Centennial Succession

Companies

By Holly Morse-Ellington

For generations, area companies have been dreamed up, developed, and sustained by local families who are not only dedicated to their businesses but also committed to the people and prosperity of our community. Through significant investments in time, money, and sweat equity, many of these companies have changed generational hands, successfully endeavoring for more than 100 years.

And they’ve overcome the odds. Forbes reports that less than one-third of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation ownership, and another 50% don’t make it to a third generation. Only 3% of all family businesses continue into the fourth generation and beyond.

Here, we celebrate 7 inspiring local businesses that are currently on third, fourth, and even fifth generation family leaders.

Sweet Success

Chattanooga Bakery

In 1902, Campbell family members were instrumental in founding Chattanooga Bakery as a subsidiary of Mountain City Mill.  “The Bakery started as an offshoot to use excess flour milled, and its products were distributed probably within a 50-mile radius of Chattanooga,” says Sam Campbell IV, company president.  “Sam Campbell Jr. and John C. Campbell managed its expansion during the 30s, and it was incorporated on its own in 1939.”

Today, Chattanooga Bakery is best known for its signature MoonPie®. As legend has it, the MoonPie® was invented in 1917 when a Kentucky coal miner asked one of the bakery’s traveling salesmen for a portable, filling snack “as big as the moon.” Campbell IV says of this good story with mysterious origins: “That’s what we choose to believe.”

Currently, three generations work under one roof. “My father, Sam Campbell III, serves as chairman of the board, my brother, John C. Campbell, is chief operating officer, and my daughter, Elizabeth, is a marketing analyst. Mallie is interning this summer in new product development.” While you don’t hear of that often, it works for the Campbells. “We’re very careful to make sure that our duties are aligned in such a way that we’re not supervising each other. That would be crazy.”

As Chattanooga Bakery evolves, so too does its offerings. For example, the Mini MoonPie® is now available in chocolate, vanilla, banana, and strawberry flavors, and the MoonPie® Crunch is in the late stages of redevelopment. “You’re not going to get very far with a nostalgic brand if you haven’t kept up,” Campbell IV says. “And I think we’re rewarded in the fact that we have been able to keep an iconic brand relevant for all these years.”

With a delicious product, an understanding of nostalgia, and a cult following on social media – MoonPie® boasts 288,000 followers on Twitter thanks to its quirky tweets – the company shows no signs of stopping. “We want to continue the business forever, and we intend to be a family business forever,” Campbell IV says.

By family, Chattanooga Bakery means the founding lineage of five generations as well as its employees. “It’s hard to quantify this, but we’ve got family members who aren’t blood relations that have been working with us the whole time,” Campbell IV says. “The fact that we’ve got such a wonderful staff and a wonderful bunch of people who consider this company their own too is just great. And that’s one of the reasons you get up every morning.”

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Furnishing Nostalgia

Fowler Brothers Company

It all started with a horse-drawn buggy in 1885. Celebrating its 134th birthday this year, the Fowler Brothers Company began when James G. Sterchi sold glassware and other similar goods door-to-door. “Once they started going to houses and the homeowners would ask for something like a chair, they realized they needed to expand their inventory,” recounts Carter Fowler, president and fifth generation Fowler Brother. “At that time, certain types of products were not readily available in just any storefront.”

By 1886, James, his son-in-law John O. Fowler, and his brother John Calvin Sterchi established Sterchi Brothers and Fowler. Then in 1911, they opened their four-story flagship store in downtown Chattanooga on 7th and Broad. “We had everything from appliances, pianos, fine silver, and of course all of the furniture you could imagine,” Carter says. “Our focus then was just trying to have a product for everybody.”

The decades have brought changes in inventory and location, but their philosophy carries from one generation to the next. “Each of our stores has a curated collection,” Carter says of The Furniture Shoppe and The Patio Shop. “We know we can guarantee that quality to hold up. My ancestors would use words that were related to the craftsmanship and the construction, such as ‘honest’ furniture or ‘sturdy’ furniture.”

That proven, quality craftsmanship has resulted in customer trust and longevity. “Seeing multi-generational shoppers is unique – a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter all at once,” Carter says. “It’s really special to me to hear them say, ‘Yes, I remember going with you, and I also remember going to buy my first sofa here.’”

In an evolving industry, personal relationships are key. “We’re in a world where you can click and buy things online; I get it,” he says. “But it’s not just our products, it’s also the people that make up our company who are focused on having the knowledge to give customers good, honest advice.”

Ultimately, Fowler Brothers’ long-term goal is to improve the livelihood of its customers. “We’re in a world of many disposable goods, but we know the products we offer will stand the test of time. They will be tomorrow’s antiques.” Still, they make an indelible imprint. “We’re literally giving people something that can change the way they use their space to enhance their life.”

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A Taste of Tradition

Zarzour’s Café

Joe “Dixie” Fuller’s great-grandfather, Charles Abraham Zarzour, immigrated from Beirut through Ellis Island. He began his American Dream as a pack peddler in Alabama. “Imagine being Lebanese in the middle of rural Alabama, knowing very little English, and going farm-to-farm selling brushes and measuring cups,” says Dixie’s wife, Shannon Fuller.

