De Kogel is door de kerk! “The bullet passed through the church!” This Flemish and Dutch saying states “The decision is made and now it is going to happen!”
In my previous blog, I shared that our son Victor always wanted to join us working at The Hideout, our family guest ranch business in Shell, Wyoming. My wife, Marijn, and I always told our boys that prior to working in the family business, they needed to get a college degree and to prove themselves working for other companies. We wanted them to explore the world and to see if they and their partners really wanted to return to Shell to live and work.
Two months ago, Victor and his wife, Maria-Fernanda, left their home in Belgium to move to Shell permanently. Maria is pregnant with their first baby, our first grandkid. Victor has worked in Belgium, Ireland, and the United States, and Maria has worked in Mexico, France, Germany, and Belgium. I guess that qualifies for having seen part of the world and experiencing work in other countries.

Victor and Maria
Victor will be our third generation at The Hideout. Going back to our Belgian roots as far as we could trace them, counting four generations per century, he leaves Europe after more than 30 generations on the Continent. Victor came to Wyoming at 13, and after college and working in the U.S., he went back to Europe where he has worked the last five years.

Victor during one of the many vacations at The Hideout in 2005
Maria, will continue to work for her current company, AppTweak, switching from their European operations to the U.S. Maria’s background is in international marketing/digital marketing and communication. AppTweak is one of the top companies that specializes in App Store Optimization, which helps apps with organic growth.

Onboarding our Third Generation
Recently I have been reading several books on family business and how to onboard the next generation. In my previous International corporate career, I worked with many small, intermediate, and large family-owned businesses and visited with several independent family business owners. Their experiences onboarding the next generation in a variety of countries were invaluable to us.

Victor, Marijn, and Peter at Five Finger Ride Spring 2023
Many Moving Wheels
The Hideout has many moving wheels:
1. There is the barn, the horses, the fleet of trucks and trailers, saddles, tack; training horses, buying horses, selling horses, managing, and hiring seasonal and year-around staff.
2. There is the food, restaurant, bar, chef, kitchen staff end-of-the-business, which is like running a restaurant.
3. There is the entire housekeeping, cleaning, laundry department.
4. The Hideout office operates as the general nerve center of our hospitality business: reservations, billing, answering incoming inquiries, and the gift shop.
5. And of course, the entire grounds landscaping, upkeep of buildings, cabins, lodge, renovation, upgrading, lawn irrigation systems, repairs, etc.
6. Aside from all the above there are the fields, pastures, haying, fertilizing, keeping up fences, and other general farm operations to look after — not to forget the horse and cattle livestock.
7. An entire other “wheel” is managing and keeping track of water rights, legal aspects of our business, recreational leases with the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, bookkeeping and finance, marketing, guest relationships, relations with tour operators, and industry organizations.
8. And finally, to establish and maintain our Core Culture and Why of our existence as a guest ranch.

We employ 10 year-round employees, many of whom have been with us for years, even for 20-plus years! The challenge of The Hideout is that it is a seasonal business that each year needs to find, recruit, train, and manage a new crew of employees. Luckily, several of our seasonal crew come back year after year. Like many business, the recruiting job has become much more challenging since the Covid pandemic.

Victor and Peter horseback in The Big Horns
Where Does Victor Start?
As teenagers, Victor and his brother, Edward, worked various jobs at The Hideout from irrigation and landscaping to serving meals and washing dishes. At 15 through three college years, they worked as Hideout wranglers during summers and school holidays. Marijn and I can confidently say our sons are our most experienced wranglers, always going the extra mile to serve our patrons.

Victor and His Twin Brother Edward 2005. Did they know two years later they would move to Wyoming?
One of the most satisfying elements of our work is from returning families who come year after year. During the period when Victor and Edward wrangled, they built a great following of customers. Many of them still look forward to coming back when the younger generation is back on board. Young people attract younger guests, and we, as the older generation, attract older guests. Part of life, right?

Victor’s main responsibility this season will be working at the barn wrangling for the trail rides, managing the barn, staff, horses, etc. Victor will be closely working with his mom and Nina, Marijn’s sidekick and probably the most experienced horsewomen Marijn has worked with at the barn.

Aside from his barn responsibilities, Victor will also be learning our reservation and billing process working side by side with Melanie, The Hideout’s office manager. Given his experience in software systems and processes, one of Victor’s jobs will be to develop ideas for simplifying, automating, and streamlining our office business processes and integrating them with our administration processes. He and Maria will also be the dinner hosts three nights a week throughout the season.

Wrapping Up

Each year the trick is to blend it all together, to offer a unique guest ranch experience, and to be a great place to work — for our crew and ourselves — in addition to keeping a finger of the pulse of the continuously changing market and how to adapt to it.
It will be a steep learning curve for the next generation, but the “oldies” are eager to pass the reins and look forward to sharing and teaching all we know for continued success — including how to change diapers for the new grandson!

Victor’s Mom and Dad in their early Wyoming days
As usual, if you read this blog to the end, I admire your courage, tenacity, and especially your interest in our ranch.

Until next time!
Some information about Family Businesses in the United States
Family businesses in the U.S. contribute to 64% of the GDP, and in the U.S., there are 24.2 million family businesses, accounting for 78% of all new job creation. 35% of the Fortune 500 companies are family controlled, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, families control 90% of all businesses in the U.S. Research shows that family businesses are less likely to lay off employees during economic crisis, regardless of financial performance. The Hideout can certainly confirm this, where during the recent 2020 Covid crisis, we had no layoffs, contrary to most companies, and did not cut wages to staff who stayed with us. And during the 2008 financial crisis, The Hideout did the same, retaining staff and wages where our industry dipped 35%.