Family plumbing supply business evolved to high design

November 10, 2016 9:02 AM EST

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By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - What better business pursuit for the daughter of a plumbing equipment supplier than bathroom design?

Since 1978, Barbara Sallick and her husband, Robert, have run the luxury bath and kitchen design company Waterworks (www.waterworks.com/), headquartered in Danbury, Connecticut. It was one of the first companies to build showrooms for high-design fittings and fixtures for consumers, rather than just plumbers, to browse.

Their son Peter is currently chief executive of the company, while Barbara Sallick just published her third book, "The Perfect Bath." In April, the company was acquired by Restoration Hardware for $117 million.

Sallick spoke with Reuters to share some of the guiding principles that have steered her through the years.

Q: What early lesson about money has stuck with you?

A: My father started a plumbing supply business in 1925, and it was still a fledgling when the Depression hit. Just as it was beginning to flourish, we were engaged in World War II. He lived his life as if the next disaster was around the corner. I was never sure where we stood financially, because he was always saving for a rainy day. This is not to say we were deprived in any way, but we were always encouraged to be thoughtful about how we spent our money.

Q: What did launching your business teach you about finances?

A: Step one, it was clear that unless there was a solid strategic plan in place, securing a bank loan would be impossible. The banks always wanted to know that they would get paid back with interest, which in 1978 was a staggering 22 percent.

Q: What was your first job? How did it shape or change your work ethic?

A: As a 16-year-old, my very first summer job was in a local toy store in Danbury, Connecticut. I had never worked before and it took me a couple of weeks to figure out that the busier I was the faster the day passed. So, without being asked, I started to straighten shelves, make sure all of the games were adjacent to one another and neatly stacked, soft toys were in baskets and the place was dust free. The owner noticed and I quickly got a 25-cent per hour raise. Recognition drives job satisfaction. I have carried this early lesson with me throughout my life and use this story as I mentor young employees.

Q: Do you work with a financial adviser?

A: For many years we worked with an investment counselor. The results were mixed. Only recently, we engaged a financial adviser who is strategically planning for our future. This includes investigating insurance policies, stock portfolios, our collection of decorative arts, our will, our real estate and my husband’s well-being including diet and exercise.

While we are very late in finding the right person to be our adviser, I would suggest outside and objective guidance as soon you understand the trajectory of your career. The discipline she or he can bring to your finances will be invaluable over the years.

Q: How do you decide where to allocate your charitable money?

A: I have been a stalwart contributor to my alma mater, Wheelock College in Boston. Its very clear mission of “improving the lives of children and families” resonates with me. I admire anyone who is interested in a teaching career knowing that the likelihood of becoming wealthy is non-existent.

I also have been on the board of and a contributor to the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. On a smaller scale, I donate to women’s organizations locally.

Q: What money lessons did you pass down to your family?

A: I am afraid we were not the best role models for fiscal responsibility. Our business, our house, our commercial building, school tuition and even the next great piece of furniture took precedence over savings and investment. We have been playing catch-up for a while.

Our son was able to observe our shortcomings as financial planners. I see a healthy future for the next generation.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Phil Berlowitz)



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