Charles and his wife moved to Chattanooga for greater opportunities. He opened his first restaurant venture, a stand on the corner of Main and Market, where he sold peanut brittle and Coca-Colas. They put every penny earned into starting Zarzour’s Café on Chattanooga’s Southside in 1918.

The family business grew when Charles’ oldest daughter, Rose, and youngest son, George, ran the café from the 50s through the 70s. Menu staples included chili with hot dogs, beef stew, and mini burgers. Zarzour’s served beer too, but the neighboring landscape changed with the addition of a church. Laws prevented Rose’s niece, Shirley Zarzour Fuller, from renewing the license when she became owner.

Like many downtown businesses, Zarzour’s weathered trends toward malls and suburban living. “Back in the 50s, Main Street was buzzing,” says Shannon, Shirley’s daughter-in-law. “When I started working here, Shirley didn’t have a lot of business left. She said, ‘I have tried everything.’ I said, ‘You haven’t tried me.’”

In 1996, Shannon took a grassroots approach to attract customers. “I took business cards everywhere I went,” she says. “When I paid my power bill, I’d tell ‘em to come eat at our restaurant.”

Presently, Shannon holds the self-coined title “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer.” She also flips the burgers, expanded from minis to double-deckers. Husband Dixie churns out weekly batches of homemade ice cream: Heath bar in winter, peach in summer, and strawberry in spring and fall.

“We feel so blessed,” Shannon says. “This was our dream – to have a little restaurant where we knew all the customers by name.” And the patrons keep them going. “I’ve been here long enough to watch my friends’ kids grow up and start their own families. They bring their kids in here and that’s really neat.”

Looking back, “We haven’t changed much over the years,” Shannon says. “It’s a piece of Chattanooga history, it’s a piece of our history, it’s our home. It’s what we love.”

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A Lasting Legacy

John P. Franklin Funeral Home

George Washington Franklin founded Franklin Funeral Home in 1894, establishing him as the first African American funeral director and embalmer in Chattanooga. G.W., as he was known, had two horse-drawn hearses and even owned a blacksmith shop as well as a lumber yard and cemetery. As member of the National Negro Business League, he became friends with league founder and notable activist Booker T. Washington. This friendship exemplifies how G.W.’s business interconnected with personal relationships – G.W. conducted Washington’s wife’s funeral and was a pallbearer at Washington’s own funeral.

As G.W.’s family grew, so did the generational thread of Franklin Funeral Home leadership. Three of his five children, Ben, Mabel, and John P. Sr. joined their father’s calling to memorialization. At the outset, Ben and Mabel worked together before running two separate Franklin funeral homes. Later, Mabel and John Sr. went into business together, teaming up with friends Reuben Strickland and Fred Reynolds to form Franklin-Strickland-Reynolds Funeral Home.

In early 2000, the team made a pivotal decision to merge with outside investors. The partnership was short-lived. “It illustrates to me how today’s John P. Franklin Funeral Home represents our return to a local family-owned firm,” says Cheryl Franklin Key, funeral director and John Sr.’s daughter. “This was the time my dad, my brother, and I decided to return to a family-owned business.”

“My dad had said, ‘Let’s start buying a couple things. We’re gonna need this; we’re gonna need that,’” remembers John “Duke” Franklin, funeral director and embalmer. “It was little stuff like chairs, but that process kept the fire going.”

The corporate merger distinguished what was unique about their dad and G.W.’s approach to a family-run, local service. “Dad was involved in multiple organizations and many other aspects of the community: social, politics, and churches,” Duke says of John Sr., who was Chattanooga’s first African American-elected city commissioner. “My dad’s bottom line was, be of service and support to your community, and when someone experiences the loss of a family member, trust has already been built.”

Preparing for their dad’s funeral in 2018 was a difficult, yet sentimental turning point. “This year for us has really been about transition – to do it in a way that honors and pays homage to our father and our grandfather,” Cheryl says. “And to carry on in a manner consistent with their values.”

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Developing Trust

Fidelity Trust Company

Although founded in 1912, Fidelity Trust Company’s connection to Chattanooga real estate and construction dates back to 1885. Fidelity co-founder John Crabtree began his career in the industry at Olmstead & Sons. “Over a period of time, my family ended up buying out the other investors in the company and consolidating it,” says J. Matthew “Matt” McGauley, president and CEO and Crabtree’s great-grandson. Matt uncovered this history while cleaning out the original office building on Cherry Street, built by Crabtree. 

When established as Fidelity Trust, the company was a full-service real estate business with divisions in brokerage, appraisals, and insurance. “At one point in time, Fidelity was the largest FHA loan originator in town,” Matt says.

Generational leadership continued with Matt’s grandfather, John R. McGauley. “My grandfather loved crunching numbers and doing analysis,” Matt says, “but he also pushed the company at an early age to adapt to technologies other people weren’t using.”

