2016 Family Business Awards: The List

The winners of Seattle Business magazine's annual celebration of outstanding family businesses.

When you get right down to it, a family business will always be a mom-and-pop operation. Regardless of annual revenues or employee counts, every successful family business owner harks back to the people who started the enterprise, ever mindful of the original mission while fully aware of the difficulties that make perpetuation of the family legacy a constant challenge. This year, Seattle Business magazine celebrates 12 businesses that are navigating this road with energy, enthusiasm and creative aplomb.

Congratulations to the recipients of Seattle Business magazine's 2016 Family Business Awards!

Heritage/Legacy Award
Bartell Drugs, Seattle

Family Business of the Year, Small Firms
Gold Award: Fitterer's Inc., Ellensburg
Silver Award: Plemmons Industries, Kent
Silver Award: Morpac Industries, Pacific

Family Business of the Year, Midsize Firms
Gold Award: Decagon Devices, Pullman
Silver Award: State Roofing, Monroe
Silver Award: Nakanishi Dental Laboratory, Bellevue

Family Business of the Year, Large Firms
Gold Award: R.D. Merrill Co., Seattle
Silver Award: Peninsula Truck Lines, Federal Way

Business Innovation
Gold Award: Baden Sports, Renton

Business Transition
Gold Award: Continental Mills, Tukwila

Business Growth
Gold Award: Bellmont Cabinet Company, Sumner


Judges for the 2016 Family Business Awards

Clarence Barnes, professor of Economics, Gonzaga University
Ron Dohr, co-director, Pacific Family Business Institute  
Loren Lyon, president, Impact Washington
Catherine Pratt, management faculty, Pacific Lutheran University
Martha Sandoval, partner, Perkins Coie  
Christian Schiller, managing director, Cascadia Capital
Rich Simmonds, cofounder, Pacific Family Business Institute     
David Stiefel, managing principal, Bader Martin
Joseph Williams, ICT Industry sector lead and economic development director, state of Washington

2016 Family Business Awards: Heritage/Legacy Award

2016 Family Business Awards: Heritage/Legacy Award

Winner: Bartell Drugs

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.