As part of our Small Business Week celebration, we sat down with the family behind GL Resources – George Snyder, Joanie Snyder, and Alan Snyder to learn about their business and what it’s like working together as a small, family-owned business.
Where It All Began
Founded in 1982 by George Snyder, GL Resources is a first-generation family business location in East Grand Rapids. They represent furniture component manufacturers, and sell hardware, including drawer slides, kitchen hardware, hinges, and more. Connecting furniture manufacturers and hardware manufacturers from a variety of industries, GL Resources works with companies of all sizes.
George and Joanie Snyder stumbled into owning their own business by chance. Both had previous careers and were originally from Pittsburg. When a friend needed a representative in West Michigan, the high school sweethearts decided to take the leap and relocate East Grand Rapids. Taking this position laid the foundation for what eventually became GL Resources.
In 1984, George went completely on his own and they incorporated. “We had no plan,” says George, but they were up for the challenge. “Back in the 80s, there were a lot more furniture manufactures here, and there was quite a base in Western Michigan.”
Since the early days, the business has grown in many ways. One progression was adding three additional sales representatives in the early 1990s, all of whom are still with the business today. Together, they cover the Midwest – including Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Most recently the family welcomed Alan Snyder, their son, into the business in January 2021. Alan’s focus has been on growing the business and expanding into new product types and creating new partnerships throughout the US. His wife, Nicole, has recently joined the business as well, truly making it a family affair.
Before joining, Alan worked for a few notable local, family-owned corporations, including Steelcase and Bissel as a financial analyst. “I knew it was time for a new opportunity.” It was at that time that George approached him with a job offer. “We’ve been talking, and we might have a job for you at GL Resources.”
Alan notes it was the first time they had discussed him joining the business. “I was very excited about it. Working here was always in the back of my mind, but I wanted to build up other experience and learn from other companies first.” Although the business was not founded on the premise of passing it down, the family expressed that having the second generation involved has given them a transition plan.
“It’s a cool little business, and we felt if we could transition the business with Alan, it could go on another 40 years. If you don’t, it ends.”
Joanie, who serves as President, has been there since the beginning. After having their first child, she officially began working for the business. Beforehand, she had a career as an accountant, so managing the bookkeeping for GL Resources was a natural progression. Initially a spousal-run family business, George and Joanie’s differences also became their strength as owners and partners.
“I came from a very structured business environment,” says Joanie. “So, I tried to bring that structure here, but it took a while for us to figure out how best to do this.” As a “details person,” Joanie is now responsible for many of their organizational processes, formal structures, and general management. Conversely, George is the risk taker, so Joanie’s influence allowed him to focus on sales and vision.
Bringing in the second generation has helped professionalize the business in various ways, as is typical transitioning from the founder’s dream stage.
“Alan has really opened our eyes to be more forward thinking,” shares Joanie. Navigating generational differences when working together is inevitable in family run organizations, but the Snyder family has thoroughly enjoyed working together.
The Importance of Small and Family-Owned Businesses
When asked about the importance of small and family-owned businesses, Alan expressed that statistically, small businesses employ a significant share of the country’s workforce. “I don’t think you realize that coming out of college as a young professional. Not everyone has the opportunity to go work from a family-owned business, but they are everywhere.” While Joanie stated that small businesses are “the backbone of America.” It is no easy feat starting and running a small business, and George explains he is proud that they have remained in business for 42 years.
The family takes pride in their business and its history. Decades ago, Joanie would bring her sons into their office with her while she worked, which wouldn’t have been possible at a corporation. “That’s a unique aspect of small businesses, having the flexibility to do both.” This history creates a special atmosphere within the family business. In reflection, Alan shared: “My mom brought me in, and now my wife is bringing our two-month-old in, and that is special.”
For many small and family businesses, community is key. When he was first getting started, Alan leaned on resources like the Chamber Roundtables for support. “I was brand new to the sales role, so being with other sales professionals helped.” Being involved with Family Business Alliance and the Chamber has helped with various professional development areas, networking, and learning about other businesses in the community. The Family Business Alliance forums “are great information sources and it’s also great networking.”
“Alan has done a great job branching out, being involved with the Grand Rapids Chamber and Family Business Alliance,” explains George.
Alan has also recently joined a Peer Group. He explains, “I like to hear other people’s perspectives on how they are handling challenges within their businesses and grappling within their families.” For example, Alan has two brothers, one of whom may also be interested in joining the business at some point. “Hearing how they are handling it has been helpful for me to navigate how we should approach that in our family.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Written by Aislinn Teachout
Family Business Alliance strives to help family businesses with the tools, resources, and connections to help businesses succeed. Learn more about our resources including Leading Forward, Succeeding in Succession, and Navigating Governance that help to advance family business in our community.