At Pro Dental Art in Titusville, Florida, they've taken that term quite literally: all four members of the laboratory staff are related. Mike Mahery is the owner and head technician; his wife, Janine, is the lab's vice president and model and die technician; Janine's sister, Sherry Rivers, is a technician; and Janine's mother, Frankie Zimmerman, is the office manager.
Getting all four family members involved in the laboratory was more of an evolution than a plan. "When I first opened my own laboratory, I wanted to be a high-end operation and to make that happen, I needed to hire people who shared my vision and whom I could trust to do a quality job," says Mike. Although he didn't know it at the time, those valued employees were right under his nose.
Mike is the only team member with formal dental technology training. He earned his degree from Chattanooga State Technical Community College in 1985 and married Janine the following year. When Janine needed a job, Mike thought she'd be a good candidate for a position in the stain and glaze department in the lab in which he worked. She passed the lab's manual dexterity test with flying colors and was hired. When they moved and Mike accepted a position as the C&B department manager at another lab, Janine took a job in that lab's denture department.
In 2000, Mike realized his dream of opening his own high-end C&B laboratory. Instead of hiring an employee, Janine handled the model work, billing, shipping and receiving. "After about a year, it got to be too much work for one person and I had also gotten to the point where I really needed another technician. I wanted to take on new accounts, but I didn't have the manpower," says Mike.
The couple's first goal was to bring in more technical help and, while discussing how to go about it, they realized they already had the perfect candidate: Janine's sister, Sherry, who was then training thoroughbred horses. "I didn't decide to hire Sherry because she's Janine's sister, but because she's very highly skilled with her hands," says Mike. "She draws and sculpts and has a lot of good, raw natural talent. She had no experience, but for me that was a plus. I wanted someone I could train from scratch."
Since the position offered Sherry better long-term income potential, job stability and the opportunity to help out her family, she decided to give it a shot. She trained with Mike in the evenings, and turned out to be a natural. Today, Sherry handles waxing, framework design and metal finishing, and is training to be a ceramist.
The couple's next obstacle was convincing Frankie--who had bookkeeping and business management experience through owning her own candle-making company--to be their office manager. "They told me I would be very valuable to them, but I kept telling them they couldn't afford me," she jokes. Eventually she relented and came on board to handle office duties, bookkeeping and billing, shipping and receiving; and even opaquing. "My first week they said, 'Look how many units we got out! We couldn't have done it without you.' They make me feel like I really contribute."
For Mike and Janine, having Frankie as the office manager gives them peace of mind. "I can't imagine allowing someone else to manage our books and giving them authority over our accounts," says Janine. "Having that person be your own mother makes it easier for us. There wouldn't be anyone else we could trust as much as we trust her."
Like any business--and any family--this close-knit group does have its share of challenges. Despite the lab's casual family environment, they've found they need to have some formal systems in place to aid communication and avoid mix-ups. For example, after a misunderstanding regarding time off, the group decided that verbal communication wasn't enough. They implemented a concrete scheduling system in which they all mark their vacations, appointments and other time out of the lab on a large, calendar posted on the wall.
As you might expect in an all-family lab, the line between personal and professional lives is blurred, so another challenge is staying focused on the business during a family crisis. For instance, when they were dealing with the death of a family member, checking their emotions at the laboratory door proved to be difficult. "We were together all day long, so we stayed focused on what was going on in our family. If one person was upset, we'd all get upset or we'd end up having a long discussion about it--even though we still had to get work out the door. It consumed us," says Janine.
Despite the hurdles, this committed family staff has helped the laboratory thrive, and made Mike's dream of having a high-end cosmetic lab a reality. "The best thing about working with family is that we all have a personal vested interest in the lab's success and its future," says Mike. "I trust every one of them completely. I know they put their hearts into their work and they do their jobs to the best of their abilities. If they didn't, we wouldn't have made it this far."