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Three families doing business together at the design and building hub The Collective discussed what makes their partnerships successful and how they overcome conflicts that naturally arise in any business, let alone one involving family members.

Kurtz Homes Naples

Kurtz Homes Naples has a slogan it frequently uses—“for generations.” A family-owned business since 1982, it has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional estate homes, customizing each design to the client’s exact specifications.

“The slogan means when we build a home, it’s going to last for decades and decades and decades,” said Elizabeth Kurtz Isbell, granddaughter and daughter of co-founders Ron and Randy Kurtz. “But it also kind of refers to the generations of clients we have, because we’ll build for parents and then 10, 15, 20 years later we’ll build for the children, so there’s always been this family aspect when it comes to us. But we also now joke there are four generations numerically because it started with my dad and papa, and now the third generation is me, my sister (Carolyn) and brother-in-law (David). And they have four children, so we can only hope one of the four will one day want to join the family business.”

Kurtz Homes Naples, part of The Collective—a luxury design-minded property located in the heart of the Naples Design District co-owned and developed by Randy Kurtz—recently went through a major leadership change when Randy Kurtz retired and his son-in-law David Gordon took over as the company’s president.

Gordon said he learned so much under Kurtz’s watchful eye the last 15 years, serving a variety of roles and working virtually everywhere in the company.

“It was very clear from the moment I started the importance of family,” Gordon said. “That wasn’t just him and his dad (Ron). The company in total also worked as a family. That closeness, the ability to work together was something pretty unique. Seeing his example of treating your employees right, even if it’s not the best for the bottom dollar of the company, it means more to treat our employees as family. It’s something I picked up on pretty quickly. Treating everyone equally and fairly was important from Day 1.”

The family atmosphere extends past the Kurtz inner circle and the company’s employees—it also applies to customers.

“I learned how to work with clients with Randy; the ability to talk and communicate with clients, that was really his skill set,” Gordon said. “We’re able to bring them under the umbrella of family, trying to treat our clients as being part of the Kurtz family, getting that buy-in so it’s never an us vs. them or us doing that or them doing that, but we’re all in this together.”

KurtzIsbell,33,isthebusinessdevelopment manager but she’s also a jack of all trades, working in human resources and marketing while also serving as a representative of The Collective and president of Naples Design District. She said she’d put her company up against anyone when it comes to customer service, hallmarks of the traditions started by her father and grandfather.

“What sets us apart is every square inch is custom,” she said. “Our priority is what the client wants—and not everyone understands that with that comes a project that could last up to two years because of how big a scale this home’s going to be. It’s not 2,000, 3,000 square feet, it’s usually over 10,000 square feet for our average home. Every need that client wants, we try to achieve for them. We have a very good reputation over the last 42 years of being trustworthy, honest and transparent, even if it’s at our own expense. We just want what’s best for our client.”

Gordon, 37, said he wants to continue all the proud traditions started by Ron and Randy Kurtz, yet improve upon them too. He said expanding technology in the company will be a big part of that plan for the future.

“Like any company, you want to continue to strive to improve, and one of those ways we can improve is through a little more technology in our company,” he said. “There’s a program that allows our clients to be more connected to their jobs. They get to see the daily updates, the daily photos, the daily schedule, instead of getting that on a weekly or bi-monthly time table. They can actually log in and access that. Our immediate goal is to bring more technology into our company. Taking a look at our processes and trying to bring them up to date to make more sense in this day and age, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Gordon said he hopes to one day leave the business to one of his children, although he wouldn’t put pressure on any of them. He and wife Carolyn have four young children: Noah, 10; Isla, 8; Lucy, 5; and Wells, 2. He said son Noah already comes into the office occasionally to do some odd jobs with his dad, while all four have visited various job sites.

