These companies represent some of Northeast Ohio’s successful family-owned businesses that are growing for the next generation.
Here are the 2023 Family Business and Business Longevity honorees:
2023 Family Business Achievement Award
Three brothers opened A. Ripepi and Sons Funeral Homes in 2004, and from the beginning, they started building relationships within the community, getting involved in chambers of commerce and church organizations and playing a role in creating the City Club of Middleburg Heights, which hosts a summer festival that attracts about 20,000 people.
While the first two years in business were difficult, the company grew from providing services for 125 people in its second year to providing services for more than 400 each year over the last 20 years.
The brothers attribute the business’s growth to a wide variety of marketing efforts, ranging from ads on local cable networks to speaking engagements. They have developed partnerships with professionals across various fields and created program including “Getting Your House In Order,” a workshop aimed at estate planning.
The funeral home staff has developed into a family that works closely with clients and provides the utmost in professionalism. Their dedication to the profession is the driving force behind the family business, nearing 20 years serving the community. ●
Berea Moving Co. was founded in 1961 by Ardella “Dell” Melton and her police officer husband, Willard, in their kitchen. It didn’t take long to move the company into an office space, but most of the work fell to Dell and their employees while raising two children, Lisa and Woody.
Lisa and Woody grew up in the office, starting out doing small tasks like filing paperwork and cleaning the office, and helped with moving jobs, working on trucks and creating estimates for customers. Both became full-time employees, and the company’s name was changed to Berea Moving & Storage.
Today, Lisa Holly is president and CEO, and Woody serves as vice president. They improved the business model and started a second moving company catering to fine art, known as WOOD-LEE International Art Handler. Woody’s children, Woody J. and Tara, now work at Berea Moving & Storage full time, carrying on the family tradition.
The office feels more like a family reunion than a traditional workplace. Guests are often greeted with Daisy, Woody J.’s yellow lab. Now, Woody J. brings his six-month-old son, Archie, to the office, making it easy to imagine a bright future and another 60 years for Berea Moving. ●
The Berson-Sokol Agency was founded 50 years ago with the concept of assisting life insurance agents with underwriting clients who did not qualify for a policy due to medical history or other reasons. Founded in 1973 by Harold Berson and Morton Sokol, the company’s mission today remains the same: “Our Business is Helping Yours.”
Harold’s son, Craig Berson, joined the agency in 1981 and has built and expanded on the original concept and niche market. Today the agency assists financial professionals writing life insurance, annuities, long-term care insurance and senior health (Medicare) insurance.
Craig’s father, Harold, mentored and worked alongside Craig for nearly a decade. Today Craig is carrying on the family tradition, working with and mentoring his daughter, Hallie, who has been with the company for nearly five years.
Under Berson’s direction, the agency has embraced technology and keeps up with emerging trends. His go-getter approach has allowed the agency to add new lines of business and focus on a much larger demographic than the founders ever imagined.
Looking to the future, Hallie Berson and some younger long-term employees will eventually take over day-to-day operations and continue to grow the business. ●
Busch Funeral and Crematory Services has proudly served its neighbors with funeral and cremation services since 1905, when Gustav H. Busch opened the Rehburg-Busch Furniture Hardware and Undertaking Company in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland. In the early days, staff served local families with a horse-drawn hearse.
In 1925, Busch built a funeral home on Pearl Road, the first of its kind in the area. The company has continued to expand, adding seven more locations throughout Northeast Ohio.
Each generation has progressed and moved the business forward. The first two generations transferred the business upon their deaths, but James Busch’s father started a progressive transfer of the business to him, and his brother, Mark, when he was just 25 years old. The brothers ran the company until Mark’s retirement in 2020. Today, Busch’s in-laws and other family members still play a large role in day-to-day operations.
Busch Funeral and Crematory Services has been family owned since the beginning, working to cultivate a reputation for dedicated and compassionate care. Leadership takes pride in staying in front of industry trends, and Owner and President Busch says its commitment will continue to be forward thinking, inventive and most important, honest and straight forward. ●
CLEANLIFE Founder, President and CEO Justin Miller’s journey as a serial entrepreneur and businessman began at an early age. His ability to identify trends led him to creating CLEANLIFE in 2011, a company that specializes in producing highly customized LED lighting solutions.
