Married couples find bliss in mixing business and pleasure

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 24, 2002

Bo and Traci Swilley have known each other forever. Traci’s father was the best man at Bo’s parents’ wedding, and the families have remained close. Bo and Traci grew up as friends.

As young teenagers, they became more than that. Seventeen years ago, they became man and wife, vowing to be together “’til death do us part.”

After Bo, a former football coach and teacher at Adams County Christian School, left that job to join his wife in running their business, Bankston’s Pharmacy in Fayette, the couple apparently began taking that vow literally.

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“I’ll get to see her more,” Swilley said, listing the advantages of his new situation. “I think we’ll be able to better understand each other’s stress. We’ll be going through the same things, so we’ll know what it’s about. We’ll be in the same shoes, so to speak.”

For a husband relatively new at working with his wife, he’s pretty close to the mark, according to Scott and Nancy Kimbrell, who have worked together at Kimbrell’s Office Supply for more than 20 years.

“It’s gotten so that we almost read each other’s minds,” Nancy said, “and that comes from working together. There are times that we’re on the same wavelength, and we don’t even know it.”

After meeting first on a blind date, the Kimbrells have been married 32 years. They own the office supply business with Scott’s mother. Scott handles the majority of the administrative duties while Nancy juggles the responsibilities of customer service representative, administrative assistant and conscience and confidant to her husband.

“Sometimes I have to tell him things he doesn’t want to hear,” Nancy said. “Others won’t tell him because he’s the boss, but they’re usually things he needs to know.”

After working at a bank during the early years of her marriage, Nancy quit to devote more time to her two young sons. When the boys started school, she began working with her husband on a part-time basis.

“Where else could I get a job that would let me go home every day at 2 o’clock to be there when the kids get home from school?” she said. “It was supposed to be for a short period, just to help out. Now I work more hours than I ever did.”

That sounds familiar to Dennis Short. When the oil company he worked for went out of business, he began helping out at his wife Darby’s small gift shop in Winnsboro, La. – but only until he found work again in his field, he thought.

Darby’s began to grow, and the couple moved the store to Natchez in 1983. Darby’s continued to grow, and the couple moved the business to Main Street, where their second business, a furniture store called D-Short Limited, now sits right across the street from the gift shop.

“As things kept expanding, eventually he took over the paperwork,” Darby said. “It evolved into a partnership. This would be hard to do without each other.”

The Shorts see no drawbacks in working with each other day in and day out.

“We work well together, and I’m thankful for that,” Darby said. “A lot people think that they could never work with their spouse, but if they had to, I bet they could.”

The only problem the Shorts face, they said, is finding time together that doesn’t involve work.

“It’s no different than working anywhere else,” Dennis said. “You want to get away, but just from work – not each other.”

John and Melinda Ballard have found that working together has allowed them to spend more time with each other and their children.

The two own and operate the Wharf Master’s House restaurant in Natchez Under-the-Hill with John’s mother, a situation that allows John to spend time with his entire family – as much time, in fact, as he can stand.

“I work with my wife and my mother,” he said. “There is a special place in heaven reserved just for me.”

Not that John would trade his situation for the world, he said. By working mostly at night, he has been able to take an active role in raising their 3-year-old daughter.

“I’ve been able to spend more time with my daughter than any man I know has been able to spend with his,” he said. “Most fathers are at work all day.”

In addition to the family perks, running the restaurant as a married couple gives the Ballards a few professional advantages as well.

One is trust, John said. “I don’t trust anybody with money like I trust my wife,” he said. “In a restaurant, we deal with food and liquor, the two things people crave the most. Things have a tendency to disappear. It’s nice to have her to watch my back.”

Another advantage is being able to present a united front to employees, Melinda said.

“With John the owner-manager and me the assistant manager, some employees might try to play the two of us against each other,” she said.

“They can’t do that with us,” John said. “We tend to compare notes. We share a bedroom.”

Their management positions also help them end squabbles at home in hurry.

“You have to make up before you get here,” Melinda said. “If you bring that in here, you upset everybody.”

Working together can strengthen a marriage, but only if that marriage is strong to begin with, John said.

“It takes a very strong relationship,” he said. “You have to be close. You have to have the same set of values. It’s more than a marriage – it’s a business.”

“There are sacrifices,” Melinda added. “But in the long-run, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”