While family-owned businesses are considered to have specific advantages in customer relationships, limited research has been conducted into how these abilities are developed or understood by the public. Consumers may indeed perceive family businesses differently from non-family businesses, but this aspect has received scant attention within the literature. This paper sets out exploratory work designed to gain an understanding of Irish and UK consumer perceptions of family-owned businesses, within both urban and rural communities. The study provides insight into the meaning of ‘familiness’ in consumers' minds when linked to family businesses, and explores the relationships and experiences that respondents have of family firms. Emerging issues include family business heritage, community bonds and social stewardship, consumer loyalty and generational transfer, distinction, choice and retail heterogeneity. The findings of this exploratory study suggest that researchers should be paying more attention to the positive aspects of family businesses within communities, and concludes with suggestions for future research to further extend this area of study.