A trio of Arizona small businesses are busy building family legacies
Three Arizona families, three thriving businesses. What makes them work and how do they plan to pass along their legacies to their children and grandchildren? Their stories, histories, hopes and dreams are what being successful in a family business is all about.
Faith and Prosperity in Cottonwood
Tony and Tammy Ontiveros are quintessential small business owners who’ve made “family” the operative term in their thriving enterprise. Based in Cornville, Arizona, just east of Cottonwood, the Ontiveroses own a string of five gas stations-slash-convenience stores in the Cornville-Williams area. The couple’s newest venture, Crazy Tony’s Old Town Market, just opened in April in Old Town Cottonwood.
There’s something to be said for geographic permanence and the success it can sometimes breed, and Tony and Tammy are living proof of it. Their roots in Cottonwood run deep. A native, Tony used to walk to school every day by the newly constructed building he’s now leasing. What’s more, his grandfather helped build the local civic center across the street, and his mother still calls Old Town her home.
Tony’s no stranger to the retail world that his family now inhabits. He’s worked in that business since he was 17, bagging groceries at the local Cottonwood supermarket in the neighborhood where he grew up. And today, by dint of hard work, the Ontiveroses have built a small retail empire, employing 50 people and racking up $13 million in annual sales.
Several family members work with Tony and Tammy in their businesses—among them, their son, Ryan, who oversees two of the family stores on State Highway 64, and their daughter, Elayna, who handles marketing. As they continue to expand, Tony says, “We’re running out of family to help us run the businesses!”
In fact, Tony admits, the Ontiveroses are experiencing a few growing pains. “We’re starting to bring in some more help,” Tony says. “We have to.”
When asked why he thinks they’ve been so successful, Tony says their Christian faith is the primary reason.
“It’s true that our success is largely based on our faith in God,” Tammy elaborates, “but it’s also based in using the talent that each of us has, and relying on the members of our family who help us operate the stores. It’s the talent that we have as a whole—Tony with his retail expertise and me, I gravitate toward accounting and bookkeeping. And most of our children are simply natural entrepreneurs and hard workers, with a lot of self-discipline.”
The Ontiveros children grew up in the business. “They kind of got thrown into it,” Tammy remarks. “Even as young children, 22 years ago, they’d work with us and participate, and it’s given them the knowledge and the understanding that they have a part in the future of our business. So right now, all of us are working very hard to help the business grow—for their sakes—and make them successful, because this is about everybody’s future.”
With development and construction booming in Cottonwood right now, the Ontiveroses are banking on the city’s growth to help them further expand their businesses. Property values have increased significantly, they report, and the Verde Valley as a whole is, as Tony says, “on fire with growth.”
Tammy, turning thoughtful, says that the family’s next moves will be more strategic in nature.
“I want this business to be all that it can be, of course, but I want to do it with carefully planned growth. That’s very important to us. As we grow, it may not be exclusively gas stations and convenience stores; I think there may be some diversification—vacation rentals, perhaps. We don’t want to keep all our eggs in one basket, as they say.”
Snowflake About Face
Snowflake Tire & Auto sits right on Highway 77 in the small community of the same name, directly across from the police station. Up until a few years ago, when the Rogers family took it over, the business had been failing and was in danger of going under.
The Rogers family—Danny, his wife Claudette, and Danny’s brother Chris—might not have ever thought about opening a small business if it hadn’t been for a family health crisis. Claudette had recently been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and Danny, who was working for the state of Arizona, said he was looking for a way to be closer to home, to help his wife. Danny’s brother Chris is a master mechanic, so the three of them put their heads together and decided to give the failing tire business a go.
Despite Claudette’s fragile health, things couldn’t have worked out better. After getting the business off the ground in 2015, the business more than doubled their revenues in the year that followed. Danny and Claudette’s 20-year-old son, Ryan, eventually joined them to make the shop a true multigenerational family business. Chris’s high-school-age son also works there part time.
The Rogers’ formula for success is very straightforward. “I would say we made it work because of our reputation in this community and the fact that we treat people right,” Danny says. “We knew when we first got involved that this is a small community, and if you don’t do good business in a small town you won’t be in business very long.”
Claudette agrees. “I think it’s also the fact that Chris and Danny and Ryan all work really well together,” she says. “A lot of our family had their doubts about us going into business together, mostly because we’re a family. I’ll admit it hasn’t been perfect—once in a while we struggle and get frustrated with one another. But the great thing is that we work well together, we’re flexible and chip in to help one another where and when we need to.”
The future of the Rogers’ business looks promising. “We’re trying to expand the existing business right now,” Danny says. “Maybe get some more buildings put up so we can add more service bays. Who knows? I’ve thought about maybe moving into some surrounding towns but right now our plate is pretty much full.”
