The farming Sickles family has been a Little Silver business mainstay since 1908, when Harold Sickles began selling the fruits of his labor to the local community. Three generations later, what started as a seasonal farm stand has been transformed into Sickles Market—what current owner Bob Sickles Jr. (Harold’s grandson) likes to call a “lifestyle retailer”—open year-round and featuring not only the family’s produce and plants, but local gourmet and specialty foods, a butcher shop, a garden center, a nursery and a gift shop.
“Businesses that don’t embrace change fail. We’ve been through a tremendous amount of change,” says Bob Jr., 55, who joined the company alongside his father, Bob Sr., in 1978 after college. “When I joined, all of a sudden there was new energy that led eventually to our renovation.”
Rather than succumb to the modern-day pressures that have put many local farms out of business, Sickles evolved and thrived. In the late 1990s, the family diversified their revenue streams and developed sections of their property into a city park and town-home residences. In 2002, Bob Jr. took charge, though Bob Sr., now 84, still imparts his wisdom and uses part of the land to grow his renowned raspberries and blackberries—which, naturally, are sold in the market. Bob Jr.’s brother Ted, 47, works in the nursery, and two years ago, Bob Jr.’s eldest daughter, Tori, joined the company to help launch its online shop and social-media presence.
“I knew that I would eventually come [aboard] because I love the business and I admire where it has come from,” says Tori, 28, who hopes that her younger siblings Sasha, 21, and Tristan, 14, also will join the family business one day.
“I hope to continue on when my dad stops and relaxes,” says Tori. While Bob Jr. says he would happily welcome his other children into the retail fold, he’s quick to tout Sickles Market’s non-family employees.
“The best family businesses are going to tell you that there are a lot of non-family employees who are going to help you get there,” Bob says.
Although Sickles sources products from as far away as Tunisia, the family strongly supports Jersey farmers and businesses by stocking with local products, such as Mazi Piri Piri authentic Portuguese hot sauce and Daisy chocolates. Similarly, the Sickles family has a long-standing commitment to local charities. Their annual wine-and cheese-tasting fund-raiser, benefiting the area charity Holiday Express, takes place November 4 this year; in past years, the event has raised more than $100,000 in a single night.
Despite their business success, the Sickles family is happy to remain at home in Little Silver, where they started out more than a century ago.
“I have no desire to have 50 more stores across the country, or even five or six in New Jersey,” says Bob Jr. “Our goal is to serve the customer base we have with quality products and great customer service.”
Headquarters: Little Silver
Owner: Bob Sickles Jr.
Business: Produce, garden, gourmet and specialty food shop.
Family Members Employed: 4
Generations Actively Involved: 3
FINALISTS Revenue over $10 million
Dick and Carol Fallon were having trouble purchasing ski gear in New Jersey for their five children. The enterprising couple recognized an opportunity and in 1971 decided to open their own ski business for families like their own. “Anywhere we went, no one wanted to take the time to talk to us with five young kids,” says Dick. “So, I turned to the kids and joked ‘Who wants to go into the ski business?’”
Oddly, Dick, now 84, and Carol, 78, were not skiers themselves. Still, they got to work converting their seasonal construction warehouse in Little Falls into a barn-like ski shop. Forty years later, Ski Barn is still a family matter. Dick and Carol’s children, Debbie, 56, and Ray, 53, have taken over as CFO and president, respectively. Another daughter, Beth, 51, serves as company treasurer and manages one of the four locations. Eight family members across three generations participate in the business, which thrives year-round by selling outdoor patio furniture during the warm-weather months. The four stores are in Paramus, Wayne, Lawrenceville and Eatontown.
The company tagline, “Ski Barn: The Goods, The People, The Passion,” emphasizes the family’s view on customer satisfaction. “The key to a successful business is being a good listener,” says Dick. “Really listen to what the customers want.”
ADVANCED DIGITAL DATA
“The business has been a great way to bring our family together,” says Bruce C. Bott, president of Advanced Digital Data. Bott recalls rushing off the school bus at age 14 and riding his bicycle to work in the shipping department of his father’s business in Flanders. “But family is always first. Business is second.”
In 1973, Bott’s father, Bruce A. Bott, 70, founded the business, which provides customized computer solutions and operating software for the oil, propane and convenience-store industries across the United States and Canada. For Bott’s mother, Gale, 70, the business has been a juggling act. She has served as secretary and treasurer, while raising a family of six. Often, there was a playpen in her office. Over the years, all six Bott children have contributed to the company.
The younger Bruce Bott, 44, values not only working alongside his family, but the great staff the company has assembled. Today, Advanced Digital has about 175 employees—including 14 family members across two generations—in four offices (Flanders; Orlando, Florida; Providence, Rhode Island; and Montreal, Canada). “Our employees are very much a part of our family as well,” says Bott. “Our goal is to be a successful family business for years to come.”—Dervela O’Brien
SEMIFINALISTS Revenue over $10 million
GELLERT GLOBAL GROUP
This Elizabeth-based family business describes itself as the top privately owned food importer in the nation. The company, launched in Poland by Leon Rubin, began importing and selling food products to factories in 1945. Now under the direction of Rubin’s son-in-law CEO George Gellert, the company has more than 300 employees, with seven family members across two generations involved in the business.
SHOPRITE OF PASSAIC/CLIFTON (CUELLAR FAMILY)
Rafael Cuellar, a second-generation entrepreneur, inherited President’s Supermarket in Passaic in 1996 from his father, Evelio. Having grown up working in the grocery-store industry, Rafael, a native of Spain, was able to build the family’s reputation and influence in the community. In 2005, he sold the family business and took over ownership and operation of a neighboring ShopRite. The Cuellar family continues to be committed to bettering the Passaic/Clifton community and supporting numerous local charities.
BRIDGEWAY SENIOR HEALTHCARE
The Pelligrino and Rivera-Dugenio families own and operate a leading senior health care provider, which was founded in 1981 in Bridgewater. The business offers services, such as long-term skilled nursing care, sub-acute care and rehabilitation, assisted living residences and health care training. The 350-member staff includes five family members spanning three generations. The two families are active in the community, providing nursing scholarships and participating in charitable organizations such as the Special Olympics.
Established in 1958 by Martin Buchalter, Parker Laboratories is a nationwide manufacturer and marketer of supplies and accessories for the ultrasound and electromedical markets. Today the founders’ son, Neal, serves as president. Headquartered in Fairfield, the business employs a team of 65, including four family members.
Al D’Alessandro founded his countertop manufacturing business in 1961. D’Alessandro, who serves as president, now has 85 employees, and is celebrating 50 successful years serving the tri-state area and parts of Connecticut. Among the staff of the Union-based business are eight family members across two generations.