While studying in China, Miller became aware of the hazardous mercury vapors involved in the manufacturing process of fluorescent lamps. That realization, coupled with a fortuitous introduction to eco-friendly LED technology, prompted him to embark on a mission to render fluorescent technology obsolete.
In the span of a decade, CLEANLIFE has evolved from a mere dream into a thriving global enterprise. The company specializes in making highly customized LED lighting solutions for an impressive clientele, including several Fortune 100 businesses. CLEANLIFE also offers products for the consumer market that can be found on the shelves of national retailers.
Despite its growth into a global enterprise, CLEANLIFE® has managed to maintain its familial essence, embodying the values and principles that Miller has held dear since the inception of the company. The business has fostered a strong sense of family, with a culture that emphasizes collaboration, trust and mutual support among its employees. ●
Cleveland Vibrator Co., a family-owned business founded in 1923, is a leading manufacturer of custom industrial vibrators and vibratory equipment. The company has achieved significant success in the design, manufacturing and supply of vibratory products used for material handling needs.
Operating for nearly a century, the company has demonstrated resilience and adaptability in an ever-changing market. Its unwavering commitment to quality, integrity and customer service has fostered strong relationships with over 15,000 organizations globally.
Applying institutional knowledge, Cleveland Vibrator Co.’s diverse range of products allows it to cater to a wide array of customer requirements, from fine powder screening to robust feeder, screener and conveyor applications. Vibrator and equipment options used to solve material flow challenges range in size from 10 pounds to more than 40,000 pounds.
Led by President and CEO Craig Macklin, Cleveland Vibrator Co. has manufacturing facilities in Cleveland and an affiliate in Leetonia, Ohio, creating a robust infrastructure to ensure consistent production and timely delivery. The company’s ability to expand its reach beyond local markets and become a trusted partner worldwide has allowed it to provide vibration solutions for industries as diverse as mining and agriculture to food, medical and recycling. ●
When Victor DiGeronimo Jr.’s grandfather, father, and uncles started Independence Excavating Inc. in 1956, they didn’t realize they were building a foundation deeper than the basements they were digging. Back then, his grandfather couldn’t find a reliable contractor to excavate sites for the homes he built, so he co-signed a loan for his sons to buy the equipment to do it for him.
They quickly realized that to pay off the loan, they needed more work than their father provided, so they started taking on other, larger jobs — like the Cleveland Justice Center in 1972.
In 1977, 12-year-old Victor DiGeronimo Jr. spent the summer working on a sewer crew for the family business. And at age 18, he joined the company full time.
As the DiGeronimo family grew through the generations, so did the business — gradually spreading throughout Northeast Ohio, then expanding across the country as they diversified into new markets and other lines of business. Today, DiGeronimo Companies consists of eight firms serving specific services, from demolition and environmental remediation to construction and full-scale development. As a third-generation CEO, DiGeronimo continues to honor the strong work ethic and innovative thinking instilled by his grandfather, father and uncles before him. ●
Not many businesses make it to the third generation of family ownership, but GNCO Inc. is among those that are not just surviving but thriving. Gerald N. Cannon founded Towlift Inc. in 1965 as a Towmotor dealership in Cleveland. His goal was to build a forklift dealership that makes a difference in the customer’s experience.
He led the company to regional growth, and following Caterpillar’s purchase of Towmotor, he
moved the operation to a full-service facility, growing steadily into one of the largest material-handling dealerships in the eastern half of the United States. Before he passed away in 1990, he coined the phrase, “It’s the dealer that makes the difference.”
His nephew, David Cannon, took over the business and grew it from six employees to 275, with the creation of two companies and the acquisition of three throughout Ohio. David Cannon remains a consultant to the family business.