Claudette has her own thoughts on the matter: “We’d like to retire!” she chuckles, but then turns more thoughtful. “Danny and I talk a lot about how we’d like to see Ryan and Chris’s son take over someday, but Ryan has some different ideas about what he might like to do, so we’ll have to see what that might mean for him. Right now, though, we’ve pulled him into management of the tire shop and he’s doing such a great job. We’re very proud of him.”
Buckeye Family Bonanza
Caption: La Placita Cafe owner Barbara Amabisca and her grandson Joseph continue the legacy of the family business first started by Barbara’s husband Joe in the early 1960s.
Nothing exemplifies a true, multigenerational family business more than La Placita Café, in Buckeye. Founded by Manuel and Nellie Amabisca, the casual restaurant located downtown in the quickly growing small city due west of Phoenix has been in business for the past 55 years, owned and operated by two generations of the same family. Now, plans are solidly underway to transition ownership of the café to the third generation of Amabiscas.
La Placita’s owner, Barbara Amabisca, was married to Joe Amabisca, the son of the restaurant’s founders. She and her husband operated the restaurant for many years, but when Joe passed away five years ago, Barbara made it her mission to keep the business going. It was all about family tradition, and the continuation of something obviously important to Barbara and her family, as well as the community the restaurant serves.
“We have some customers who’ve been coming here for so many years that now, their kids and their kids’ kids are customers, too,” Barbara notes, about the longevity of the business. “They love the food, so we try to keep the same menu items—my husband’s mother’s recipes—it’s very important to us.”
La Placita Cafe may have started out with just 11 tables, but, these days, Barbara says they can actually seat 300 in their greatly expanded premises.
“In the early days, my husband was the cook and I was the waitress, and we had just one person washing dishes,” she reminisces. “And as we grew the business, we brought more people on and we expanded, slowly, into some of the adjoining buildings to ours.” The restaurant currently employs around 15 staff members.
These days, Barbara and her brother-in-law take the morning shift, preparing some of the foods and getting things ready for opening, and then, in the evening, Barbara’s 27-year-old grandson, Joseph, takes over.
Joseph is an important member of the La Placita team; it is he who’s next in line to own and operate the family business.
“His grandpa wanted him to inherit it,” Barbara says. “And he’s a very good worker,” she adds, with obvious pride. “He’s very kind and personable, and all the customers love him.”
For the Amabiscas, the idea of family extends much further than bloodlines. As she says, “Because we are family ourselves, we treat the people who come into our restaurant like family, too. Maybe that’s why it’s been successful. We take the time to visit with them and talk to them. We have some girls that come in as a group and sit all day and visit with one another, and that’s fine with me. It’s always been my feeling that a customer should be able to sit at a table as long as they want to; it’s a part of who we are here.”
Small Business Legacy Planning
The key to legacy planning is just that: Planning.
So says Lynn Baldwin, a vice president and wealth-planning strategist for the National Bank of Arizona. Baldwin specializes in helping business owners transition their ownership to succeeding generations of family members.
“There are so many issues that arise as businesses are passed from one generation to the next,” Baldwin says. “The best advice I can give any family business owner who plans to pass on his or her business is to start as early as possible, because planning far ahead is critical to the transition being successful.”
In the planning process, Baldwin explains, business owners can begin to work on a corporate governance plan that identifies the family members who will be in the line of succession, avoiding the pitfalls that often occur when it’s unclear who’s actually supposed to be inheriting the business.
“To illustrate,” Baldwin says, “let’s say two brothers start a business and operate it for many years. In time, the next generation of family members will be getting involved, and there’s likely to be competing interests, with some family members participating and some not. So what you end up with is a whole lot of stockholders with different goals and objectives. That’s when having a solid plan for corporate governance becomes a highly critical component of any legacy planning structure.”
Using a legacy planner offers business owners a lot of advantages. They’re able to have an independent, third-party voice that enables them to explore numerous options when it comes to their succession plan.
“Before the founding generation [of business owners] reaches retirement, they can think through how best to make the business remain viable through their retirement, making sure the next generation has the ability to continue to grow the business,” Baldwin explains.
The strategic planning Baldwin does for his clients is comprehensive. “It involves us looking at all their finances and how they stack up in accordance with certain wealth management products,” he explains. “When we put some analysis around that, we find that many of these high-net-worth business owners have very fragmented portfolios. We learn that they might have a lot of trusted advisors—attorneys, accountants, insurance people—giving them guidance, but all of these professionals might not be talking to one another.”
Baldwin says it all comes down to making sure the business is regarded as one entity.
“When we do that, the big opportunity for the client is that they have a more cohesive plan, one that considers every aspect of their business balance sheet,” he says.
Story by Bruce Farr
Photography by Mark Lipczynski