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December 1, 2009
By Carrie Wattu
"A breakdown of what makes Sheri and Eli parents who rock."
Occupation: Owners and founders of Magic Beans, Brookline, Hingham, and Wellesley
Parents of: Audrey, 7, Mira, 5, and Zev, 16 months
Eli and Sheri Gurock had a head start...on everything. The couple has known each other since they were 4 or 5 years old. They grew up in the same neighborhood in New York City, went to elementary school, high school, and college together.
And now, Eli and Sheri own a business together, three fabulous and fun toy stores, Magic Beans.
How does all this work? The "husband and wife, raising three kids, and running a business" thing.
Part of it is that the couple has had plenty of time to figure out how to make their relationship work, or as Eli says, "to get all the 'stuff' out of the way."
"Sheri used to pick on me when I was a kid," says Eli, "We went to day camp together when we were like 5 or 6, so she used to torture me."
But after performing in a few plays together, playing husband and wife in a production of Oliver, and planning a high school charity auction, the two eventually became very good friends.
At Brandeis University, Eli studied painting and Sheri studied music, creative pursuits which they have found very helpful in the business world.
"Part of our success comes down to our creativity, our ability to creative problem-solve," Eli explains, especially since the two went into a business in which they had no experience and had to figure everything out for themselves.
How did they do this at such a young age, especially with a 2-year-old and a 3- month-old baby? (Eli was 26, and Sheri was 27 when their first store opened in Brookline.)
"We are both the oldest children, and we had to beat our own paths," says Eli, "We are not afraid of trying new things and taking new risks. We have a high tolerance for trying things that are new."
Taking on the challenges of opening a business did have some advantages in that Sheri could make her own rules, rules that incorporated her commitment to breastfeeding. "I am very fortunate to be able to breastfeed all of my children until at least 18 months of age. I have the flexibility to have the baby come to work when the baby is hungry."
But it wasn't just birth order, tolerance, determination, or confidence that brought them into business together. Sheri says, "It was naiveté. We just thought it wouldn't be hard, but it's really hard."
How do they manage? "We have great people that we can rely on whether it's the managers in our stores, the schools, our baby-sitters, or the nannies," says Eli.
And Eli knows a thing or two about good people. Before Eli owned Magic Beans, he was the admissions director, art history teacher, and choir director at the New Jewish High School in Waltham. Part of his job was to interview hundreds of 8th graders.
"I learned the skill of interviewing and evaluating people. There is nothing harder than interviewing an 8th grader, let me tell you," he says.
"The experience made him really good about spotting extraordinary job candidates," Sheri explains.
The Gurocks are very grateful for their employees who allow them to remain hands-on with their children. "We don't believe that if I wake up with a baby today then Sheri has to do it tomorrow," says Eli, "I do mornings. I make the lunches. I make the breakfast. I drive to school every day. I am not feeling resentful or asking, 'Why am I doing this every day, and Sheri isn't?'"
Eli compares it to their work at the store, where Sheri does the buying, and Eli does the selling. "We both work together but we don't have the same job," he says.
"It's the same thing in family life. Sheri takes the kids to the doctor and researches day camps and plans family vacations. She'll never say to me, 'Why don't you plan the family vacation?' There is no resentment."
A typical day for Eli, who calls himself a wandering executive, is working from location to location (their three stores, a warehouse, and an office). "I am up at 6:30 with the baby. I make lunches. I do their hair. If I get back in time after dropping them off to school, I probably do a run." (Eli is training for the Boston Marathon with Boston Children's Hospital.)
He is typically at work by 8:30 – 9 a.m. and works until 5 – 6:30 p.m. "I love being home by 5 – 5:15 so that I can make dinner and help the kids with their homework. We are both home by 6:30. We do bedtime, bath, homework, books."
Then the couple works from 9 p.m. to 1 a. m. Life is about work, says Eli, "You are working all the time, whatever it is."
But he's quick to add, "We love working!"
That is with one important exception.
The Gurocks uphold their religious values ("We're synagogue-goers!" says Eli), and their children attend Jewish schools. They also do not work on Saturdays. Yes, they work in retail, and do not work Saturdays, the busiest day of the week.
"On Friday night, we are done," Eli says, who depends on his managers to run the stores so that his family can "regroup for 25 hours."
On Saturdays, the family eats really good food, relaxes, spends time with each other, and do not use electricity. Then on Saturday night, the couple updates their statuses on Twitter, and everything is up and running.
Sheri says, "Being a working parent is really, really hard. You are always trying to reshuffle your priorities and trying to figure out what's the most important on any given day."
All of this responsibility is a lot of work, but the Gurocks do not mind, "We are up all the time. We hardly sleep. We are full steam ahead. We love being awake. We love being alive!"
Contrary to what you might think, the real gift in having parents who own a toy store, Eli says, is that his kids get to watch their parents work together.
"That's what's going to stand out for them."
Take 15 with Eli and Sheri
1. Words to describe our family: Unified, hectic, loving, dynamic, creative
2. Best part of our day: Snuggling in bed and reading to the kids before bedtime
3. Our favorite places: Cape Cod, the Museum of Science, Belkin Lookout Farm, the Stone Park in the Back Bay (aka Sailboat Park in our family)
4. We always tell our children: Always be honest. No whining. Be kind and generous.
5. A message for other parents: No one can get it right 100% of the time, but be flexible, stay positive, and remember that it's really important to laugh a lot.
6. Current family obsessions: Ikea, truffle salt, Glee, Nikon D90 camera, The tooth fairy, and Sculpey
7. Best things about the town where we are raising our children: Brookline offers the best of small-town living but with great shopping, fabulous playgrounds, amazing restaurants, and easy access to Boston. We never want to live any place else.
8. Biggest challenge our family faces: Balancing work with spending time with kids and putting down the iPhone.
9. How we celebrate Hannukah: Amazing homemade potato latkes, lighting candles and singing songs every night.
10. Philosophy on running a business: We use the golden rule to guide everything that we do: "Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you." We take that approach with our employees, our customers, and our vendors. If you run your business with integrity, things work out. It's not always easy to make the right decision, but it is always the right decision.
11. Philosophy on toys and kids' products: Some parents like toys with sounds and lights; some parents want everything to be organic and wood. Our job isn't to take sides. We just find the very best toys from across the spectrum. We avoid anything that looks like a gun. With the baby gear, we're always looking for products that make life easier for parents.
12. Most rewarding part of owning Magic Beans: Working with each other and our amazing team every day; helping customers, and hearing how much they love our stores; giving amazing people jobs and health insurance; creating a business from scratch and being creative and innovative every day.
13. When winter comes, our family: Builds fires, drinks hot cocoa, and plays in the snow as much as possible. Eli has been known to barbecue in a blizzard.
14. On our children's birthdays, we: bake very elaborate cakes.
15. Being married to your childhood friend, high school and college sweetheart, and business partner is: The only way we know, and the only way we ever want to be. It agrees with us.