“Ultimately, that would be my goal to pass things down, but only if they were truly interested,” he said. “That’s definitely something we’d love—to have that tradition continue. As a construction worker, I sometimes get called out to a job site on the weekend. As a small business, that’s what we do. You have to put out a fire if you’re needed, and (the kids) sometimes get dragged along with. But we have fun with it, the kids give special names to all the job sites they visit. There’s a 15,000-square-foot home they call the ‘big house.’ There’s another house with a ton of glass around they refer to as the ‘glass house.’ ” Gordon said working with his family sometimes presents challenges as you “say things around family that you might not say to others,” but the Kurtzes make things work so well due to the level of respect they have for one another.

“There’s so much respect there,” he said. “I don’t think we run into the same problems that some other families in business might run into. There’s a huge trust factor there. I know they always have my back. They’re always looking out for my best interests and the same goes in return.

“Even though we’re a family, we can still challenge each other to grow and get better and really push each other in a loving way so it doesn’t hurt our relationships outside the business. … I think the work ethic too goes a long way. Both I, Randy and his daughters all have a high work ethic. The idea of having to call people out for not doing this or not doing that isn’t something we have to worry about. I think it all goes back to the grandfather Ron who started it; his work ethic was well known in the community. That’s just how it was built and the expectations were made, and everyone’s stepped up and fulfilled those expectations.”

Unique Wood Floor Co.

Years before she began working for her father Steve Karterouliotis at Unique Wood Floor Company in The Collective, Philomena Rodriguez already had her own office.

While he was running his first successful business, the 30-plus years running Supreme Flooring, Inc., Philomena, 25, and her sister Adrianna had an “office space” under a conference table. Karterouliotis set up an old TV and keyboard to simulate a computer, and would give his daughters papers to shuffle and work on.

“We even had our own gum stash, just like dad did,” Rodriguez recalled. “There’s always been a family feel to everything we do.”

That continues today as Philomena and her husband Christian Rodriguez work alongside owner and founder Karterouliotis at Unique Wood Floor Co. Philomena is the office administrator where she works in purchasing, marketing and legal matters and handles the company’s special events. Christian serves as the sales manager and is “the guy who makes things happen,” Karterouliotis added. The family ties bind the business and keep it thriving.

“In my 35 years working, I don’t think I’ve ever been as satisfied as I am now when I come to work,” Karterouliotis said. “It’s really reinvigorated my desire to keep pushing and getting more creative about how we can reach more of our clients. It’s just a joy when you work with people you care about and love. Our dynamics work so well together.”

Philomena agreed with her father, adding that she doesn’t experience the issues some may have in working with family members.

“A lot of people say ‘I don’t know how you do it,’” she said. “‘You stare across the computer screen and there’s your husband and you have your dad over your shoulder,’ but it’s not like that here. I know people always say keep your work and home life separate but our life is our work and I love working with the two of them.”

Unique Wood Floor Company is a family-owned business that specializes in exquisitely crafted wood floors, according to the company’s website. It has developed relationships with many of the greatest woodworking artisans and lumber providers across the world. And as in any family-run business, the word relationship permeates everything.

“When you work so hard that it pulls you so far away from your family that you lose relationship with them, you can become disconnected with your family,” Christian said. “That doesn’t happen in a family business. Working with my wife, working with my father-in-law, it’s been great. My wife and I have such a strong relationship because we’re spending so much more time together. That’s a super huge benefit for me. I get to see my wife throughout most of the day, not just that two-hour window at the end of the day. I get to do this with her every day. We get to build our relationship while we’re at work.”

The entire family is involved in some way in the business. Adrianna, 19, has started working part-time during the summers. Philomena’s brother Cameron, 15, works part-time in the warehouse while youngest sibling Caylee, 13, occasionally helps with applying labels. And standing behind everyone as a bastion of support is mother Billiejean.

“She’s the half that makes me whole,” Karterouliotis said. “She has played such a huge part in our family and she’s allowed me to do all the things I’ve done with our businesses. She’s the rock of the family. They say behind every man is an even better woman and my wife certainly fits that mold.”

Philomena said she learned so much about interpersonal relationships by the wisdom her father imparted.

“My dad always said you have to start doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do and work your way up,” she said. “He always said you treat the janitor the same way you treat the CEO. I don’t want to sound too Hallmark-y, but it’s an absolute joy working with the people you love.”

