The story of us: Couples in business

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s February 2018 issue.

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“To face the future with another, who means more than any other, is to be loved.”

– Disney’s The Rescuers

Once upon a time…They lived happily ever after…The stuff that fairytales are made of, yet most of us probably wouldn’t call the challenges and triumphs faced in the everyday, fodder for the fairytales we know and love. Although, if we looked into those stories of fancy, we would find that many of the couples at the center of these beloved tales work (to great success) together!

Mulan and Shang ♥ Rapunzel and Eugene ♥ Marlin and Dory ♥ Bernard and Bianca ♥

Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl ♥ Anna and Kristoff

Now that we have solid Disney proof to back us up, let us introduce you to some real-life local couples who are facing the future together in life and business.

Doctors Kim and Jeff Meier       

Meier Family Chiropractic · 3419 Central Ave, Suite C

The story of “us”: For Kim and Jeff, their story has been a literal journey, one that started in Davenport, Iowa where the two were in the same chiropractic class in 2000; with stops in Canada and Ireland, before making their way to Billings in 2006. In the beginning, Kim recalls that she wouldn't talk to Jeff because "he was a top rugby player and I was kind of a nerd, and in Canada, we don't date hockey players, and in chiropractic school, you don't date rugby players!" As fate would have it, with graduation looming, Kim was in need of a dog-sitter for a weekend, and Jeff fit the bill. This led to a dinner that (happily) “lasted forever,” and Kim discovered he “was a super intelligent rugby player.” From there, Kim had to go back to Canada for an internship – with the couple courting long distance for three months - upon flying back for graduation, they decided to get married at the end of the week. They thought since his family from Minnesota and her family from Canada would all be there for graduation…Might as well get married in the morning! Married at 9am in a house a block from the school, with 11 people in attendance, and graduated at 1pm. A full and memorable day.

Things were somewhat complicated in those early days, as Jeff had taken the American board exams and Kim had taken the Canadian board exams. After a short stint of working odd jobs, both found associate positions in Ireland, where they practiced for two years and got to know each other. This gave them the opportunity to get their paperwork and board exams in order so both could move to the U.S. When they made the move to Billings, Kim was eight months pregnant, and all the legal work to start Meier Chiropractic was squared away before the baby was born. Their oldest was born on July 1, and they opened the doors to their clinic two weeks later!

Benefits & Challenges:  In owning and operating their business together, it has been all about creating a balance between business and family, though Kim acknowledges that separating personal from business can be tough. They have always worked alternating schedules – while one was in the office, the other was taking care of the kids. Once the kids reached school-age, they adjusted their schedule to work Friday mornings together, with a standing lunch date to follow. Though Kim notes their personalities are opposites, they complement each other, making a “good team.” However, Kim says because they “are opposites in many ways, we butt heads. We have always had a business coach and have agreed to never argue about business. If there is a disagreement, we call our coach and take her advice without further discussion.”

We ♥ our business: “We are blessed to be able to help people every day learn more about their health and how they can improve their lifestyle. We are both passionate about the benefits of chiropractic care – and feel so grateful to have some of our very first patients still with us today. It is very fulfilling to see the impact we can have on little babies and whole families getting adjusted. We love helping people every day live a higher quality of life!”

KJ & Lindsay Fauth

          Farmers Union Insurance: Fauth Agency · 926 Main St, Suite 12

The story of “us”: These high school sweethearts have been together for 18 years, since their junior and senior years at Melstone High School; they married in 2004 in Billings, having put down roots in the Worden-Shepherd area before their marriage. KJ and Lindsay's family grew to welcome their daughter in 2009, with their son following in 2012. The pair both grew up on ranches and still have “strong ties to agriculture, being very active on our family ranch,” says KJ. Prior to starting their family, Lindsay had worked in various administrative positions, while KJ had a fence contracting business before getting into the insurance business in 2008 – ultimately a well-balanced combination for their future foray into business ownership. When the kids were little Lindsay was “lucky enough to stay home with the kids” until the couple opened Fauth Agency in October 2016.

Lindsay shares that they hadn't planned on becoming business owners – in fact, the plan had always been for KJ to ranch full-time, but “circumstances with his prior employment and changes in our family led us to begin thinking of other options.” When an opportunity presented itself and after the pair had done some “serious debating,” they decided this was an opportunity not to be passed up.

