Many manufacturers hide behind fancy advertising and glitzy packages, but two small companies with a combined history of 169 years face their customers every day by putting portraits of members of the founding families on their labels.
For more than 100 years, the bespectacled face of Mrs. Stewart -- the company founder's mother-in-law -- has graced the label of Mrs. Stewart's Liquid Bluing, a laundry brightener now made by the Ken Norman family.
And a portrait of a young Agnes Balian decorates the label of the ice cream and other frozen desserts produced by 62-year-old Balian Ice Cream Co.
Although the Normans and the Balians make totally different products, both adhere to a formula for success.
They produce a limited number of products.
They put a family member in charge of the manufacturing process.
They delegate tasks to take advantage of each family member's experience and individual strengths.
They work long hours and support one another's efforts.
"At the core of successful family businesses are shared values about people, work and money," said David Bork, founder of the Bork Institute for Family Business in Aspen, Colo. "You've got to be a healthy family before you can become a healthy family business."
Bork, who has counseled hundreds of family business owners over the last 20 years, said: "If you don't respect your relatives, you shouldn't be in business with them."
John Balian, grandson of Balian Ice Cream founder Habib Alexander Balian, says the company's longevity is the result of intense family involvement and focus on making the best ice cream possible.
Balian Ice Cream, based in East Los Angeles, has found a niche for its products, selling them mostly to school districts and grocery stores in California.
"I think there is better control over things when a family member oversees production," said John Balian, the production supervisor and "flavor man."
Balian said his job is to see that the ice cream is made right with a minimum of waste. "Every gallon we throw down the drain is money out of our pockets," said Balian.
Most days, he arrives at the plant around 4 a.m. A few hours later, the rest of the clan arrives. Uncles Alexander and George are responsible for selling the ice cream. Uncle Fred makes sure the equipment is running smoothly. Aunt Agnes supervises the office. Six cousins also work for the company.
Halfway across the country, in Bloomington, Minn., on Tuesdays and Thursdays you can find Ken, Betty and Brad Norman mixing up a batch of Mrs. Stewart's Liquid Bluing, which has been around since 1883. The nontoxic concoction was created by a peddler named Al Stewart who originally mixed it in the basement of a Minneapolis store.
Unlike bleach or other chemicals, bluing makes laundry appear whiter by putting tiny, light-reflecting blue particles between fabric fibers.
"Nobody else wants the bluing business because it's not that big," said Ken Norman, who sells about 750,000 bottles of Mrs. Stewart's a year. It retails for about $1.60 a bottle. "Bluing is used by the drop and one bottle will last for years," he said.
Norman began working for the Ford family in 1955, after the Fords bought the business from the Stewarts. Through the years, Norman acquired a bigger interest, until he bought it all in 1984.
Like the Balians, the Normans divide up the work to suit their skills and interests. Ken Norman oversees production of the bluing. His wife Betty, a former teacher, runs the office. Son Bradley set up the computer system, which handles billing and accounting.
They do make one other product: a five-color dye kit for use by dermatologists, pathologists and researchers who work with human tissue. Together, the products bring in about $800,000 a year.
Jane Applegate welcomes letters and story suggestions from readers. Write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.