Bargreen Ellingson sees dramatic growth in sales of equipment and design services to restaurants

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
Bargreen Ellingson
Three generations of the Ellingson family, owners of Bargreen Ellingson. Back row, left to right: David Ellingson, Rick Ellingson, company president Paul Ellingson, Lucas Ellingson. Front row: Company founder Byron Ellingson.

“Serving those who serve others” is the motto at food service equipment and supply giant
Bargreen Ellingson, and this motto has served the family-owned company well
over the years. Based in Tacoma, the business was opened in 1960 by Howard
Bargreen and Byron Ellingson. Starting with one location, they began by selling
food service equipment, supplies and design services to restaurants. Within 10
years, the business had sales of about $1 million annually and had outgrown its
facility, moving into a 12,000-square-foot building. Around that time,
Ellingson’s son Paul joined the business, followed in 1976 by his brother Rick.

Byron retired in 1987, leaving brothers Paul and Rick, as
president and vice president, respectively, to run the company. The Ellingsons bought out Bargreen in 1997,
and added Paul’s son David to the ranks in 2006; he became the first
third-generation family member in management.

Bargreen Ellingson

Location: Tacoma
Employees: 400
Website: bargreen.com

“David is heir apparent,” Paul Ellingson explains. “We may
have more join us, though. We hope so, anyway.”

But family members who want to enter the business must first
work elsewhere for at least two or three years after college. They can work for
a related industry, but cannot work at Bargreen Ellingson until they have
launched a career elsewhere.

During the past 50 years, Bargreen Ellingson has enjoyed
tremendous growth. The company now has 400 employees, 19 offices in the western
United States and Canada, and annual sales exceeding $170 million. As a result
of its success and reputation, in 2008, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazine named Bargreen Ellingson its 2008 Dealer of
the Year, for the second time.

The secrets to success? Family values and caring for its
most important asset—people. The family values, passed down from father Byron,
are incorporated into a document called “On Board,” an orientation program for
new and existing employees into the company’s culture and values. Prospective
employees are asked to read it between interviews and if they don’t agree with
it, are encouraged not to come back. “On Board” focuses on nine principles:
smart hiring, respect, teamwork, good judgment, communication, learning,
pursuing change, ownership and “hoopla,” the company’s term for employee
recognition.

Because the Ellingsons believe that their employees are
critical to their success, they provide them with training and education and
show appreciation for their hard work. In one case, Paul and several other
managers showed up at 10 p.m. to thank a second-shift employee for 10 years of
service.

Growing a family-owned business is not
without its challenges, Paul says. “When you lead the business, you lead the
family, too. They’re parallel. You have to keep family separate from business
so that decisions are truly based on the business.”

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