Benefits & Challenges: When considering the benefits and challenges of owning and operating a business together, Lindsay points to something that falls in both columns: “We spend A LOT of time together.” She reflects that it can be difficult to turn “work mode off and focus solely on family and personal time,” however, there is much to be said about sharing the same goals and values, knowing they have each other’s back 100% of the time, and being able to bounce ideas off each other. As is often the case with small businesses, Lindsay fondly observes that their children think of their office as a second home. The family touch is something their clients appreciate, shares Lindsay, “There are a ton of insurance agents in Billings, we try to set ourselves apart by making that personal connection with every single client.” 

We ♥ our business: "We absolutely love the fact that we are helping people to protect their most valuable assets. Whether it's their home, auto, or most importantly family. What we like most about working in the insurance industry is that no one day is the same; insurance has a lot of moving parts, and we enjoy that. Our office also offers a vast array of insurance products, so we have something to offer just about anyone. It's very fulfilling, being able to help families protect what is important to them."

Matthew & Laurel Struck

           Struckture, owner/operator * Marketing & IT Director, Granite Health & Fitness | 

            Marketing Director, Yellowstone Surgery & AMP, Athletic Medicine and Performance

The story of “us”: Though their family histories are interwoven – in fact, Laurel grew up knowing many of Matthew's cousins, aunts, uncles, and even his grandmother - it wasn't until Laurel's last year of college that Matthew and Laurel's paths would officially cross – repeatedly over

a six month period. Laurel recalls that she was engaged to another man at the time of their meeting, but she had already been plagued with doubts about that relationship moving forward, shortly after breaking off her engagement, the pair began dating. They’ve been together 17 years and celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary last fall. They expanded their family first in 2008, welcoming oldest daughter, Frankie; completing their family in 2012 with the arrival of their youngest daughter, Deklin. That year (2012) was a banner year, as Matthew, who had always had his business, Struckture, as a side job, went out on his own, full-time. Another highlight in the couple’s journey was the building of their dream home in 2015.

Professionally, the couple has worked together in the marketing field for 15 years. They’ve discovered that finding balance between home and business is one of the most challenging things they encounter. Laurel shares that "When the work day is over, home is our ‘safe spot,' and sometimes we need to gently remind one another it is time to ‘turn it off.'"

Benefits & Challenges: Though the couple doesn't work in the same office, they are in the same field. Matthew points to the biggest advantage as “having more of a collective knowledge base to pull from; leaning on each other for advice, opinions, and recommendations on high-risk situations and unexpected outcomes." He adds, it also makes for “a larger talent pool of people and resources. I trust my wife and her experiences, making it easier to trust her recommendations.” On the other hand, Matthew notes that “when presented with the same problem, we tend to approach it in very different ways. There’s always a challenge of trying to respect the other person’s point-of-view without making them feel de-valued or underappreciated.” They’ve managed, however, to strike a balance in taking the lead when needed and “staying humble when the other shines in the spotlight.”

We ♥ our business: Laurel’s perspective: “I love that my job is fast-paced and that I’m regularly challenged with unique projects. The Type A personality in me loves that there is routine to all the madness, as AMP’s advertising is set to the rhythm of the sports seasons.” Matthew’s perspective: “The act of creating and building something from nothing is exciting and keeps me motivated. With industries always evolving and adapting, I love learning new and more challenging things and finding new methods for efficiency. Being able to reach and inspire others in our community is also a huge motivator. I enjoy meeting new people and working together to find creative solutions for problems.”

Jack & Pam Kuntz

          The Paint center · 1904 Grand Ave

The story of “us”: You can track the beginning of Jack and Pam Kuntz’s story to the ‘80s. It was the Cattle Drive of 1989 when Jack’s sister (a friend of Pam’s) was on a mission to match up the pair – it wasn’t long after that they started dating, and Pam says they’ve “been in ‘sync’ ever since.” Prior to embarking on the adventure of business ownership in 2005, Jack had a job working at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, while Pam worked at the paint store. Pam recalls that when the previous owner, John Jacobson, decided to sell the business, “We took the bait, and on January 3, 2005, we signed the papers and it became official!”

