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How often do you talk to your mother?

It's a question Joe Spilman has asked many people, knowing their answer likely will not match his own.

"Most people will say, 'Oh, once a week I give her a call,'" Joe says. "I talk to my mother about 10 times a day."

But Joe isn't concerned about the frequent calls he makes to his mother, Phyllis. Nor is Phyllis complaining about how often she speaks with her son.

When she speaks to Joe, it's not just a mother speaking with her son. It also is a co-worker speaking to a co-worker.

The two have been in business together for nearly 25 years, running Cost Per Copy Consultants Inc., which is based in Mundelein.

Shelley joined her mother and brother in running the company soon after the two went into business together and has been with the company for more than 20 years.

Together, the trio has established a family business focused on customer care and service, while also maintaining a family bond outside of the office that has remained strong through the stresses that inevitably accompany any small business.

"I'm fortunate because I have the two of them working with me," Phyllis says. "For me, it's a perfect setup, to be honest."

Still family owned and operated, Cost Per Copy specializes in providing and repairing printers, copiers and other office equipment to local businesses and individuals.

The business also offers color printing services and onsite maintenance for its products.

Officially, Phyllis is the company's president and owner, Joe is vice president and Shelley is the secretary-treasurer.

But the titles mean very little on a daily basis.

What's more important is Phyllis, Shelley and Joe each understand what his or her role is to keep the business humming efficiently.

"We all have our own thing," Shelley says. "It's not like you come in and say, 'What do you want me to do today?'"

Although the three family members spend many long hours together at work, they have not let the stresses of running a small business impede on the family time they value.

Shifting from the role of co-workers to mother and son, daughter and mother or sister and brother is a smooth transition, and sometimes can even occur in the same conservation.

They recently planned a weekend getaway together to Lake Geneva, Wis., with the rest of their families.

"I don't get tired of being around them," Phyllis says. "When we're at a football game or a soccer game, we're not talking about business. We're enjoying the time."

Cost Per Copy has been lucky enough to weather the recent economic turmoil, while many of their longtime clients have been forced to go out of business.

The Spilmans credit their constant focus on customer service as the reason for their longevity.

But there have been challenging times to work through.

Four years ago, Shelley was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Soon after she completed her chemotherapy treatments, Phyllis was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The cancer diagnoses and the treatments that followed added some strain and worry on a personal level, Joe says, not to mention the strain it added on the business side of their lives.

"They were pretty tough," he says. "I tell you, they didn't miss a lot of work. If it had been me, I would have taken off a whole year."

Phyllis says she knows her children had to pick up the extra work when she had to miss some time during her treatments.

But knowing it was Joe and Shelley who were running things helped.

"I never felt like things weren't going to be taken care of completely," Phyllis says. "I always knew they would."

Joe and Shelley agree if they didn't work with their mother at Cost Per Copy, they likely would have moved on to other work by now.

Phyllis adds although she would not have guessed when she started her own business her children would play such an integral part in its operation, today she can't imagine it any other way.

"I had not predicted this would be taking place," Phyllis says. "Fortunately, they both had the same attitude about it."

A Bond You Can't Copy By Colin Selbo

Published by Lake County Magazine - May 2011