Life Lessons: What I’ve Learned From Working In A Family Business

Rebecca Green, head of marketing and communications at the pre-owned luxury business Xupes, on what happens when the personal and...

Hidden in the Hertfordshire countryside, in a 17th-century converted barn, is Xupes, the home of pre-owned luxury. Established in 2009 by the father-and-son duo Frank and Joseph McKenzie as a way of selling pre-loved, high-end watches, artworks and objets d’art, the company has since evolved to encompass luxury designer handbags and jewellery, and even houses its own Omega and Cartier accredited watch-servicing centre.

My role in the business is head of marketing and communications, but I am also proud to be part of the family as daughter to Frank and sister to Joe. My job is extremely varied: my main responsibility is to drive enquiries and sales on the website, so I manage everything from keyword planning to budgeting. I also work closely with the creative team, who are responsible for our visual content; organise exclusive events for our clients, from wine tasting to watchmaking; oversee bigger projects such as the launch of our new website and the redesign of our packaging; and develop our email communications, social media, PR, local marketing and brand collaborations.

The thing that made me most passionate about becoming part of the business remains my biggest challenge: working with family. As Joe and I grew up only two years apart, we have always been close so we typically don’t find it too difficult to work together, but like everyone, we have ups and downs, differences and disagreements. As you’d expect, between siblings, there is a lot more emotion involved, but at the end of the day, we know that we are all working towards the same goal. Here are five ways in which we make that happen…

1. Treat everyone in the business as if they are part of the family.

When I joined in 2015, there were about 10 people working at Xupes. Two years later, we have more than 30 employees, but the family ethos has expanded to the whole team. In fact, it’s so important to the business that the recruitment process involves making sure each employee will fit among our close-knit, passionate team.

Frank’s personality is key to this equation, as you can often find him at his desk buried under hoards of antiques. Occasionally, he will announce the latest arrival in his collection to the whole office and follow with a story about its history and provenance. The team often comment on how the Xupes office would make a great TV show with all of the different characters who work here (not forgetting the two mischievous Patterdale terrier office dogs, who are often to be found darting around the office after toys or hopping onto team members’ laps for an afternoon nap).

2. Family businesses have regular problems too.

Working in the pre-owned sector has pitfalls in itself. One of my main challenges is convincing our audience of the quality and authenticity of our products, and advocating trust in the company. Online is such a faceless environment; any customer who gets the privilege to visit us is sold in immediately. We really work hard to give an experience that can be compared to buying new from some of the big luxury brands.

3. Never rely on being family – it is not a ticket to an easy ride.

Working in a small business presents its own challenges, but adding in the element of family brings a plethora of additional obstacles. When I started here, I didn’t expect to be given preferential treatment because I was part of the family; if anything, the expectations were even greater. I had to put in over and above to prove to everyone that I was qualified for the role, and that I wasn’t just here because I am part of the family. Of course, my previous credentials in marketing helped, but it took a good six months to settle in.

Even now, I feel that there are eyes on me at all times. As a family employee, I help to set the standard for others, and because of this, Joe makes a point of treating me like any other employee. I get pulled up for things just like everyone else; once, I was sent home for wearing white trainers to work – an anecdote that is told to anyone joining the Xupes family when explaining dress codes!

4. Know where to draw the line between family life and work.

I grew up as a middle child with two brothers in an extremely competitive, driven but close family, and often had to fight to get my opinion across. At Xupes, I sometimes have to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation, remembering this is not home life but work.

It is incredibly important to strike the balance between work and family. There have been numerous occasions when “Xupes chat”, as my husband calls it, creeps into conversation at family birthdays or celebrations. We have to make conscious efforts to avoid this, as it can dominate conversation and alienate other members of the family.

Relationships can come under pressure when you spend day in, day out together at the office, so Joe and I try to make even more effort than before to spend time together outside of work. It’s important to keep family bonds strong regardless of what is going on in the office.

5. Family has a huge influence on who you are and can bring a lot to your business.

Our shared family history is incredibly important. Joe’s and my parents both came from hard backgrounds: my mother’s family was evacuated from Poland during World War II and had to rebuild their lives from scratch in the UK, while my father was brought up in Scotland with very little to live on. This made our parents dedicated to giving us a better lifestyle; they taught us to work hard, that nothing comes easy, and that true success lies in your own hands. It has not been an easy journey to get to where we are today, but I am incredibly proud of the team’s achievements in creating such an amazing brand and am happy to be part of the success.

To find out more about Xupes, visit www.xupes.com.

From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK

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