As the couple took over ownership of The Paint Center, it became clear, says Pam that "Jack and I are pretty much of the same mindset. We often are thinking the same thing at the same time!" That, combined with their shared work ethic, philosophy of life, and the balance they bring to each other's strengths and weaknesses, has allowed them to establish solid roles in their business from the beginning. Jack handles the bookkeeping end of the business and Pam puts her product knowledge to use on the sales and inventory side of things.

Benefits & Challenges: When couples work together, keeping business separate from home life is often one of the greatest challenges. However, Pam notes that they've made that separation a priority. She says, "We will have a date night or a business meeting, but we specify what we want."

We ♥ our business: “The social aspect of the business has been the most rewarding for us both; we’ve built some pretty excellent friendships with our customers. We love that side of the business. It’s always a rewarding feeling for both of us, knowing we can help our customers with their decorating/painting needs. We believe in relationships, honesty, and trust.”

Dr. Cheryl Cook & Chris Cook

          Velum Skin & Laser Center · 178 South 32nd St West, #3

The story of “us”: The enduring partnership of Dr. Cheryl Cook and Chris Cook began in 1979 in Glendale, Colorado. Dr. Cook moved from North Carolina to Colorado to attend the University of Colorado's master’s program in nursing, while Chris was attending the same school, studying chemistry. However, it was the apartment complex where Dr. Cook lived, not school where their paths crossed. An encounter over a misplaced key and a locked out Dr. Cook was the catalyst that launched their relationship. Though it wasn’t exactly the knight in shining armor situation of fairytales, when Dr. Cook went back to the office, after being rescued by a friend, they “started talking about stuff, and we got really involved…We were both just extremely passionate about things and topics, so I said, ‘Make me a cup of coffee, and I'll be back!'" Their strong personalities, shares Dr. Cook, have made for some great conversations, something that hasn’t changed over the course of 36 years of marriage.

After they were married, Dr. Cook attended medical school, and their daughter arrived just a month after that graduation. The couple had the opportunity to work together in Dr. Cook’s private practice in Colorado, which ultimately led them to Billings. They laughingly recall that the refineries made for a less than dazzling first impression, and wondered "Who would ever live there?!" However, the next time they flew in, they were able to appreciate the beauty at play in the Magic City. For 10 years Dr. Cook was an internist in the dermatology department at St. V’s, doing medical dermatology. The couple says that the timing seemed right to make the leap to business ownership. They both wanted to make a difference in the community they love. Chris adds, "Dr. Cook has very strong feelings about patient care…it was kind of the confluence of those philosophies, and with all the changes happening in medicine, it seemed right – and time – to strike out on our own.”

Benefits & Challenges: Both point to the opportunity to spend a lot of time together as a “definite benefit.” Dr. Cook acknowledges that it takes a special relationship to spend that kind of time together, made easier because “We both respect each other’s knowledge base.” She notes that Chris is “really good at business; he’s so awesome about people.” While Chris readily shares, “There’s one boss here, and it’s not me because Dr. Cook is trained in patient care, and that’s always number one, everything else is secondary.” They have especially enjoyed some of the flexibility that has come with business ownership – for Chris; it's the opportunity to volunteer in the schools, teach a cycling class at the Y, or to attend his Downtown Exchange Club meetings. While Dr. Cook loves being able to “come up with a concept and implement it quickly," and she still enjoys being the "doc" in the Y's Walk and Talk with the Doc, something she's done for 13 years. Most of all? They love it when their 6-year-old grandson gets a look at his grandparents’ work, as well as the opportunity to instill the importance of a strong work ethic.

As for challenges, Chris shares that while "It's fun 95% of the time, 5% of the time Dr. Cook and I don't see eye to eye, and it causes a little bit of conflict. Sometimes we don’t come to an agreement, but that’s okay; that’s life.” Though separating work from home is easier said than done, Dr. Cook says it is a goal.

We ♥ our business: Chris: “One of the best things here is our employees, and having the opportunity to build relationships.” Dr. Cook: “I love helping people – changing lives. Trying to make a difference, trying to educate does take time, and we do get people in and spend that time. It’s the kids, the people who are happier, or they’re alive because of the cancer I’ve picked up on – I’ve picked up more melanomas in the last couple years than I was before, and I think it’s access. To have this opportunity to change lives, to make a difference is why I’m here, it’s why I didn’t retire. It’s the freedom to think outside of the box.”