2016 Family Business Awards: Heritage/Legacy Award

Winner: Bartell Drugs
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WINNER
Bartell Drugs
Location: Seattle

Sometimes, the best course for a family business managing succession is to reach outside the family for expertise while it prepares for the next generation to assume leadership. This happened to Bartell Drugs in 2015. With third-generation family leaders George Bartell and Jean Bartell Barber retiring and the five fourth-generation Bartells mostly still in college and not yet ready to take on leadership positions, the 126-year-old company hired longtime REI executive Brian Unmacht as CEO. 

Now those five young adults are actively involved through quarterly family council meetings to learn about stewardship of a family business. 

Eldest cousin Evelyn Merrill, 29, works as Bartell’s senior marketing manager. She’s the daughter of Jean Bartell Barber and niece of former CEO George D. Bartell. Although her cousins are coming of age and each has their own career passions, Merrill says one thing all family members agree on is that the company should remain in family hands. Merrill says the family all feel a commitment to their shared family history going back to 1890, when young pharmacist George H. Bartell Sr. bought a storefront in Seattle’s Central District. 

As a teenager, Merrill first got a sense of the Bartell legacy as a cashier clerk, a job all cousins have held. She spent a year working in various departments, from marketing to human resources, and that’s when she felt a calling. “I saw a commitment from employees to our family that was really inspiring,” says Merrill, who earned an MBA and worked for a Seattle-area ad agency before joining Bartell in August 2015. She focuses on digital marketing. One of her first projects helped improve the online interface for the company’s 10 walk-in medical clinics. 

Merrill credits Unmacht with taking the company farther and providing a key component to family succession planning. “I see us as a business moving faster, in part thinking more strategically,” she says. “But it’s more about setting our business up for success.”

Bartell has 2,000 employees and 65 stores in greater Seattle. It plans to add new stores in fast-growing urban areas like Ballard and the International District.  

Unmacht says the willingness of the family council to bring in an outsider shows its commitment to maintaining the vitality of the business. “My primary goal is to run a $600 million company in a very competitive space,” says Unmacht. [And] I’m very conscious of where I can help the next generation learn the business.”

That dedication, Unmacht notes, remains crucial to Bartell’s ability to maintain family ownership far into the future.

2016 Community Impact Awards: Growth

2016 Community Impact Awards: Growth

Gold: Bellmont Cabinet Company
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GOLD AWARD
Bellmont Cabinet Company
Location: Sumner

Bellmont Cabinet set a new course after 2009, when annual revenue plunged to $12.6 million, less than half of what it had been the year before. A strategy to bring affordable, contemporary, frameless Eurostyle cabinets to market worked, helping the company’s revenues soar to $60 million by 2015. President Steve Bell regrouped with two sons, Casey, 36, now COO, and Tyler, 34, vice president of sales and marketing, as well as then-accounting manager Nick Johnson, 36, now CFO. “I told them, ‘We’ll just have to rebuild this company together,’” recalls Bell. Bellmont lost money in 2010 but broke even in 2011. By 2012, profits were climbing again. This year’s revenues are up another 12 to 13 percent. Compared to a low of 85 workers, Bellmont now has 306 employees. Its cabinet style is now trendy, says Bell, and competitors took notice by creating and stocking similar products. So Bellmont is notching it up, investing $5 million in new technology. By 2017, those capital expenditures will reach $7.5 million to continue making affordable, high-quality products. Bell notes that his wife, Carolyn, has been a core contributor, and that the family is transferring stock to the second generation. Daughter Loreen Bell Hernandez, 40, manages the charitable family foundation. Bell says his sons continued to share responsibility in the business, adding, “We’ve been willing to take the risks.”