In 2016, GNCO Inc. was created as a holding company. David Cannon’s nephews, Matt Adams, CEO, and Bill Seward, COO, became the new owners and were a part of the inception of GNCO, which now has more than 875 employees. In addition, revenue has grown substantially with the acquisition of five subsidiaries. ●
Steve Saks and Harry Goodfriend founded Green Paper Products in 2009 as a small Cleveland-based family business committed to sustainability. The company offers high-quality disposable tableware and paper products that are more environmentally friendly than traditional foam or plastic alternatives.
Their product range includes items made from plant-based or recycled materials that are either compostable or recyclable. Green Paper Products aims to assist customers in diverting organic materials away from landfills, although composting availability may vary by location. Its products are crafted from renewable resources, such as sugarcane and bamboo, making them not only durable but also compostable, further promoting a circular and sustainable economy.
With a team of 11 dedicated employees, including individuals in customer service, warehouse operations, social media management, inventory procurement and general management, employees work hard to ensure exceptional service delivery. The tight-knit team is passionate about making a positive impact on the environment and takes pride in supporting other small businesses.
Green Paper Products, a small family business, has multiple generations of family members involved in its operations. This intergenerational commitment to sustainability and business excellence further exemplifies their dedication to creating a better world for future generations. ●
Handy Rents (Mike & Terrie Enterprises) started out in 1963 as an early franchisor of the rental industry. The family business has evolved and changed considerably throughout the years, starting with one small location primarily serving homeowners. Now, the nine-store group serves markets including homeowners, contractors, event businesses and machine repairs.
While Terrie Miller is semi-retired, Michael Miller still serves as president. Patrick Miller is the company vice president, and Chris Miller works at Aladdin Rents.
The company has about 80 employees, and multiple family members have worked at locations branded under names including Handy Rents, Moore Tool Rental, A to Z Rental and Aladdin Rents.
Mike’s brother, John Miller, has been a key employee for close to 40 years and continues to manage one of the locations. Mike’s father, Jerry Miller, worked at various locations for 10 years before retiring. A daughter, Amanda Miller, worked at Aladdin Rents for many years. Several of Mike’s sisters also worked at the business, as did nieces and nephews.
Succession planning has been in the works for several years and continues for this 60-year-old family business. Further planning sessions are planned for later this year. ●
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services is a thriving family business with a strong historical foundation, multi-generational family involvement, innovative practices and a well-executed success planning strategy.
Founded in 1957 by Howard W. Hanna Jr., the company started as a small real estate office in Pittsburgh. Hanna’s vision, hard work and commitment to exceptional service laid the foundation for the company’s success. Today, the firm is the No.1 family-owned and -operated real estate brokerage in the nation.
One of the key strengths of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services is the active involvement of multiple generations of the Hanna family. With Howard “Hoddy” Hanna III leading the company since 1987 and now joined by his siblings, Annie and Helen, as well as their children, the company benefits from the collective wisdom, experience and shared values of family members.
In 2023, Howard “Hoby” Hanna IV was named CEO, and is currently surrounded by seven additional family members in executive leadership roles.
The company has been at the forefront of adopting technology in the real estate industry, leveraging digital tools and online platforms to enhance the customer experience, streamline operations and empower agents. ●
Founded in 1942 by Christy Schron and his son, Jack, Jergens has been in business for 80 years headquartered in the Collinwood area that entire time. The company focuses on manufacturing products for holding work in machines, parts used by the entertainment industry, aerospace parts and the manufacture of the most precise electric assembly tool used in medical, computers and defense.
Today, the company is led by Jack Schron Jr., the family’s third generation, while his brother Terry Schron serves as chief innovation officer. And the fourth generation has transitioned into leadership, with Matt Schron serving as vice president/general manager of Jergens’ largest operating group in Cleveland, and his brother, Kurt, serving as CFO and director of IT.
Family planning and transitioning have been taking place for a number of years, and a business unit was sold to Berkshire Hathaway to redeem a retiring member of the third generation. Other assets have allowed for long-term innovative succession planning.
