Debbie Schaeffer knows a thing or two about selling appliances. She represents the third generation of women deeply involved in her family’s business.
It started in 1935, when Schaeffer’s maternal grandparents, Abe and Beatrice Greenberg, opened a plumbing-supply store, New Jersey Plumbing, in Trenton. Later, the Greenbergs (affectionately known as Mr. and Mrs. G) expanded the the operation and became appliance dealers. In the 1950s, the family renamed the store Mrs. G TV & Appliance, moving to Ewing.
In the early ’70s, a gas-line explosion leveled the Ewing store. Within days, the family relocated the business to their Lawrenceville warehouse, its current location.
Schaeffer, 54, grew up in the business and saw firsthand how her grandparents built the company. “I’d always been very close to my grandmother,” she says of Mrs. G. “She worked seven days a week up until the age of 95.” Debbie’s mother, Barbara Rentschler, started working for the company at 15 and eventually took over the marketing side.
“My mother is retired, but she still keeps a pulse on the industry,” Schaeffer says. “She listens, and knows good advertising. She cuts out advertorials and mails them to me from Florida.”
Learning by example, Schaeffer developed the same work ethic as her mother and grandmother. She went to work for the company in sales after earning a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Michigan. She took over the business as CEO and president in 2000.
Today, the 20,000-square-foot appliance, TV and plumbing-fixture showroom continues to serve a loyal clientele in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Schaeffer is deeply involved with her local Chamber of Commerce and the National Kitchen & Bath Association. The retailer hosts benefit events raising money for charities including Susan G. Komen of Central Jersey and the United Way. The store also offers cooking demonstrations throughout the year to showcase the talent of area chefs and promote locally grown food.
“Our relationship with the customer has really kept us going during tough economic times,” says Schaeffer. Referrals, she says, are essential, as is maintaining personal relationships in the community.
Schaeffer is the mother of twin 19-year-old daughters, Leah and Samantha; both work at Mrs. G during summer breaks. Leah is studying retail at the University of Arizona and plans to enter the family business. Samantha is a neurology and psychology student at her mother’s alma mater, the University of Michigan.
As for Schaeffer, she remains hands-on at the business she loves. “I do not have an office,” she says. “I’m always around or at the front of the store.”
Owner: Debbie Schaeffer
Business: Appliance retailer
Family Members Employed: 3
Generations Actively Involved: 2
Finalists: Revenue Up To $10 Million
“It’s not about selling a product. It’s about selling the right product.” This mantra has guided Leonardo Jewelers through nearly 50 years of business.
In October 1961, Leonardo Zeik fled communist Cuba with his wife and four children in hopes of pursuing the American Dream. He began working at an Elizabeth factory to support his family, while selling high-end jewelry on the side. “My father started selling jewelry door-to-door like a real businessman,” says Lourdes Zeik-Chivi, his eldest daughter.
Leonardo Zeik opened his first store in Elizabeth in 1963. “He really had a way with his customers,” says Zeik-Chivi. “We try to exemplify that same customer relationship today. It’s important to make our guests feel like family.”
In the early 1970s, Leonardo Jewelers became the first Latin-American-owned Rolex dealership in the United States.
Today, Zeik-Chivi is the primary owner. Her older brother, Michael Zeik, 56, handles marketing; sisters Vivian, 54, and Yvette, 47, manage the store; and brother Leo, 52, is chief financial officer.
The family opened a second location in Red Bank in 1988. Though Zeik-Chivi’s parents are retired, their children continue to consult their father, now 83, for guidance and inspiration.
Singer Nelson Charlmers
CEO David J. Singer credits the golden rule for the success of his family’s Teaneck-based commercial insurance brokerage. That means “treating others the way we would want to be treated.”
Founded in 1987 by Singer and his father, Al, the company specializes in property and casualty insurance and life and health policies for engineering and architectural firms.
Al Singer began his career by selling life insurance door-to-door as a summer job 53 years ago, eventually selling the business to a company called Nelson Charlmers. Two years later, he and his son David, now 49, founded the Singer Insurance Group. The companies later merged. David’s brother, Jonathan, 47, joined the business as executive vice president in 1991.
All three men are deeply involved in their community. Al, 77, founded People Against Children Starving in the USA (PACS-USA), an organization battling childhood hunger. In 2011, David, an active fundraiser for Feed the Children, published a book called Six Simple Rules for a Better Life, offering suggestions to improve one’s well-being.
The family has one goal, he says, “We are driven to help people and businesses be happier, healthier and more successful.”
Semifinalists: Revenue Up To $10 Million
Black Rocket Productions
The Freehold-based company, which educates children 7 through 14 in digital arts, was started in 2004 as a neighborhood project by Bill Zengel and his daughter Sarah, 11 at the time. Today, it offers classes in filmmaking and video-game design at 45 locations in six states. In 2009, Zengel, a former advertising copywriter and television producer, brought in his nephew, Richard Ginn, as president and managing partner to help with day-to-day operations. Black Rocket has three fulltime and three part-time employees throughout the year; it also employs about 100 teachers seasonally. Among those teachers: Sarah Zengel, now 19.
The Olde Mill Inn at Basking Ridge
The Olde Mill Inn traces its roots to a 1768 water-powered grist mill and barn. Today, the hotel, restaurant and catering business is owned by Bruce Bocina, who purchased the historic buildings in 1993. Along with his father, Casper Bocina, and his two sisters, Bruce continues to welcome visitors to their vintage setting.
Giambri’s Quality Sweets
Seventy years ago, James Giambri started this family-owned, gourmet candy company in South Philadelphia. Years later, James’s nephew Anthony Giambri took over the business; he moved it to Clementon in 1972. Today, James’s grandson, David, runs the business with the help of his wife, three children and his brothers. They continue the tradition of offering candy hand made from family recipes.
Daryl Rand took over the Guttenberg-based branding, communications and marketing business after the death in 1998 of her father, Harold Harrison, who started the firm in 1941. These days Rand runs the business with her sons, Jason and David. Together they have enriched and expanded the business with the same level of creativity and drive as the founder.
“Make your message stick” is the slogan of this business that offers graphic design and direct web-to-print services. President Erwin Metius bought the Jersey City-based company five years ago from his former partners; today he runs it with his wife, Sonja, and their two children. The family has expanded the business from four employees to 22; revenues are close to $3 million.
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