Sept. 17 2008 12:00 AM

During the hot summer afternoons when the rest of his peers were lazing in swimming pools and catching campy action flicks at the local movie theatre, Bryce Bousquet spent his teenage years stocking shelves at his dad’s company warehouse. At 16, his father had set him up with a job handling inventory, so for Bousquet, time off from school meant pushing boxes around in the dusty indoor heat.

“When I first started, my father brought me to the warehouse, pointed at the manager and said, ‘That’s your boss,’” says Bousquet. “And he turned around and went right back to his office and left me there. I liked it, though. It wasn’t hard and all the customers that I dealt with were pretty nice guys.” The company was called REAMS. Ernest Bousquet, Bryce’s grandfather, started the company— then called Lawn Rainmakers— in 1958 with the help of his wife, Adelaide. Originally, the business operated on a part-time basis, specializing strictly in irrigation systems. Ernest’s two boys, Ron and Michael (Bryce’s father), learned to install systems at a young age, helping their father trench pipe and activate sprinklers on weekends and during summers. “My father likes to say the company started on my grandfather’s kitchen table,” says Bousquet. “My grandfather had four kids and this was a way to bring in a little extra income.”

After Ron and Michael grew up, they both entered the business with their father. For them, however, the company was more than a part-time venture; they were ready to pursue irrigation installations on a career level. In 1970, Lawn Rainmakers became known as E.J. Bousquet & Sons. It had become a true family business, and a serious one at that.

After five years, the Bousquets decided they would distribute irrigation products as well as installing them. So in 1976, they opened their first store in Omaha, Nebraska, offering an array of Rain Bird products. The company would also undergo its second and final name change, one that catered to its family business roots. An acronym for family members Ron, Ernest, Adelaide, Michael and Debra (Ron and Michael’s sister, hence the ‘S’), REAMS had entered a new phase.

The company continued to grow. Barely a year later, a second store opened in Lincoln. Today, there are a total of nine REAMS stores, spread throughout Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas.

Since the time that Bryce Bousquet started working at REAMS part-time, the business had long taken off. For him, though, the job simply offered a way to earn a bit of pocket money for the weekends. “At no time did my parents ever pressure me to join the family business on a career level,” says Bousquet. “It was always left to be an organic decision. The way I think my dad saw it was if it was meant to be, it was meant to be.”

If his college studies were anything to go by, it was not meant to be. Bousquet attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earned his degree in political science in 1994. Until then, he’d planned to enter law, but halfway through his senior year, he had a change of heart.

“I started to seriously look down the road as college was winding down,” says Bousquet. “The opportunity I had in front of me with my father’s business was really great, and to squander that would be stupid. I felt I owed it to myself and my family to take that opportunity and see what I could do with it.”

Immediately after graduation, Bousquet entered into the family business full time. Initially, he had no official title, unless you count the title of “S.O.B.”—son of boss— an epithet used by everyone else in the company. As a welcoming gift, his father bought him a used pickup truck and gave him instructions to drive it to every branch location in the Midwest and familiarize himself with staff, customers and the business.

The 22-year-old Bousquet spent four days and nights on the road, taking in the countryside and learning the tricks of the trade. “It was an eye-opener,” says Bousquet. “It was fun to meet all kinds of people and really get a feel for what our business was all about.”

In 1997, Bousquet took over the marketing department. There, he put all of his focus into expanding customers’ perceptions of the company. At this point, REAMS was far more than an irrigation company, so Bousquet’s goal was to spread this message as far and wide as possible. He helped change the REAMS tagline and logo to play up both irrigation supply and landscape products supply.

Seven years later, Bousquet was made vice president. His father shadowed nearly every move he made, and in turn, he shadowed the presidential duties of his father. It was obvious that he was being groomed for the position of company president. For four years, Bousquet was trained for the top spot.

Today, that spot is his, running his company not so much with an iron fist but with a good sense of customer base and company image. Bousquet is happy where he is. His wife, Heather, works at the company and is vice president of finance and human resources. His father, Michael, and his uncle Ron still put in their time every week. Both carry the title of founders. Fifty years after the company started, REAMS is just as much a family business as it ever was.

In addition to his role as president, he also serves another important role as father to two daughters. His youngest, Megan, enters 5th grade this fall, and his oldest, Circle 120 on Reader Response Card Ali, studies history at Bousquet’s old stomping grounds at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

As to whether his daughters will carry on the family business, Bousquet, like his father before him, is leaving that choice entirely in their hands. “My oldest worked in the office and warehouse this summer, but I’m encouraging her to work at other places and get a feel for what’s out there,” beams Bousquet. “I have a strong feeling she’ll learn to make her own mark.”

When not tending to company business, Bousquet spends his time staying fit and healthy, running triathlons, participating in road races and playing golf. Bryce is the third generation of Bousquets in the family business. “Each generation has left its mark on the company,” said Bryce. “I hope those who follow will see a little of the imprint that I’ve made.”