While many other businesses say they are family businesses, the leadership at Jergens tries to live that family commitment throughout the company. ●
Morrison Products Inc. was founded 100 years ago to make stamped metal products, including metal containers and auto parts. After the Great Depression, it added blower wheels to its product line and grew to 100 employees over the next four decades.
But nothing much changed until 1962, when Dan Holmes Sr. acquired Morrison Products and immediately focused the company’s full efforts on air-moving equipment. His sons, Dan Holmes Jr., and Harry Holmes, joined their father in the 1970s to help take the business to the next level. In 2000, Dan’s daughter, Anne Schuerger joined the company, followed by Harry’s daughter, Megan Fellinger, in 2005, who today serves as president and CEO.
Working together, the generations have grown Morrison Products into the nation’s leading manufacturer of residential and commercial HVAC fans, with 1,100 employees.
The Holmes family, with the help of a dedicated team of executives and employees, built Morrison Products into a nationally prominent enterprise. While maintaining its Cleveland headquarters and manufacturing base, the family has expanded the business, internally and through strategic acquisition, to factories in Dayton; Rochester, Indiana; Dallas Atlanta; and Apodaca, Santa Catarina and Juarez in Mexico. ●
Bob Schneider founded National Office in 1967, and over the next 20 years, the business grew to become the largest on-site office furniture refurbishing company in the United States. It continued to grow with contracts from companies and organizations including the federal government, defense contractors, car manufacturers and banks.
Greg Schneider, a member of the second generation of the family business, joined the company in 1987, adding more office manufacturing and services during the next decade. As it continued to expand, the company created its own furniture brand, Gen2 Office Furniture, in 2000. Gen2 Office Furniture is sold factory-direct to Northeast Ohio customers and distributed nationally through dealer channels. The line allows it to offer high-quality, custom furniture with factory-direct savings.
Today, the third generation is having an impact, with Michael Schneider joining the business in 2009 and Ryan Schneider joining in 2015, helping the company remain competitive in an ever-changing industry.
Now, after more than 50 years in the office business industry, company leaders are focusing on succession planning, teaching the next generation all aspects of the business, making the transition appear seamless. ●
Medina-based Pleasant Valley Corp. is a commercial construction property management and facility management company that owns real estate across the region. The family-owned company also manages 55,000 locations throughout the U.S.
The company traces its roots to 1976, when Gino and Barbara Faciana started an electrical contracting company with $500. Working out of their basement, Gino was an electrician and Barbara managed the company’s financial books, along with selling residential real estate. The company is currently led by the first generation, but Gino and Barbara have four children — and they and their spouses have all worked in the business for decades. The family has surrounded itself with the top leaders in legal, accounting, trusts and estates to establish a succession plan to move the company forward for future generations.
In 1985, the construction division was formed and now performs work coast to coast, construction and remodeling of office buildings, restaurants, retail, industrial and mixed-use space. And in 2008, the facility management division was formed and now provides scheduled, reactive and emergency maintenance services. Customers are predominantly Fortune 100 and 500 companies in sectors from logistics to retail.
In 2019, the commercial property management division was formed under the NAI Pleasant Valley banner. ●
Royal Heating & Air Conditioning has provided commercial heating, air conditioning, ventilation, refrigeration, boiler, electrical, controls and building automation service and installation for commercial and industrial facilities since 1979.
Royal currently has 10 service and installation trucks on the road to provide excellent and prompt service to its customers. The company also provides after-hours and emergency services to serve customers and technicians.
The Willoughby-based company takes pride in having HVAC service technicians and installers with more than 20 years of field experience, some of whom have been part of Royal’s team for more than 30 years. Royal understands that each business has different needs and requires an evaluation for what needs to be done. No project or business is too small or large for Royal, as its experienced staff and service model is built to handle the toughest projects.
Royal Heating and Air Conditioning serves commercial HVAC customers throughout Ohio with a customer-first mentality, providing quality service for an affordable price. Royal has also installed a state-of-the-art central computer software system, which provides data that allows it to track service technicians, log service calls and maintain a history of customer equipment in a database, allowing it to provide more effective service to its customers. ●
When Don Stallard founded The Reserves Network Inc. in 1984, it was a one-office executive recruiting firm based in Rocky River, Ohio. The company quickly evolved to provide temporary staffing for office and industrial employees.
