February: chilly, damp, gray, and in my honest opinion, the worst of all the months. But it is home to Valentine’s Day, a mostly commercialized holiday we all must endure, Valentine or not. Not a great day to represent love, but hey – it’s the only one we have. And, to me (though I might be slightly biased), no one embodies love like my parents do.
The legendary owners of Castle Valley Mill had to deal with raising three children, plus undergo the insane ups and downs of starting (and maintaining) a small business. Through all of that, not only did their marriage survive – it became stronger than ever.
Before Fran got involved, Mark was running a hobby business – he was selling at one farmers market, running one little mill, and doing most of his work on the weekends. But then, business started to pick up. Customers came back, orders were getting bigger, and retailers were becoming interested. Mark, who is not blessed with organizational skills, couldn’t keep up with running a growing business by himself. By his own admission, Mark ‘basically begged her to help.’ “I promised it would only be a few hours a week.” According to them both, he lied.
Fran began taking on all of the responsibilities that Mark didn’t have the time or the patience for: QuickBooks, billing, invoicing, etc. She liked talking to customers and completely bought into the concept of the business. “I had to be involved,” she said. “The cool thing is Mark is the visionary – the big picture guy. I’m the meticulous, detail-oriented one.” She was the missing piece he needed to help Castle Valley evolve from a simple pastime to a blossoming company.
One of the few areas they overlap is in hospitality. As far back as I can remember, my parents loved hosting. They would go out of their way to make their guests feel both comfortable and special at the same time.
My mom would plan elaborate dinners with fantastic “tablescapes” and decor (and candles, always candles) and my dad would make sure there were activities to keep everyone occupied.From birthday parties and paintball games to formal dinners and even my brother’s wedding – they had it covered.
This has absolutely translated into the company. They love showing people around and interacting with customers, and their passion for the company shines through everything they do.
They make a great team, and they love how their abilities compliment each other’s. In Mark’s words, “Honestly, it’s a blast. We’re having the best time.” Even though Mark is the proclaimed “visionary”, they both have the same vision for the company, and rarely – if ever – argue about business.
By working so closely together, my parents have had the opportunity to experience sides of each other that not many see in their spouse. Our family watched our dad (and husband) literally make his dream come to life with an insane amount of research, engineering, and restoration of not only machinery, but the entire three-story mill itself.
Mark watched his wife develop confidence and transform into a serious business owner. She is extremely knowledgeable about everything that has to do with the process of the mill and the products that result from it. Quoting from her directly, “I’m really good at what I do. Like really really good at it.”
Of course, there are some challenges that come with working together. Fran is a little more humble about her confidence – she says that Mark has a lot more than she does, which can be difficult at times. Mark also has to reign in his enthusiasm when he tries to push her to the next level. He’s not allowed to approach Fran until she’s had a cup of coffee. Our family also talks about Castle Valley ALL THE TIME. I’ll say it again for emphasis – ALL. THE. TIME. My parents and both my siblings and I all work for the company. It becomes hard to abide by “the separation of church and state” as I like to put it.
Challenges aside, this journey has brought our family much closer. I don’t know where any of us would be without it. It feels like we’re fulfilling our destiny in a way; executing our divine mission to bring all-natural, stone ground, local grains to the Northeast region of the US.
Mark and Fran both agree they had a very strong marriage before the business, but Castle Valley Mill has added a whole other dimension and grew them not only as people, but as a couple. In my opinion, my parents found their soulmates – their one-in-a-million perfect match. They only continue to improve one another every step of the stressful, wonderful, and insane ride that comes with being partnered for life, in more ways than one.