In 1911, R.W. "Pop" Snell began Snell’s Limbs and Braces. 112 years later, the fourth generation owner of the now called Snell Prosthetics & Orthotics joined us on The O&P Check-in: an SPS Podcast with his daughter, the CFO, to share the unique nature of running a longstanding family-owned business and the obstacles and opportunities that come with it.
The following includes an excerpt from Brendan and Jacki’s conversation with President and CEO Frank Snell, CPO, LPO, FAAOP, and CFO Melissa Snell, CFm. Regional Sales Manager Christina Cox-Reagan also makes a guest appearance. Click here to listen to the full conversation.
The O&P Check-in: an SPS Podcast unpacks trends and stories from the tight-knit O&P community. From patient care, technology, best practices, and regulations, this podcast features topics that help you stay current. Join hosts Brendan Erickson and Jacki Green for new episodes bi-monthly.
Frank: I had started working for my dad when I was 14 years old. I spent Saturdays sweeping floors and doing janitorial tasks. When I turned 15, I started laminating sockets and finishing prosthesis during the summers. In the early 70s, the certification requirements were much different. When I finished my schooling, I attended Northwestern University’s first long-term orthotics program in 1970 and then later took the prosthetic courses. I was a certified prosthetist/orthotist by the time I was 22. It was like stepping onto a fast-moving train, I had to learn fast.
Melissa, what was it like joining the family business?
Melissa: I had a similar experience to my dad. When I was in high school, I would work summers at the clinic filing and answering phones. There was never pressure from my family to join the O&P profession and take the practitioner route. When I graduated from high school, I moved to Texas and earned a degree in marketing. After graduation, I worked at the clinic again as I pursued a master’s degree in business. I enjoyed working in the family atmosphere because we had so many long-term employees that had worked with the company for over 25 years at that point. I really fell in love with the job and it was fun to come into work every day, so I decided to stay and put my business degree to use at the clinic.
How well do you think family run businesses are suited for overcoming obstacles compared to a more corporate environment?
Frank: I've always had the opinion that we could move at the speed of light compared to a corporate atmosphere. When my dad retired in 1984, we had one office with about six or seven employees. Competition was growing in our area, and without really planning to grow to 10 offices, it just kind of happened. We expanded in an orderly fashion over several years as opportunities presented. For instance, a doctor would call from out of town because there were no prosthetic services in his area. Without having to consult or ask anybody, we were able to expand into areas that needed it. I’ve been blessed over the years that most of my decisions turned out to be profitable—not all, but you always learn from your mistakes than you do your successes. We are very blessed to have 10 offices and over 60 employees.
Melissa: Being in the same family, we think a lot alike. This may be different for different family dynamics, but we have an easy working relationship. There’s no holding back. We are free to give our opinion or to offer advice and the input is taken in the right manner. We also talk a lot during work and after hours. It never shuts off, but it’s a good thing because it means nothing slips through the cracks.
On the other hand, what are the challenges associated with managing a family-owned business?
Frank: I think some challenges are not letting it override your personal life to excess. My wife and I have been married for 51 years and we enjoy the RV life, so we are on the road during the year as much as we can. With modern technology, we're never away from the office, so to speak. I can be in an KOA Campground in Mount Airy, North Carolina, talking to insurance companies about authorizations. To help create some separation between work and home life, I’ve surrounded myself with very capable key people. It’s a family business, but we have terrific local managers at our offices, and a VP of Clinical Services. They are a tremendous asset to the company.
Melissa: Being a family-owned business, it’s given us the freedom to set up our corporate culture in a similar manner. The people we work with in Little Rock and the satellite offices, they are like an extension of our family. It makes for a very pleasant work environment.
If you each had one secret to success for the longevity of your business, what would it be?
Frank: Without apology, I would have to say that it's priorities. You realize that God put you on this earth for a purpose. I have been so blessed to help rehabilitate lives, and to watch people who have faced so much adversity, overcome it. I tell my employees that the success that they're able to enjoy in the company, a lot of that is thanks to my wife. She has been the perfect helpmate to the point where I'm not dividing up half my stuff every five years (laughs). I say that tongue in cheek, but it's really true.
Another important factor is to hire carefully. Not everybody that comes knocking on your door fits in your culture. I know that because I made tons of mistakes. The ones that have been with us for so long are the ones that adopt a culture of mutual respect for each other. We don't take advantage of our employees, and we don't expect them to do more than what they should for a company that loves and appreciates them.
Melissa: I don't think I could say it any better. Another secret to longevity is patient care has to come first. We have to set the example that you do what's right by your patient. You put the best product on them, and take care of them in the best way possible. I believe that's one thing that we do well and in a familial environment. We care about each other. Every family has something going on. We all have struggles in life. We all have different issues that we go through. At Snell, we try to understand and provide support where we can. That's a big, important factor in what we do.
To hear the full conversation, including and Frank and Melissa’s advice for professionals interested in emulating the family-owned model, click the button:
Click here to learn more about Snell Prosthetics and Orthotics.