Generation Next

We step beyond the welcome mat to meet the next generation of 417-landers who are stepping up to run the family business.

By Ettie Berneking | Photos by Kevin O’Riley


Driving through 417-land, you’ll find an endless supply of generations-old family-run businesses from car dealerships to candy emporiums. Some of these families are in their third and fourth generations with grandkids and great-grandkids carrying on the traditions of those who came before them. Their stories are of success and drive but also of intense respect for the tried-and-true ways set down decades ago. Some of these heirs to the family throne got their first paycheck in the seventh grade. Others were busy sweeping floors as soon as they could walk. We step beyond the welcome mat to meet the next generation of 417-landers who are stepping up to run the family business. While all of these business-savvy individuals are in place to eventually take the torch from their parents, they are each doing something new to take the family name and industry to the next level.

Ryan and Ross Murray

R.B. Murray | Springfield

For Ryan and Ross Murray, vice presidents of R.B. Murray, a commercial and industrial real estate company, so much about their future plans for the company revolve around family. The Murray brothers will be the third generation to take the helm of R.B. Murray Company, but their family has roots in the real estate business dating back more than four generations. That’s an impressive feat in any industry. Reminders of this accomplishment can be found around their office. In one room, there’s a massive sepia-toned photograph of their grandfather Robert B. Murray standing in front of the Holland Building in downtown Springfield. Built in 1913 by their great-grandfather Clifford Jerrett, the Holland building served as the company’s office until the early ’80s. With these small reminders that go back nearly four generations, it’s easy to understand why this business means so much to the Murray clan. 

R.B. Murray was founded in 1901 as a securities, insurance and real estate company, which was later renamed after Ryan and Ross’s grandfather, Robert Booth Murray Sr. Growing up, Ryan and Ross, who are three years apart in age, were constantly exposed to the real estate business, whether they were listening to conversations around the dinner table or shadowing their dad and uncle at the office. Eventually, Ross, the older of the two, started helping out more around the office. “My first job here as an intern during college was to put up signs,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to be part of the family real estate legacy.” After college, Ross joined the business as a full-time broker. Ryan gained experience working with an international development company in Denver while he attended and then graduated from the University of Colorado, and by the time he returned to Springfield, Ross was already on his way to becoming a young titan in the brokerage business. 

Following the leadership of their dad and uncle (who both still work at the company), Ross and Ryan have continued their education and have earned several of the industry’s top certifications and professional accreditations that have helped them thrive in the world of real estate brokerage. 

While Ross joined the real estate world at the peak of the market, Ryan hopped aboard in 2008, when the market had hit rock bottom. “I joined when our industry was at its toughest point,” he says. “I set out to create a product that was viable in the downturn and that could help the company adapt to the times.” To do that, Ryan worked over a three-year period to expand the scope of the property management division of R.B. Murray. Simply put, R.B. Murray helps clients lease, sell and manage commercial properties, whether that’s an office development or a piece of vacant land. Ryan built an extension of this, so R.B. Murray now manages those properties. They make sure the lawn is cut, the leases are filled and the rent is collected. “Some of our clients are the largest real estate holders in the world,” says Ryan. “Since they might not have anyone in the state, we’re the boots on the ground.”

As the two brothers go back and forth talking about the paths they took before joining the family business, they can’t help but compliment each other. “It’s really a mutual admiration society,” Ryan says. Their paths to vice president have been the result of hard work and planning. 

If you’re curious about what they have planned for the future of R.B. Murray, just look at the sustainable office building they built and moved into in 2008. With expansive windows, temperature-controlled zones and an endless list of sustainable elements, this office is as representative of the company’s future as Ryan and Ross. “This is our generation,” says Ross. “This is what the future will be.” 

Michael Ingram Jr.

Ingram Enterprises Springfield

After growing up around fireworks and spending nights camped out on the office couch while his parents worked around the clock each Fourth of July, it’s not too surprising to see Michael Ingram Jr. follow in his dad’s footsteps at Fireworks Over America and Fireworks Supermarket.

Mike Senior started his first fireworks stand when he was 15 years old. He bought $500 worth of fireworks without telling anyone, and when a semi truck filled with fireworks pulled up to his mom’s motel near Lake Taneycomo, young Mike Ingram’s career was born. 

Each summer, he returned to the small ramshackle stand along Shepherd of the Hills Expressway until he actually bought out his wholesaler and went into the wholesale business for himself.

Today, Ingram Enterprises is the parent company of Fireworks Supermarkets, Fireworks Over America, Fireworks World and several investment companies. That tiny wooden stand in Branson is long gone. In its place are 20 retail locations across the country, plus four massive wholesale centers. 

