Lessons Learned From My Family’s Business

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I found out some heartbreaking news today.

The business owned by Cousin & founded by my Uncle & his brothers, burned in a 4-alarm fire. I wanted to share how much I admire the Entrepreneurs in my family.

Three Brothers Fire

History of the business


One of my logo designs!

Three Brothers started in 1958 by brothers John, Tom & George Rothenhoefer. Tom is retired, John still works part time, and George passed away. Today the business is owned and operated by John’s son (my cousin), Mark, who has been in the business for over 23 years. (That is way more than half his life!) I’m also going to celebrate my Aunt Charlotte who is also a critical part of the business (and probably the first woman Entrepreneur that I knew). I learned so many lessons from growing up with this as part of my family.

Here’s the new story and an interview with the store manager. He worked there since he was 15. He’s now 57. No one was hurt (physically) but the impact of this will be felt for a very long time.

The store slogan is “The believe or not store! You have to see it to believe it!” and it’s true. They had everything you can possibly imagine. As people in the video outside the fire said, “If you can’t find it at Three Brothers, it doesn’t exist!”

Three Brothers

LESSON 1: Adapt to your customer’s needs

The business grew based on the needs of their customers. I was always amazed and impressed with what they sold. It can best be described as like an outpost from the Wild West, but in the City. Seriously, they sold everything. Passport photos, crab meat & shrimp (the best I’ve ever had), personal items, check cashing, car wash, laundromat, car detailing, used cars, MVA title & tag, fingerprinting, mailboxes, and on & on.  

The stores (it expanding do be MULTIPLE businesses) served every possible need of the community. Located in South Baltimore, it was in an area that did not have strip malls or other one-stop-shop places that many people in the suburbs have. It expanded from just a liquor store to add a pharmacy, tattoo parlor, pizza shop, hair salon and more. They had strategic growth, over time, and this is what was sustainable.

LESSON 2: Build trust in your community

What was most impressive is the level of trust they established in their community. EVERYONE respected and trusted them. Baltimore has a high crime rate, but Three Brothers made their neighborhood safer and more stable for everyone. It breaks my heart not only for my family’s loss, but for the loss of such an important establishment in the community.

LESSON 3: Work hard, play hard

One other lesson I’ve learned from them… work hard but take time to enjoy life. I’ve grown up seeing this lesson and it’s my goal to be able to go to one of their favorite vacation spots, the Dominican Republic to stay in a luxury villa. Check it out, you can go, too!

LESSON 4: Use disaster as a chance to rebuild

UPDATE: The store is rebuilt, better than ever! They rebuilt the store, making additions and adjusting their business model. They added in a Dollar Store. They also cut out some services that were no longer needed. This was NOT an easy process, but they kept going and now the business is back, better than ever!

In conclusion…

As we build our brands online, think about my lessons from Three Brothers and celebrate their success! I hope we can all be have our businesses thriving after 55+ years!

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