Michael F. McGauley, Matt’s father, took the reins from his father and served as company president for more than 30 years. During his time, he initiated a shift in focus that continues today. “He loved brokering deals and being involved in the community. But unlike my great-grandfather, who liked houses, my dad liked commercial buildings,” Matt says.

Matt’s interests are in construction and sustainable development, so he chose to delve in and focus on that when he took over the company. Under his leadership, Fidelity Trust developed the first LEED-certified building in Hamilton County. “The emphasis on sustainable development is core to what Fidelity Trust is today,” he says.

The majority of Fidelity’s commercial development is reconstruction of historic and existing buildings. “Of every project I’ve been involved with, probably about 30% has been new construction and 70% has been redevelopment, but every project has an emphasis on sustainability,” Matt explains.

“Chattanooga has come a very long way in a very short time. But I think it has a really long runway. I think we’ll continue to see people from outside the city moving here, more and more families starting here, and more and more businesses launching here – this is a wonderful community for fostering entrepreneurship.”

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Making Their Mark

Chattanooga Printing & Engraving, LLC

When John Coolidge decided to restore his grandfather’s roll top desk, he discovered an accordion folder he’d never seen. “What if I find a gold coin or something valuable in here?” Coolidge thought as he opened it. “I could not have found something better.” Wedged between the folds was the 1910 check ledger of Walter P. Coolidge Sr., founder of Chattanooga Printing & Engraving (CP&E). “It was the history of my grandfather starting the company.”

The ledger revealed “W.P.” Coolidge began by printing medicine bottle labels. From there, operations expanded to printing for ad agencies, book binding, and letterpress. “Our goal has always been to produce a product that is not only pleasing to the eye, but also accomplishes the customer’s expectations,” says John.

John’s involvement in his grandfather’s company began the summer after his junior year of high school. “I got a phone call from my dad,” he recalls of being interrupted while hanging out with friends. “I thought, oh my, am I in trouble? He told me, ‘You’re starting work tomorrow.’” Thus, John began his tenure track toward managing partner.

John learned on the job alongside his father, Charles H. Coolidge Sr. The WWII Medal of Honor recipient imparted his craft. “Dad by trade is a book binder,” John says. “So, the very first thing he taught me was how to bind books.”

Other family members played an important role in CP&E as well. “My uncle, Walter Jr., taught me to quote printing prices, and my aunt Ada taught me how to proof print.” John’s brother, Bill, who had started with the company two years before John but took some time away to attend college, was learning other aspects of the business. “Bill has been an inspiration to me since I was very young,” he says. “He’s patient with customers and enables many to attain goals beyond their expectations.”

In the mid-80s, competing printers used one main brand of press. To stay on the cutting edge of technology, John broke from industry convention. “We had the first four-color Heidelberg offset press in Chattanooga,” he says. “Everybody was beating down the door to get in here. We were the show.”

Employees, however, solidified the building blocks of Chattanooga Printing & Engraving. “This machinery doesn’t matter,” John says. “It’s the people who use it. We couldn’t have done it ourselves.”

The Internet Age presents ever-evolving practices. “I’m optimistically cautious about the future,” he says. “The conventional is still here, but you have to be forward-thinking.”

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Ironclad Innovation

Lodge Manufacturing Company

Joseph Lodge had traveled the world when he settled near Chattanooga in South Pittsburg. Tucked alongside the Cumberland Plateau, the town’s resources included coal and iron, a river, and a railroad – everything Lodge needed to manufacture cast-iron cookware. “He named it the Blacklock Foundry after his friend, an Episcopalian priest,” says Lee Riddle, vice president of sales and Lodge’s great-great-grandson.   

Opened in 1896, the foundry performed well until it burned down in 1910. But within three months, Lodge reopened a few blocks away, this time as Lodge Manufacturing Company. To persevere through the Great Depression, Lodge produced more affordable novelty items such as cast-iron garden gnomes.

“We’ve always had to be scrappy,” Riddle says. In the past, savvy promotion substituted for the lack of an advertising budget. “We had to make a lot of friends by putting skillets in people’s hands. Now you have the explosion of the Food Network. You can’t really turn on the Food Network without seeing our product.”

Trends fluctuate, but that can be an advantage. “Cast iron has gotten hip and hot again,” Riddle says. Where images of cowboys cooking on the range may have once come to mind, there’s a new generation of cast iron users. “Thank goodness a lot of the younger consumers have been attracted to our brand. The fact that our product is natural, it doesn’t have any chemical coatings on it, and it’s green and lasts forever is very appealing.”

Lodge experienced a growth spurt in recent years, adding two new buildings and doubling the number of employees. “You feel like you’re doing something pretty well when you have literally an entire family of three generations working here,” he says. “We’ve got over 400 really great folks who are willing to roll up their sleeves and give everything they have to help make us successful.”

Riddle, who once worked for Pepsi-Cola, is glad he returned. “It’s humbling to know you’re helping continue a time-honored tradition that started 123 years ago.” But he doesn’t want to push his sons. “One day they may find their way back here like I did. It would be kinda cool to be sixth generation.”

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