Now Michael Ingram Jr. is the company’s director of development out of the headquarters in Springfield. “As a little kid, I used to follow my dad around the office,” he says. “I had my own little briefcase and helped sell fireworks in the retail center.” Michael Jr. worked his way up through the company from loading trucks in the warehouse to managing his own retail operation to where he is now. One of his biggest contributions has been helping bring the company into 2014, whether that’s with a ramped-up social media presence or the creation of a software system that allows customers to design and print posters and banners for their fireworks stands. Another huge accomplishment Michael Jr. can tout is landing Walmart as a client. “We’re in about 5,000 Walmart stores across the country,” he says. That means Fireworks Supermarkets’ in-house brands, including the Time Bandit line, have an even further reach. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “My job is to take the company forward.” 

Drew and Nikki Holden

Custom Metalcraft| Springfield

The front office of Custom Metalcraft in Springfield is covered with patents that span across the decades. Most are for variations of tanks and transport devices, but each gives a snapshot of the company’s 37-year history. When the business started in 1977 under the leadership of Dwayne Holden and Jerry Cowen, operations were crammed into the industrial warehouse, and the office was tucked inside a construction trailer outside. “It wasn’t very glamorous,” says Nikki Holden. Thirty years later, and the building looks almost unchanged. The office has moved inside the warehouse, but that slightly worn industrial atmosphere clings to everything. “We spend our money on all the equipment,” Nikki explains. But now, Nikki and her brother Drew Holden are poised to one day run the family business, and already the pair is adding their personal touch. 

Over the years, Custom Metalcraft has built an assortment of tanks, conveyors and dumpers—pretty much anything that can move product from point A to point B. But the bulk of the business is in the design and manufacturing of portable tanks that hold liquid. They’ve made specialty products for beer giants including Anheuser-Busch and containers for chemical companies. But the engineers here are really in the market of creating. “People come to us for things that no one else wants to touch,” says Nikki. For instance, a company out of Kansas City had Custom Metalcraft design and build an elephant turner—a device that restrains an elephant so veterinary care and dental work can be administered. Another project was creating a device that’s only purpose was to puncture 10,000 pounds of peas, which eventually ended up in TV dinners. “We do some funky stuff,” Nikki says. 

Growing up, Nikki and Drew were always around the office. “I remember lots of summers spent here with Drew trying to amuse ourselves with rubber bands,” she says. Nikki started picking up odd jobs around the office when she was in seventh grade and continued to help with filing and office administration during high school and college. Now she’s a managing partner with the company and heads up the wine division. 

When she joined the team in 1994, the company was just beginning to sell its TransStore tanks to wineries around the United States. But after attending her first wine show, she fell in love with the industry and dove head first into the business. “I was 27, single, had no kids, and was very much enjoying traveling all over the U.S. learning about wine,” she says. Suddenly, what had been a small side business for Custom Metalcraft grew into a major focus for the company.

Nikki is constantly on the move, jet setting around the country for wine shows and heading to Burgundy, Bordeaux, New Zealand and Australia looking for new markets. But back in Springfield, Drew is busy managing another division of the company. As the general manager for the process equipment division, Drew works side-by-side with Nikki. “I think traditionally, one would step up and take over,” Drew says. “But we like to keep things equal across the board, and that’s worked great for us.” 

As much as Nikki and Drew love carrying on the Holden name, they’ll both admit it’s not always easy working for your family. “It’s tough because you’re not only under the scrutiny of the employees, you’re also under your family’s scrutiny 24/7,” Nikki says. “But this is our whole life, and I can’t put it into words how proud I am to be part of this.”

As for future plans, the craft beer industry and the growing wine and distilling markets have continued to serve as a point of growth for the company. But those tanks the company started with are still the bread and butter, and even their dad and Cowen are still active with the business’s day-to-day functions. “Dad and Jerry have both sacrificed a lot to get the company to where it is today,” says Drew. “Even though we’ve entered a transitional phase with Nikki and me, this company will always be Holden and Cowen.”

Whitney Creehan

Kaleidoscope | Springfield

Since she has worked alongside her parents, Tom and Pam Pierson, at Kaleidoscope since she was just a tiny tyke, it’s surprising Whitney Creehan doesn’t have more piercings and tattoos showing. The only ink that peeks through is on her right forearm. When asked how many tattoos she has, she chuckles. “Once I got one, they just sort of spread,” she says. “Now they cover the right half of my body.” She pulls up her sleeve to reveal the newest addition, a set of colorful rings that match Kaleidoscope’s new logo. “Of course they’ll change the logo in five or six years,” she says. That’s the thing about this store; it’s always changing. And the next big change will be when Tom and Pam, the original leaders behind the Kaleidoscope vision, retire and leave Whitney and her husband, Ben, in charge.

Located near Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Kaleidoscope is a multi-function shop. The bottom floor houses the store’s collection of body jewelry along with the piercing studio, women’s clothes and TOMS shoes. Attached to the bottom level is Eros, an adult boutique. Upstairs you’ll find men’s clothes, smoking accessories and the tattoo studio. The store is doing really well, but the history is a tale of twists and turns that, somehow, has always worked out.

