodate every situation,” Curtis said.

Moving forward, the two family-owned companies join other similar firms in Las Vegas that are hopeful of better times ahead as the business sector starts to feel the recovery of the local economy.  

“The future is bright for business and, despite the recent discussion about taxes, business owners will naturally rise with the growing economy,” said Shaundell Newsome, board member of the Urban Chamber of Commerce.

He also noted that businesses will be more “strategic and smart” in their operations.

The Urban Chamber of Commerce, like other chambers in the city, supports the interests of its members by providing information and networking assistance that encourages the financial success of businesses.

In reference to family-owned businesses, Newsome said it is understandable why there are those who choose this kind of enterprise.

“Most people who are building a new firm with a new identity want to leave some sort of legacy for their family,” Newsome said. “Things like using the family name or the name of something or someone dear to them is very important.”  

But he cautioned that starting a family business would need more effort for it to take off. 

“A new family business requires a lot more work on the owners’ part to develop the brand with the marketing and operational plan. There is no foundation to work from,” he said, noting that this will be “a risky proposition from the start.” 

Las Vegas Plumbing

Las Vegas Plumbing’s Hansen typifies the frazzled business owner who works almost 24 hours a day to keep things running smoothly at his company. 

“Owning a business, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t,” he said.

“People don’t realize it is a lot of stress. There were times when I was on call 20 hours a day. Sometimes I would not come home at all,” he added. 

But Hansen is quick to add that the rewards of managing a company and being loved by loyal clientele are priceless.

“There’s a lot of them who I’m friends with, those whom I can call and have dinner with. I know most of them personally,” he said of his corporate clients.

“I have (private) clients who still ask for me. They have trusted me for 30 years. I still get hugs,” Hansen said.

He also has been “passed on” to the households of the now-grown children of longtime customers whose plumbing needs he has been taking care of for the past 30 years. 

“I enjoy that part very much,” he said.

Three decades ago, Hansen was a high school English teacher in Wells, Nev. The lure of Las Vegas – warmer weather and better job opportunities – brought him to the city. He took on a couple of varied jobs for a while until he landed a position at Larkin Plumbing, one of the largest plumbing companies in the city.

“I was thrown into being a plumber,” said Hansen, whose experience in plumbing at that time was limited to draining pipes when he was a teenager at his father’s Roto-Rooter business in Idaho. 

“I went from drain man, then gradually (was given) some commercial jobs within the year. I went pretty fast,” he said, noting that one of his advantages was his mechanical inclination to “take something apart, figure out what is wrong, fix it and put it back together.”

Hansen said he enjoyed learning the intricacies of plumbing from his employer. But he had his own set of ideas on how to run a plumbing business. 

When he felt he was ready to go out on his own, he got a $10,000 loan, was joined by a co-worker and began planning the start of his own company.

With the loan, he bought two trucks and plumbing equipment and saved $2,000 for overhead. He rented a “bathroom-sized” room as his office, got a desk and a coffee pot and officially opened Las Vegas Plumbing on Dec. 28, 1983.

For the next six months, Las Vegas Plumbing coasted smoothly with Hansen acting concurrently as office manager and main plumber. He and his co-worker fielded two to three service calls a day.

The two-man firm eventually moved to a bigger office to accommodate the steadily increasing paper work. At that time, Hansen invited his wife and daughter to take over administrative tasks. Eventually, he hired a regular secretary and bought a truck as the business started to take off.

“We’ve gradually grown,” Hansen said, noting he added trucks periodically until they had as many as 12 at one time. 
Reeling from the recession, the company currently has a fleet of six trucks.

It still offers plumbing services 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The office building on Windy Road is open on weekdays. Committed to customer satisfaction, the company assures its clients that they will not be billed extra for “off” times. Las Vegas Plumbing also promises ”better prices, promptness and impeccable craftsmanship.”

Six plumbers, two laborers and three administrative staff members complete the list of Las Vegas Plumbing employees that are managed by Hansen and his son, Ryan.

Hansen wishes to pass on the family business to Ryan and see it flourish more in the years to come. “He’s going to ride on my shirt tails for a little while. But after that, he’s going to be on his own,” Hansen said.

But Ryan is not new in his father’s business. He became part of the company, although at a much smaller capacity as a digger and laborer, 14 years ago. “He started a long time ago because I forced him to work. He was still in high school then,” Hansen said.

While Hansen sees in Ryan the potential to be an exceptional plumber, he said his son is now more involved in the administrative part of the business, “which is where he should be when I retire.”

“He has the qualities that would make a good businessman. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning those (qualities). He is smart and he is good with customers. In the last year, he’s made leaps and bounds,” he added.

While he tries to impart to his son a set of sound strategies for running the business, Hansen is aware that eventually “he will have his own (approach) that works for him.”

But one aspect that he wishes to remain forever part of the company’s culture is how it treats employees. Since he started his business, Hansen’s philosophy as an employer was to keep people who work for him happy.

“The happier they are, the better the job they do,” he said.

In addition to giving fair compensation, Hansen also bolsters camaraderie during the holidays with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals in the office.

He also gives out Christmas bonuses – more during better years and a little less during a leaner economy. “I still try to give a little bit just to thank them and let them know I appreciate what they do for the company.”

