For over half a decade, A&E’s hit reality show “Duck Dynasty” ruled the airwaves; the show’s fourth season premiere alone drew a record-smashing 11.8 million viewers. But what underlies the success of the show is the enduring success of the Robertson family business, Duck Commander, which was started by family patriarch Phil Robertson in 1972 out of his home in Louisiana — and has spiraled into a merchandising empire last valued around $400 million.   

Today, it’s the eldest son Willie who serves as CEO of Duck Commander and spinoff clothing brand Buck Commander. Mediaplanet sat down with the businessman, author and TV personality about the lessons he’s learned along his crazy ride.

Robertson and sons

From an early age, Phil enlisted his four sons to help with the business, and they quickly learned the challenges of entrepreneurship. “We didn’t really have any employees,” Willie recalls, “so every order that came in had to get done by someone in the family. If we got a phone call, somebody would have to take the call and write it down. Someone would have to make the product, package it and ship it. We even had to do the customer service.”

Money matters  

“As you get bigger, more demands come. We had to figure out how to make sure we hit our deadlines. You also have to figure out how to front it, and we didn’t really have any money,” he laughs. “We had to go to the bank to borrow money.”

Robertson lists managing money and preparing financially for the future as two major challenges for most small business owners. “People overspend and start buying things they don’t need,” he cautions. “We always had to remember that we might have a lot of money sitting here in November, but we had to think about next July and August, because that’s when things were really lean.”

Though small business ownership isn’t for the faint of heart, Robertson argues, it can have handsome rewards. “You have to put a lot of work in. I’ve done every job at our company. Hard work is hard work. You gotta put time in and be there.” But, he states with confidence, “Any challenge ahead, you can overcome it.”