Leading the way among family businesses

Heritage Benefits Group, Siperstein

By carolyn o

CHRIS KELLY Larry Katz (l) and his son, Todd, stand in the Siperstein’s Paint and Wallpaper SuperStore in Long Branch, which is scheduled for an exterior face lift. The fourth-generation stores are owned and operated by the Katz and Siperstein families.CHRIS KELLY Larry Katz (l) and his son, Todd, stand in the Siperstein’s Paint and Wallpaper SuperStore in Long Branch, which is scheduled for an exterior face lift. The fourth-generation stores are owned and operated by the Katz and Siperstein families.

By carolyn o’connell & Gloria Stravelli

Staff Writers

Powdered lead, linseed oil and dye were the ingredients used to create a successful business now in its 98th year.

The states of New Jersey and Connecticut have come to know Siperstein’s Paint and Wallpaper SuperStore, a family-owned business, for a line of products for redecorating homes.

Nathan Siperstein, a teen-age Russian orphan, started the business in Russia but soon sought out America to become a successful businessman where he opened his first store in Jersey City in 1904.

A few towns away and 34 years later, Harry and Claire Katz opened a paint store in Linden, which was converted to a Siperstein store in 1962.

Thus began a partnership between two families who still run the business today.

Today the business is owned by Larry Katz and his son, Todd Katz, representing three generations, and by the Sipersteins, who have invested four generations into a thriving business.

Siperstein’s Paint & Wallpaper, a fourth-generation, family-owned business founded in 1904, is a semifinalist in the "over $10 million" category for family-owned business awards. Co-sponsored by the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, the awards program is the only statewide initiative to honor family-owned companies for their significant economic and societal roles.

The paint-store chain has 22 stores within New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts and employs more than 200 employees. The Long Branch store was opened on lower Broadway, their fourth store, in 1962.

Much has changed in the business, including the use of lead in paint; however, Todd Katz, principal, said that what remains constant is the "service to our customers, and being part of the community is what we pride ourselves in."

Just as Siperstein’s helps its customers spruce up their homes, its own stores will be sporting a bit of a makeover.

Katz noted that the Middletown store has just been remodeled, adding a playroom for children and a cappuccino machine for the adults.

The Long Branch location, in the midst of a redeveloping city, has planned a project to remodel the exterior of the building to bring back the traditional Main Street USA look.

The families have also committed themselves to the communities in which they are located.

Said Katz: "Through the business we donate a lot of paint and product to the community as our way of contributing back to the communities."

What sets them apart from the competition is the knowledgeable staff to support customer needs. "We pride ourselves on service and teaching our customers on how to correctly take on a remodeling job for their homes."

Donna Lynn Geigerich grew up in the family insurance business but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have to work hard to grow the business.

"Dad bought us a fax machine and said the rest is up to you," said the head of Heritage Benefits Group LLC, Red Bank.

The life and health insurance brokerage agency Geigerich founded with her husband, Thomas Zapcic, is a semifinalist for the 10th Annual New Jersey Family Business of the Year Award.

Heritage Benefits, a spin-off of a business founded in 1925, is one of 16 family-owned businesses nominated for the award in two categories. The agency was nominated in the "up to $10 million" category.

The names of award winners will be announced at a luncheon Oct. 3 at the Doubletree Hotel in Somerset.

A Red Bank native, Geigerich is a second-generation business owner. After earning a master’s degree at Monmouth University, she opened a satellite office of her father’s South Orange property and casualty agency, S.O. Heritage Associates, on Maple Avenue in 1989 and had to develop a local client base.

"We started from scratch. We basically banged on doors in Red Bank," she said. "We canvassed the area when it was ‘Dead Bank’ in 1989. We also were known in the area. I went to Red Bank Catholic and Tom went to Christian Brothers Academy. We sent out mass mailers, the whole nine yards.

"There was nothing down here, but we knew Monmouth County was a fabulous place to do business and to live," she explained. "We were fortunate because timing is everything. We moved in here at the height of the real estate market and then everything went bust. We had a local depression, but we hung in there."

The couple moved the agency to larger quarters on Newman Springs Road; then moved to a home/office on Patterson Avenue in Shrewsbury before moving back to Red Bank in April of last year.

"We were very fortunate. We grew with the area. We couldn’t have timed it better. It was very difficult for the first two to three years, but we still have the same clients and we try to concentrate on keeping the service level up to snuff," said Geigerich. "We hustled, and it’s coming back.".

The agency continued under S.O. Heritage Associates until 1993, when Heritage Benefits Group LLC was formed as an adjunct to provide expanded life, health, disability and long-term care coverage to the agency’s small business and individual clients.

The agency, located at 68 White St., posted $3.5 million in sales last year.

When John F. Geigerich retired in 1999 after 40 years at the agency, the property and casualty servicing was outsourced to Couch Braunsdorf, a Westfield agency.

Geigerich said providing excellent service to customers has paid off in bringing new business to the agency.

"Totally all of our business for the past five to seven years has been referrals," she said. "When we started out, we did seminars for Realtors. We tried to be of service to professionals in the area and that ended up in great referrals for us"

When a violent storm tore through the area Aug. 2, leaving downed trees and power lines in its wake, Geigerich and Zapcic, Colts Neck residents, went to the aid of clients.

"We were out there trying to assist some of our insureds," she said. "We don’t adjust, but we made sure they were serviced.

"Let’s face it," she continued, "this is an intangible product, and people hate to write checks for insurance premiums. But people are happy to see someone is paying attention to them. We personally called and recalled our clients who filed about 30 claims related to Aug. 2.

"I still write personal thank-yous, still make phone calls and thank people personally for referrals," Geigerich confided. "That’s our distinguishing feature. It’s the simple stuff; it’s not rocket science."