At work, he also promotes an atmosphere where deserving employees do not feel restricted if they need to take off for family matters.

“During the day if something happens to their family, I let them go to take care of it. It’s my philosophy that if mom is happy at home dad will do good work. If they are happy, they do good work for you,” Hansen said.

In this business he manages with family, Hansen also said that making all his employees feel they are like a family is paramount.

Herbally Grounded

In much the same way, employees of Herbally Grounded believe that one of the many benefits of working for the company is its “family-oriented and uplifting work environment.”

The company’s motto, “We care for your health,” seems to include the well-being of its employees as well.

For one, employees get a good discount on the store’s extensive inventory of more than 1,000 products that include 300 bulk herbs and 50 locally made formulas, according to company office manager Cami Hardinger.

At the same time, these employees can attend free monthly classes on wellness at the store, she added. These classes are offered to customers at the conference center located at the back of the store.

Herbally Grounded owners Angela and Curt Harris said their company is a family business that involves their eight daughters and four sons-in-law. All other employees are treated like they are part of the family.

The needs of her own family was what made Angela Harris decide to set up Herbally Grounded in Las Vegas in 2004.

“At the time, my husband and I had been traveling a lot because we were working with other companies,” she said. The health advocate, who also gives lectures on health and wellness in several cities around the country, decided to cut down on the traveling and “stay home” more. 

“That was when we realized that there was not a single store in Las Vegas that would fill our family’s needs,” she said.

The couple realized that while vitamin shops abound in the city, there was no single store that sold real herbs. “So we decided that we needed a place that we could go to fill that need for our family and for our community,” Angela Harris said.

Her advocacy for health and wellness was a result of past illnesses and her amazing recovery with the help of herbal healing. In the company website, the master herbalist shared her touching story. When she was 25, Angela Harris was diagnosed with debilitating lupus and was told that the only treatment available for her condition was steroids.

Devastated, she began research for alternative treatments and consulted with herbalists. She began a daily regimen of herbs for the immune system and within weeks her symptoms lessened and gradually disappeared.

But a mere five years after beating lupus, Angela Harris faced another health crisis when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with three months to live. To stretch this to a year, she was told to start chemotherapy immediately.

“The medical treatment options were risky, life altering, and no one could guarantee me anything except that I would definitely lose the child I was carrying,” she said.

Determined to prolong her life, she again turned to herbs and did more intensive research on how this can treat her cancer. In her study, she said she learned that human bodies are made to adapt and heal themselves. “But they can become overwhelmed by excessive chemical additives, refining of our food supply and exposure to pollutants and disease,” she noted.

“By supporting the body’s defense systems and supplying adequate nutrients, we assist the body to rehabilitate, strengthen, and heal itself,” she said.

“When I started looking for herbs to treat my illness, I didn’t know of anyone who had survived their cancer using such alternative methods. Now I know hundreds of them,” she added.

Her successful battle with cancer and her desire to share this with others is what drove Angela Harris to be an advocate of herbal healing.

But when Angela and Curt Harris were about to open Herbally Grounded eight years ago, friends and acquaintances warned against it since the market was already saturated with health food stores. “But we did anyway and it worked by the grace of God,” she said.

The company website is a gold mine of information about herbal supplements for immune support, sexual health, bone support and weight loss, among others. Wellness issues addressed by the store run the gamut of pregnancy care, heart health, muscle and joint pains, child’s health and even well-being of pets. Shopping online is made more convenient for customers as they can shop by condition or by herbal ingredients.

On their website are customer commendations and numerous testimonials on how the store and its staff helped them with their health needs and lifestyle.

“Thank you so much for all that you do for others – sharing your knowledge of herbal healing, positive attitude, and your gift of healing,” one client said.

Contented clients also thanked store employees who were friendly and helpful in their needs. “The customer service is excellent, but above all things, your staff is committed with a tireless sense of service that is filled with a passion for doing the right thing for just the right reason,” a customer said.

Indeed, “integrity, compassion for others and a passion for health” are the requirements that the Harrises look for in future employees. “We are always looking to add to our Herbally Grounded family. We look for herbalists in training for our store front.”

The Herbally Grounded store is located at 4441 W. Charleston Blvd. It opens its doors daily at 9 a.m. and welcomes customers until 9 p.m. on weekdays and until 7 p.m. Saturdays.

The spacious, well-stocked store is filled with herbal supplements of all kinds and sizes to cater to customers’ needs. Herbally Grounded sells natural products and the “finest and freshest” herbs available.

“We offer high-quality herbs in our bulk section which allows people to customize their products for a great price,” Angela Harris said.

Most popular are Herbally Grounded’s own formulas that “work so well” according to customers. On its website, the company attributes its products’ efficacy to Angela’s insistence on using only “high-quality herbs with no added fillers.”

In her story, Angela Harris said, ”Since my complete recovery, I have found I have a passion to share what I have learned by using herbs and principles of healthy living. “I share my story, the herb formulas I used, and my witness that there is hope.”

It is her hopefulness and passion for herbal healing that drives Angela and Curt Harris to “help get their hometown of Las Vegas healthy again.”

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