Updated: Jan 20, 2020
Paul and Ted Valentine, Valentine Volvo
Even the most successful family businesses cannot insulate themselves from swings in the economy, says Ted Valentine, the 85-year-old patriarch of Valentine Volvo. He believes the keys to surviving tough times are focusing on service and customers, and maintaining a balance between modernizing the business and growing sustainably.
Today, Ted’s youngest son, Paul, runs the dealership. In nearly 70 years, the Valentine business has been through four locations and watched the Calgary economy bounce up and down, with auto sales down again last year for dealerships across the province.
In 1946, Ted’s father, Bert, opened a downtown car dealership and sold English Austins during the 1950s. Twenty years later, the company switched to specializing in Volvos and Ted replaced his father as principal dealer. Today, Ted’s youngest son, Paul, runs the dealership. In nearly 70 years, the Valentine business has been through four locations and watched the Calgary economy bounce up and down, with auto sales down again last year for dealerships across the province. (It’s a trend predicted across all sectors for small businesses. In September, the CFIB’s monthly business barometer reached the lowest recorded level of confidence for the future among independent businesses.)
Valentine says his family concentrated on growing conservatively and minimizing risk. “We haven’t ever risen too high and so we’ve never been too low. It’s always been somewhere in the middle,” he says. “But, by paying attention to people, not over-dealing or trying to get too large too fast, we were able to weather the downturns, as well as the upturns.”
Today, there’s no clear successor among the 17 grandchildren in the Valentine family, although there is one strong possibility, Valentine adds. “Most owners would like that, to see their sons and daughters carry on the tradition. But, it’s about what they want and not what you want,” he says.
For third-generation businesses, which are built on long traditions, a key challenge is keeping up with new competitors. In a 2014 survey of family businesses by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Canadian respondents said the digital landscape has changed the game for all businesses, putting pressure on smaller players to innovate.
“Companies that don’t become more forward thinking will fall behind competitors that have been quicker to benefit from the efficiencies that digital tools can bring,” PwC’s report said.