Partnering Pays

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Deborah Rhein, founder of D.L. Rhein, a home-furnishings manufacturer in Los Angeles, discovered the key to continued growth was a partner.

Sales of Rhein's high-end lamps, pillows and photo frames took off quickly, averaging 30% growth annually. By 1998, annual sales approached the $1 million mark and the company had grown from one employee — her grandmother — to a staff of 25.

Yet Rhein began to feel overwhelmed. "I didn't know how to take it to the next level," she says.

In February 1999, she sold 50% of her business to Watt Webb, a Los Angeles businessman with a long track record in management and marketing, plus considerable experience in the gift industry.

More than a year later, both Rhein and Webb give the partnership a thumbs-up. Sales jumped to about $1.5 million in 1999, and the company is aiming for $2 million this year. Though they overlap on some duties, Webb has taken over most of the day-to-day operations and strategic growth — freeing Rhein to focus more on design and product development.

"I'm not computer literate," confesses Rhein, noting Webb has been instrumental in upgrading systems at the company. He has also taken a lead in restructuring operations to boost profits, such as eliminating nonperforming SKUs and lowering labor costs.

Remember, with any partnership, there is a period of adjustment. Rhein admits that she initially "felt a certain loss of control."

Give a partnership time to gel. It takes time to build history and compatibility with a partner — especially since the reason for a partner is finding someone who complements your skills and personality.

From a management perspective, communication between partners is critical so that "employees hear one perspective," stresses Webb.

Writer: TJ Becker

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