'I have a strong need to set boundaries'

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Personal issues creep into the office, affecting how the soon-to-be exes interact. Lang articulates a more specific problem. "When I was Joe's wife, we would talk over dinner about the business and the children," she says. Carini would bounce ideas off her and seek her input. But Lang is not receptive to that anymore; she wants to separate personal and business matters.

"I feel like I'm still his wife," she complains. "I have a strong need to set boundaries."

Carini prefers working when inspiration hits. Lang restricts her office time to about 20 hours a week so she can be with the children, and often works from home. But Carini worries that such limits will hamper his creativity and harm the business. Sometimes, he says, decisions need immediate attention. Lang shakes her head, and the discussion quickly devolves into bickering.

"It's never, 'This is important.' It's always you sitting in my office, waiting for me to give you a smile," she says.

"You sound contemptuous," Carini responds, visibly angry.

Zalman steps in with a blunt solution: no more meshing business with the personal. "Separate work and family matters," she stresses.

For starters, many of the issues that Carini raises spontaneously should be discussed at weekly meetings with set agendas. "That would eliminate much of the I-need-an-answer-on-this stress on the relationship," she says. "It might seem rigid and uncomfortable in the beginning, but after a while it will become easy."

Second, Zalman recommends creating a three-year business plan, thus making decisions - on staff, advertising and so on - easier. "If you agree on the vision of the company, then that drives many of your subsequent decisions," she says. And last, she reminds the couple that shifting from life partners to just business partners is a tough process that requires time and patience.

Building systems

Perhaps Carini Lang's most persistent problem is that it lacks systems for analyzing sales and ordering inventory. So FSB brought in Vasant Dhar, 52, a professor of information systems at New York University who also advises companies on building databases.

Lang tells Dhar that for more than a year she has struggled to solve the firm's inventory problem: With so many custom orders, she is unsure what to stock. "I can tell Joseph what we have or how much a rug costs, but I can't tell him, 'This is our best-selling rug,'" she says.

All agree that the firm needs such data in order to grow. Dhar stresses that knowing their customers is key to getting a handle on their inventory. Carini says his clients fit a very specific profile: the top 1% of the privileged elite. Dhar thinks Carini should be more open-minded. He suggests that the business partners focus on who the company's clients might be instead of who Carini thinks they are. "Your clients are anyone with disposable income and a certain taste," Dhar explains.

To build a database, Dhar suggests the co-owners first study the invoices for all their sales. He advocates reviewing the last two years of records, noting specific characteristics of the rugs sold and the customers who purchased them, to learn who is buying what. Patterns might emerge, revealing crucial information. For example, Carini Lang could find that it sells more wool rugs to designers in a certain geographic area in the fall. If that were the case, the firm could stock those items at that time of year and promote them to targeted customers.

Carini smiles at the prospect of a low-cost answer to their problem, but Lang seems disappointed. "Isn't the goal to have a piece of software that does all that for you?" she asks.

"You're not there yet," Dhar cautions. He suggests trying a low-tech approach before spending money on software and says that the simple analysis he recommends will provide Carini Lang with the information it needs to make stocking decisions. Once the firm has that data, it should invest in a customized database.

"You go from no-tech to low-tech to high-tech," he says.

A few weeks later, some of the tension at Carini Lang has lifted. The co-owners are cautiously approaching hiring and looking at new production venues in Turkey and Afghanistan.

"It's much different than it was," says Carini. Now they meet weekly with a fixed agenda. "Our talks are efficient, and boundaries are set," reports Lang. Both partners are adjusting. "We're good that way; we hear each other, and we change," she adds.

FSB will track Carini Lang's progress.  To top of page

Could your business use a makeover? In general, successful Makeover candidates are profitable small companies with at least $1 million in annual gross revenues. To submit your firm for consideration, e-mail the FSB makeover editor here. Please describe your business briefly, provide your most recent and projected revenues, and explain why you think your company would benefit from a Makeover.

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