In the decades since, TRN has expanded into 35 states and eight lines of business and specialties: accounting and finance, engineering, executive and management, health care, information technology, industrial and manufacturing, office and professional, and real estate.
The company now ranks as one of the largest staffing and talent engagement firms in the United States. Headquartered in Fairview Park, TRN employs an internal staff of 275 and places 20,000 employees each year.
Family is pivotal to the company’s strength and success. All three of Stallard’s children lead TRN in prominent management roles. In 2013, his son, Neil, transitioned into the role of CEO. His son, Nick, served as CFO for 10 years until his transition to chief growth officer in 2018, while daughter Amanda Lowe became vice president and corporate counsel in 2021. Other family members, including the first third-generation employee, are also engaged in the business.
Don Stallard passed away in November 2022, but the business remains strong. ●
Visual Marking Systems is a family-owned business that has achieved numerous milestones, leading the Twinsburg-based business to become a
leading provider of custom-printed graphics solutions. This third-generation, family-owned company founded by Hermann and Dolf Kahle, was built upon a strong foundation to create a thriving company.
Visual Marking Systems’ culture is centered around core values that foster a prosperous environment for its valued customers, dedicated employees and trusted partners. The company’s 140 employees are committed to promoting the VMS mission to be at the forefront of product and brand identification innovation.
Corporate culture is defined by the leadership team’s unwavering commitment to customer focus, continuous education, empowerment, innovation, profitability and a sense of urgency. Investing in continuous education is crucial
for the personal growth of employees. VMS prioritizes the development of each team member by providing comprehensive training through its VMS University program.
Dolf’s son, Eric Kahle, officially joined the company in 2017 and embarked on a comprehensive 10-year succession plan, preparing to lead the
family business into the future. As the company continues to grow, VMS has proven its commitment to delivering exceptional quality.
Alongside Dolf and Eric, the leadership team at VMS is composed of six nonfamily executive members. ●
Willoughby Hills Development and Distribution is among the leading Sunoco fuel distribution companies in the country, supplying fuel to about 70 branded and unbranded sites.
The company was founded by Kazimir (Mike) Rajko. He was 27 years old when he stepped off a plane from Yugoslavia 56 years ago with just one thing on his mind: He wanted to find a way to succeed in America. Within six months, he had saved enough for a down payment to purchase a gas station. That was the beginning of his journey of purchasing more stations and becoming a leading fuel dealer for Shell Oil Co. and Sunoco. He started a parent company that led to ownership of various companies, including 12 gas stations.
Rajko’s children, Mike Jr., Mark and Julie, all worked in the business from an early age, learning basics of working a cash register to owning their own gas stations. Mike Jr. leads the sales department along with the third generation, his son, Michael, while Mark helps run the Harbortowne Marina and Julie is vice president of operations.
Rajko passed away in 2020, but family members are grateful for the legacy they believe will fuel future generations of the family. ●
Owner and President Tamara Mlynowski named ZuZu Chocolates after her mother, who in 2018 was in hospice. Wanting to take her something she liked, she and her husband made chocolates, which they also distributed to family members visiting for the holidays.
The treats were a hit, and Mlynowski began making chocolates out of her home as a side business. The business took off, and in March 2020, Mlynowski quit her job to focus on ZuZu Chocolates and to be a full-time mom.
To give back to the community, the company hosts an annual fundraiser — the 10k Fight To End Alzheimer’s pop-up fundraiser — and throughout the year donates a portion of its proceeds to the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of Mlynowski’s mother.
In addition to raffle baskets that include donations from local businesses, the event also features ZuZu’s dessert food truck, as well as products and services from other local businesses.
ZuZu Chocolates has come a long way in its few years in business. It launched its dessert truck in 2020, and in 2022 opened a chocolate shop in Westlake, creating handmade custom desserts for all occasions. ●