A third-generation family member has taken over Miller’s Rental & Sales Inc., a longtime Akron home medical equipment business.
Johnny P. Miller, 40, succeeded his father, John J. Miller, as president this summer. The elder Miller remains as chief executive officer, though Johnny is running the day-to-day operations and planning for its future, his father said.
The company sells and rents medical equipment such as home oxygen tanks, walkers and other products used in recuperation for patients, said Johnny Miller.
The company also has a home accessibility department, which provides ramps and other equipment to help people remain independent in their home, he said.
The business was founded in 1949 by Johnny’s late grandfather, John F. Miller and grandmother, Virginia Miller, who is 90 years old. His grandfather died in 1993. The business started as a party rental store and expanded into home medical rentals in 1965.
“As odd and disparate as those two things are, it wasn’t uncommon that a lot of companies as part of the rental industry did that. We understand rentals,” Johnny Miller said.
In 1999, brothers John and Charlie split the company into Miller’s Rental & Sales Inc., and Miller’s Party and Rental Center.
Even though the rental business is in his blood, Johnny Miller said it was never predestined for him to work there or take over the business.
“I give my father and grandfather credit,” Johnny said. “We all grew up in the business, but after college it was a requirement to spend a minimum of three years outside in a professional capacity. At the end of that time, you made a conscious decision to say, ‘Yes, I want to do this’ and bring something else to the business from another company.”
Other longtime area family businesses, such as J.M. Smucker Co., Smith Dairy and Buehler’s, have seen adult children take similar paths to work elsewhere first before deciding whether to return to the family business.
The younger Miller, a Canton Central Catholic High graduate, went to Kent State University and graduated with a history degree. He had thoughts of going to law school, but instead spent a few years managing Pancho’s, a Southwestern grill in Green. He also worked a year in the direct marketing department at Diebold.
He returned to Miller’s in 1999 and has trained or worked in every job in the company’s four offices in Akron on Romig Road, Youngstown, Canton and Cleveland.
Those experiences gave Johnny Miller a different perspective, said his father.
“It’s great to have family, but you have to have a broader view of the world,” John J. Miller said.
Having Johnny learn in each job was also important, said his dad.
“He had to earn it when he came back. The staff has to respect you and they get that by working with you,” he said.
Miller said three years ago, the pair began planning the succession. Most recently, Johnny has been executive vice president.
The family employed a business coach “to help us get the ball rolling and identify how we do things differently,” said the elder Miller.
“We had to get our hands around it. I’m much more operations based and he’s a better people person. You manage differently,” Miller said.
Johnny Miller said the long transition plan has made for a smooth change in leadership.
The company has 101 employees. Miller declined to share sales figures.
This is an interesting time with changes in the medical industry, said Miller, but he has plans to grow and expand.
Miller’s competes against both national companies as well as smaller, family-owned businesses and hospital-owned home medical equipment divisions.
Miller declined to discuss specific goals but said he does plan on expanding geographically and is not interested in selling the business.
“We are committed to family ownership and the family stake. Taking the role and understanding that, we’re all on the same page. We built a business and a culture around that,” said Johnny, who is married to wife Nicole and has two sons ages 3 and 5. The couple live in Green.
Miller is a graduate of the group Leadership Akron and serves on the boards of Access, Inc. and Keep Akron Beautiful. He’s also been an active member of Three Trackers of Ohio, serving as a volunteer adaptive ski instructor. Statewide, he is active in the Ohio Association of Medical Equipment Services and is its current president. In that capacity, he works with state and national policy makers on issues related to Medicaid and Medicare coverage of home medical equipment.
For John J. Miller, it’s taking a little getting used to having his son in charge.
“I’m here to coach and mentor him and to be available for strategic development. He calls the shots,” said the elder Miller, who took over as president from his father in 1983 when he was in his 30s.
“He could not have picked a harder time to take over. I have to work at letting him do what he needs to do, even if that’s different than what I would do,” said Miller, who has been working for the family business for 42 of his 64 years.
“As long as he needs me, I’m here. After a period of time, I’ll be less effective,” he said.
But still, “it’s the greatest feeling in the world to go into the third generation. It meant a lot to my father and I can appreciate that more now,” Miller said.