By Steve McGuire
HANOVER, Mass.—The outlook on family businesses may be positive, but the business of family is another story. The Fougere family that has been running J&R Graphics for decades on the South Shore understands the struggles of family business from experience.
J&R Graphics looks like a typical office from outside. The gray and tan brick betray nothing of the business within. Past the reception area, through the offices and the kitchen, the shop opens up into a cavernous space full of pulsing, beeping machines inking ream after ream of paper. The smell of printing chemicals pervades the entire office, and some days, the employees wrinkle their noses against the pungent odor of hot book-binding glue.
Richard “Dick” Fougere—the “R” in J&R Graphics—started the company in his garage in 1974. He and his wife Janet—who also happens to be the “J” in the company’s title—operated their shop from their home in Hanson, Mass., with the help of their five children for ten years before branching out into a new location. There they remained until the mid-1990s when they leased the offices on Webster Street in Hanover.
Dick and Janet retired in 2018, leaving their initials emblazoned on the door and their son, Rick, to run the shop. Rick had wanted to be involved in the shop’s production from an early age.
“I always wanted to run the stuff,” says Rick. “I always wanted to run the machines, but my dad always said the first thing you need to learn to do is how to handle paper, which is still true. I started working there when I was probably 5 or 6 years old, even just catching on the folding machine or the stapler.”
Unfortunately, the transition from parents to son was rockier than anticipated.
“It’s not something that was smooth,” says Rick. “My dad has always wanted to have control in something. This is his baby. He worked on it day and night. My mother worked here also. She wanted to retire four years ago, maybe even five. When she turned 70, she wanted to retire. Unfortunately, what happened is she got cancer. She’s had cancer 9 times, 5 different types of cancer. The latest one was not curable, it’s treatable. So that was like, it’s time.”
The chance to run the shop was a boon for Rick, but the circumstances of the change left him reeling.
“I always wanted the opportunity. I never cared about ownership of the company, but I wanted the opportunity, not to do things my way because his way was wrong, but just the opportunity to give it a shot. When this finally happened, I have to admit, I was well unprepared.”
According to Rick, he and his father considered closing the shop and selling the equipment. Almost all of the equipment in the shop had been paid off, and the lease on the digital press was just about up, making it the opportune time to shut down the operation.
But Rick wanted his chance to make the business his own.
“Sometimes I wish we had just closed because I’m running around like a mad man, but three-quarters of the time, I really enjoy it. I can do what I want. I can pull crazy stunts doing things.”
For years, Rick’s siblings had been involved in the shop, most notably his eldest sister Renee and his younger brother Ken. According to Rick, neither Renee nor Ken had inclinations to run the business, which was fine by Rick.
However, working with your family members can have its downsides.
“I love my brother,” says Rick. “We get along great.”
According to Rick, he and his brother had different philosophies on working. Ken’s proclivities for showing up late and working at a slower pace wore on Rick’s nerves as the new leader of the shop.
“He was able to work here and maybe had a little sense of entitlement, and my parents enabled that,” says Rick. “I don’t fault him one bit for what he did, even though it made me nuts.”
And while brotherly love can go a long way, Rick had a business to run. In July 2018, less than a year after taking over the shop, Rick fired Ken. Having spent his whole life in the printing business, Ken landed on his feet and began working for a nearby print shop specializing in signage.
Rick says he and his brother have no hard feelings about the professional split. “Right from the time he left,” says Rick, “it was important to maintain a loving relationship because you still have to see each other at Christmas and Thanksgiving.”
Ken Fougere declined to comment for this story.
While inheriting his brother as an employee was a mixed bag, Rick says there was plenty of upside to taking over a business run by his parents.
Tucked away in a corner of the shop floor, one printing press toils away with a near-deafening clamor. Rick eyes the machine with a palpable reverence. The Heidelberg press, currently cutting perforations in sales tags for Stop & Shop, has been with the family since the shop’s early days.
Rick gestures backward toward a hunk of gray metal in the middle of the shop floor.
“I actually got a picture that my parents just gave me of me as a teenager,” says Rick, “sitting on the stapling machine that I still have out there. So, if you’re talking about historical machines, there’s one that’s still out there. We’ve had this machine since I can remember.”
As for the future of the shop, Rick says he has yet to work out a succession plan. “It’s something that, yeah, you’d like to,” says
Rick. “I don’t have a son or daughter that would be doing this. Would it go to a niece or a nephew? There’s really no one here being groomed to do that.” Instead, Rick thinks the future of printing in the South Shore area may be collaboration.
“Part of my growth strategy is to acquire other companies, maybe some smaller ones,” says Rick. “Maybe in the future, there’ll be a merger in the South Shore area. There’s really only room for one major player. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no real printing company on the South Shore anywhere.”
While managing the family business has had its ups and downs, Rick says he would never want to work for anyone else.
“I’ve talked to a few other guys that have grown up in the family business or had their own business,” says Rick, “and I’ve only worked in the family business, and [we] know you don’t want to go into the private sector. You think it’s hard. You think what you’re doing can be difficult. You work the long hours, but a lot of the time it is rewarding.”