Christian said working in a family business is much different than working anywhere else due to the commitment level it takes.

“There’s no quitting, there’s no leaving; you don’t just walk away from it,” Christian said. “Some might see that as a con, but I don’t see it that way. It’s a relationship. You’re making this thing grow and do better and you’re doing it as a family. In my mind, I’ve entered this and at this point there’s no ‘Let’s wait and see if I like it,’ I’m totally committed to it. I want to see it through and I want to see us be as successful as we can possibly be.”

Karterouliotis said he’s honored to have Philomena and Christian working with him every day.

“I can honestly say the hardest-working people I have, and I’ve had a lot of them, are Philomena and Christian,” he said. “If I think about it, I can’t even put it into words. I’d be devastated if we didn’t work together. It’s just a joy and they’re so relied upon. They’re task-oriented and if there’s something that needs to be done, they’re here early and stay late without me having to say anything. They’ve truly bought into it, and for me, it’s so rewarding seeing such dedication.”

Method & Concept

A contemporary fine art gallery that also provides interior design and custom furniture, Method & Concept is owned and run by the husband-wife team of Chad and Amy Jensen. Chad is the gallery’s creative director and managing partner, while Amy is the gallery manager.

According to the company’s website, Method & Concept is the “rare combination of expertise in contemporary design, fine art and master craftsmanship” that also merges “inventive concepts with skillful execution to create exceptional experiences for our clients.”

One of the founders of the Naples Design District, Chad launched Method & Concept in 2013 at its original location on 10th Street South. When Randy Kurtz and his partners shared the idea of building the Collective five years later, Chad jumped at the chance to make a move to a bigger space just a block away. The Collective was the perfect fit for his business, he recalled.

“The original owners and developers had a vision of creating a building that would be geared toward high-end luxury residential homes, home building and design,” he said. “So, they were seeking tenants that kind of reflected that.”

Chad and Amy, who met 28 years ago when both were 18, have a lifetime of art and design expertise between them. This can sometimes lead to conflicts, but ones that usually lead to better creative decisions.

“We’re both creative minded people,” Chad said. “We work together and we butt heads often on things, but that’s just because we both have such strong opinions. We usually end up settling on a better result because of that, but initially we both have strong ideas … No one has your back quite like your family does, so there’s comfort and support in that. For Amy and I specifically, we’ve been together for such a long time, we definitely lean on each other.”

Amy said sharing a passion has helped keep their relationship strong over the years.

“We’re passionate about art and design, so there is a common thread,” she said. “Having that shared objective is really helpful. And that’s what I experience here. It’s that constant passion for the work we do and that’s nothing we get tired about sharing.

“It’s a joy talking about the things we’re interested in, and much of the time it’s not that we’re talking about ourselves, we’re problem solving together or working for the benefits of our clients or the artists. Having that shared time, not talking about ourselves, it creates a common bond.”

Amy and Chad said they’re in a “missiondriven business” and that mission is supporting the wonderful art and culture Naples has to offer.

“We want to provide that experience here (at Method & Concept), and so when Chad and I are in a work environment here at the gallery or we’re with clients in meetings, in meetings with institutions we work with or even at home, we’re so passionate about what we do,” Amy said.

Chad said when he and Amy got married and decided to have a family, they made a pact to never waver from their passions of art and design.

“Trying to make that work together and creatively flashing forward to having Method & Concept, it really is a passion and purposedriven business. There is a lot of crossover between personal and professional life, but when you’re artistically minded, those things tend to bleed together.”

The Jensens’ oldest of three, daughter Sophia, studies art design at the same school Chad did: the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Middle son Maxwell, 16, is heavily interested in the world of finance.

“It’s interesting—with my oldest daughter going into fine arts and design and my middle son going into finance, we’ve always taught our kids to think creatively,” Chad said. “Whether they’re artists, in finance or real estate, there’s a way of looking at the world through an artistic lens, which is a huge factor no matter what area they’re studying. It’s so interesting to see how kids take on their own personalities and their own interests.”

This story was published in The Naples Press on June 28.

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