It’s an accomplishment when a family company extends ownership to the third or fourth generation, but it’s extremely rare for companies to stay in the family beyond that.
W.H. Riley & Son, a family-owned retailer in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, is one of those companies defying the odds. The retailer entered its seventh generation of ownership about 10 years ago when brothers Matt and Jon Allen joined the business as vice presidents.
Although neither Matt nor Jon initially worked at the family business when they completed school, both decided to give the business an “honest shot” after gaining outside work experience. Today, the brothers plan to take over the business when their father, Mark Allen, retires.
“There has always been somebody to take over,” Matt says. “We take pride in the fact that we’ve been in business as long as we have and have served this community for over 140 years.”
Mark admits it can be tough to keep a business within the family, but he says it comes down to determination.
“You need to have the mind-set that you want to pass it on,” Mark says. “It’s much easier to sell out, so it takes cooperation between family members. We’ve been able to pass it down by buying out parts of the family.”
W.H. Riley & Son has stayed in the same family throughout its history, but its product offerings have evolved. When William H. Riley launched the business in 1873, his company provided the community with coal, wood, straw and building materials. The company refocused to sell fuels, including propane, in the 1950s and 1960s when the fourth- and fifth-generation owners ran the business.
Today, the retailer primarily focuses on providing its community with propane and heating oil. The company sells more heating oil than propane, but Mark says propane has become more dominant recently. The residential market is a big seller in the area, as a number of homes are switching from heating oil to propane.
Despite product and technological changes over the years, the company maintains the same values of customer service and community support it held when Riley started the business. The retailer’s name is known around North Attleborough through its long history and support of local sports teams and golf tournaments, Matt says.
“Our goal has always been to provide a service to the community and also to be a part of the community,” Mark adds. “We’ve kept the name recognized by providing good service.”
W.H. Riley & Son’s 144-year-old succession plan
First generation: William H. Riley, founder, 1873
Second generation: Elmer Riley, Charles Riley, sons, 1873
Third generation: Charles Ralston, son-in-law, 1920s
Fourth generation: Elmer Ralston, Marcus Ralston, sons, 1920s
Fifth generation: Warren Allen, son-in-law, 1940s; John Pasquantonio, son-in-law, 1950s
Sixth generation: Mark Allen, son, 1970s
Seventh generation: Matt Allen, Jon Allen, sons, 2000s
Founder: William H. Riley
Owner: Mark Allen
Headquarters: North Attleborough, Massachusetts
Propane sales: 1 million annual gallons