When Stacy Reiber and Debbie Hille, our NJMOMpreneurs of the Week, met as fellow teachers in the Long Valley school system, they had no idea that they’d eventually be partners in a business that would allow families to live more connected lives. Over the years in their classrooms. they observed the all-around most successful students came from homes with strong family bonds, and with that in mind, Stacy and Debbie set on a path for a business that would help families thrive. Their idea morphed into The Family Keystone—custom kits and gifts sold in local stores and online where families collectively create a mission statement to use as a touchstone, and in the process, form more meaningful connections to each other. We chatted with these busy mamas and educators (they’re both still teaching) on the podcasts they listened to for business guidance, the one thing all families can do every day to focus on each other, and the Morristown shop for everything and anything that’s made in New Jersey.
Please tell me a bit about each of your families and the town you live in. Debbie: I live in Lopatcong with my partner, Carl Brown. It’s beautiful and still pretty rural with lots of farms and open space. Our blended family includes Jacob, 18, Connor, 16, Aubrey, 12, Cailyn, 17, and Maddie, 15.
Stacy: I live in the Shongum Lake section of Randolph with my husband of 17 years, Rob, and our three children, Ethan, 14, Ellis, 12, and Emerson, 5. We love it here because there are so many activities centered around the lake, including swimming, boating, ice skating, family barbecues, and even Friday night happy hour for the grownups.
How did both of you meet? What made you decide to go into business together?
Stacy: In 2001, I got a job teaching in Long Valley, and Debbie had already been teaching there for 3 or 4 years. We were both teaching 3rd grade and had a few joint projects, which naturally led to a friendship, and over the years, our friendship only deepened.
Debbie: We used to sit together at lunch, and though we were very happy teaching, we thought it would be nice to do something in addition to it. We had ongoing business idea conversations and were always jotting down the ideas in a notebook, but babies and maternity leaves and life events always got in the way. Then, in 2019 we decided it was time to stop talking about it and do something about it.
What is The Family Keystone?
Stacy and Debbie: The Family Keystone is a custom-made family mission statement you create together with your loved ones. We have kits that walk you through each step on making the mission statement, and the final product is a custom canvas print suspended on two rails to display in your home. An essential part of creating your Keystone is that all your family members have a hand in creating it—everyone is included in the process. There are no wrong answers, and every response is valued, and we want the process to be just as important as the final product. The idea behind it is that when you identify common goals and values, your family will function better. It can be a guide to help your family make decisions, as well as keep you grounded during the chaos, obligations, and struggles of life. The Family Keystone gives everyone involved a sense of meaning and identity while making it clear that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Tell us how your prior work experiences come into play when it comes to running The Family Keystone?
Stacy and Debbie: Being a teacher prepares you for anything because nothing ever goes as planned. You don’t know what has gone on at home before a child enters your classroom and how that will affect their day. Nor do you know how your students will react to a particular lesson, and what they will say. As an educator, you need to roll with the punches, move on and find a way. Things don’t always go as planned when you run a business, so adapting to change quickly is key.
What resources did you turn to when launching The Family Keystone?
Debbie: We learned a lot about the steps to take to launch a business from podcasts. We’d listen to them on our daily commutes and recommend them to each other.
How do you divide up the work responsibilities?
Stacy: We’re both very flexible people by nature, so I think that is part of the secret to the success of our business partnership. If one of us is having a busier season in our life, the other picks up the pieces. Or if one of us wants to focus on a particular aspect of the business, the other one lets them do it. Also, Debbie has the unique gift of never letting us forget what’s most important for our company. She always brings us back to our mission and keeps us true to our business and what we set out to do. And though neither one of us loves the “business” side like the record-keeping and financial tasks, Debbie makes sure that those crucial little details get done.
Debbie: I think our partnership works so well because our strengths complement each other. Stacy is very creative and comes up with such great ideas. She’s also very passionate about the ideas that she comes up with, which is a big reason they come to fruition.
Please share at least one thing that every family should be doing to live a deeper, more connected life.
Stacy: Debbie has always stressed the importance of eating a meal together—it’s when conversations happen, and it gives you a chance to connect. Whether at home or at a restaurant, breaking bread together is the perfect way to focus on each other. One way to help the conversation is to use our Questions to Ask At Family Dinner Downloads. They are research-based, proven to help you connect, and always a great dinner table conversation starter.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Debbie: The silver lining of the pandemic is that people were forced to slow down and realize what’s most important in life is the family. To that end, we started to do gift and experience baskets tailored to specific holidays. For example, we’d include our Keystone and combine it with holiday snacks for Christmas or pancake mixes for Mother’s Day. This way, families could still acknowledge certain traditions and bond while doing them.
Are there any causes that are important to you?
Stacy: We’ve joined up with For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation. This non-profit organization gives cancer patients and their loved ones unforgettable experiences that allow them to take a mental break from cancer. On a day that Debbie and I were planning a meeting to discuss how we’d like to give back, I bumped into a friend who had gone through breast cancer, and the foundation sent her and her family on a wonderful respite vacation. She couldn’t say enough good things about them. Then, coincidentally I heard a similar story from a friend who was so grateful to have had an amazing and restorative family experience through them as well. Debbie and I looked into it, and it just seemed like it was meant to be. Their mission is perfectly aligned with ours—we both want to make families stronger, so it’s a perfect match.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses?
Stacy: I prefer to shop local, and Just Jersey, in Morristown, is a favorite because they only represent NJ makers. We feel so fortunate that they sell our products, but it also happens to be my go-to shop to get gifts. They have such unique things there.
Debbie: We also like The Coffee Potter in Long Valley, a coffee shop where workers are hired from the community, and a nice surprise is that they give biscuits to dogs. What’s not to love? They’ve also made it their mission to help people connect, which is something we have in common.
What are some of your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
Debbie: We love the jersey shore and vacation down at LBI every summer. We like to go to Bay Village to shop, and we head to Panzone’s for really great pizza.
Stacy: We like to hike, and during the pandemic, we made it to High Point State Park, which I highly recommend — the view there is fantastic! And, since we live relatively close to Morristown, we often go out to eat there and have many favorites, but Aikou is definitely at the top of the list. You will not be disappointed with the Wasabi Roll. I get it every single time.
What words of wisdom do you have for other NJMOMpreneurs?
Stacy: Know that you will make a lot of mistakes. Have a sense of humor and just keep going.
Debbie: Yes, always choose progress over perfection. And, know that though there’s competition out there, there’s enough space for everyone.