Family firm’s stand shines light on brand protection

By April Hall

When images of white supremacists carrying TIKI Brand torches during their Aug. 12 protest in Charlottesville, Va., hit the news, the family-owned business that makes the torches took to social media.

The torches were used by hundreds of young white men, who descended upon Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” political rally that included members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and the “alt-right.”

The day of the protest, the company posted the following statement on its Facebook page:

“TIKI Brand is not associated in any way with the events that took place in Charlottesville and are deeply saddened and disappointed. We do not support their message or the use of our products in this way. Our products are designed to enhance backyard gatherings and to help family and friends connect with each other at home in their yard.”

The post was well received by the public, with thousands of shares and hundreds of comments and other engagements across social media channels, including Twitter. Media around the world published stories on the company’s stance.

The incident serves as an example of a business’s lack of control over how its products are used.

“When a gun maker sells someone a gun, they can’t tell the person what to do with that gun,” says Dennis Jaffe, a family business consultant. “If you bake someone a cake, you can’t tell them how that cake should be used.”

Taking a public stand in the face of controversy might make family members uncomfortable, but consultants say family businesses are often in the best position to do so because the message of the brand is tied to the owners’ personal values.

“Family businesses are so driven by their family values, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that TIKI made a statement,” says Jessica Geiben Lynn, a principal at CFAR, a consulting firm that advises family businesses. “A big corporation wouldn’t have taken what is really a risk to come out and talk about how their product was used.”

She notes that Fiat-Chrysler did not make a public statement about a white supremacist allegedly using a Dodge Challenger, which the company manufactures, to ram into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman.

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For TIKI, it wasn’t a tough decision to make because of the potential adverse impact on the company name.

“As soon as the incident in Charlottesville occurred and we saw TIKI Brand products used in a negative manner, we felt it was important to assure people that we in no way were associated. It’s not a hard call to oppose hate,” a company spokeswoman tells Family Business.