Whitney’s parents opened the store on October 9, 1972 (on the same day John Lennon celebrated his 32nd birthday). “They decided to open a record store,” Whitney says. “They had never owned a record store before, but they thought they could run the shop and live upstairs. They ended up doing exactly that.” Over the years, the inventory at Kaleidoscope has changed, as times changed and new employees joined the team. “Kaleidoscopes are always changing when you look inside,” she says. “It’s a very apropos name.”

Growing up, Whitney helped work the register after school. She got her first paycheck when she was 14 years old. She eventually joined the Kaleidoscope family full-time when she was in her mid 20s and took over the management of the store. From that point on, the store has developed more into what you see today. The vinyl records were replaced by the piercing studio and tattoo shop, and the store boasts more than a two-hour wait on Saturdays for piercings. Business is going well. “My parents are really good at evolving with the times,” Whitney says. 

Surprisingly, Whitney is the one who’s more resistant to change. She’s the first to tell you that Kim Smith, the store manager, and Ben are the ones who really steer the ship. Ben was even the one who came up with the idea to open Eros. “He came up with the name and the décor and the idea to make it more of a boutique instead of a trashy, seedy place,” Whitney says. And Kim was the one who talked Tom and Pam into opening the tattoo studio upstairs. “They didn’t know anything about running a tattoo shop,” Whitney says. “But not knowing anything about something has never stopped them from doing something. It would stop me, but that’s why I surround myself with people who are braver.”

As for the future of Kaleidoscope, it’s hard to say exactly what will come next. Whitney and Ben know they will eventually take over the store, and each year Tom and Pam are at the store less and less. But since the very beginning, when Tom and Pam stood in line to get their business license and were thinking up names as they waited, there’s never really been a concrete plan for Kaleidoscope. The only given is that it will always change. 

Bonnie Nolen

Candy House | Springfield

Amidst boxes of salted caramels and displays of hard candy, you’ll find Bonnie Nolen—the next generation in line to take over Candy House. Bonnie, who has worked alongside her parents, Terry and Pat Hicklin, for 14 years, will be the first to tell you that she still has plenty to learn before taking the wheel from her dad. But in those 14 years, Bonnie has helped transform this locally owned candy shop from a single factory in Joplin into a growing retail business with locations in Joplin and Springfield. 

Part of what developed Bonnie’s sweet tooth was growing up watching her dad work in the family business. No, it wasn’t chocolate. Her dad’s family had a small operation in the food brokerage business. “It’s kind of a crazy story,” Bonnie says. “My parents were both opera singers. They met in college, and Dad managed opera companies in Dallas until I was in the third grade. One day he got a phone call from his dad, who asked him to join the family business. So he moved our family back to Springfield.”

Eventually, the family business was bought out, and Bonnie’s parents found their next project in the Candy House in Joplin. The duo bought the local confectionery in September 1999, packed up and moved into a house across the street from the candy factory. Bonnie, who had just graduated from college, and her younger sister stayed in Springfield. But it wasn’t long before the aroma of chocolate drew Bonnie to Joplin.

As a math major at Missouri State University and with some retail experience under her belt, Bonnie convinced her parents to open a second location in Carthage in 2000. (That store is now closed.) “The idea was for me to figure out how to run the store and how to work in the candy business but still be close enough to them that they could come help me,” she says.

Bonnie helped with purchasing, managing employees and cooking up batches of candy. It was a messy but exciting time for her. “The first things I learned to make were our English toffee and caramel nut corn,” she says. “I’d come home covered in English toffee. My dogs would follow me around chewing on my jean legs because they were coated in toffee and caramel corn.”

Two years later, Candy House opened its third location in Springfield. This was pretty rapid growth for a company that had been around since 1970 and that, up until that time, had only had one location. “I felt like I had something to offer my parents,” Bonnie says. “We hadn’t done much retail or corporate sales at that point, so I told them I could help them open retail locations.”

Bonnie is now helping her parents with marketing, purchasing and big-picture decisions. She has pushed the business to do more corporate sales for clients, including Big Cedar Wilderness Club and Titanic Branson. One of Candy House’s largest clients is actually Sam’s Club; those chocolate-covered strawberries you order from Sam’s are all made by Bonnie and her team. This year alone, Candy House shipped out more than 18,000 chocolate-covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day. Business like this is what helps support the confectionery during its slower months of September through May. 

Bonnie’s parents’ timeline for retirement is a long one, so in the meantime, she makes the hour-and-a-half commute to Joplin each and every day in order to learn the ins-and-outs of the business from her dad. Until the day when she’s the only one steering the candy-coated ship, Bonnie is soaking up as much knowledge from her dad, the candy man, as possible. 

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