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The New Economy

This Mother’s Day, skip the gift. Join the firm.

Celebrate the rise of the mother daughter business this Mother's Day. The recession has helped to boost their numbers.

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In 2003, Jolanta Sonkin put her mother on a macrobiotic diet after learning that she was diagnosed with cancer. When she couldn’t find macrobiotic sweets in stores, Ms. Sonkin and her mother began to make and sell their own. Eventually, they started GoMacro Inc., which manufactures and sells macrobiotic cookies and bars.

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Doreen Foxwell started the Children’s School of Yoga in Monroe, N.Y., not to solve a problem, but to fulfill a personal dream.

“I started the business six years ago, in 2004, after I had an epiphany in the middle of night that I should be doing children’s yoga,” she says.

She got certified in yoga and started the business by herself. Ms. Foxwell’s daughter, then in high school, joined the business as a birthday party assistant. When the business lost one of its instructors, Foxwell’s daughter wanted to fill the role. Today she is an instructor with the Children’s School of Yoga and works behind the scenes in operations.

Foxwell says she’s grooming her daughter to take the reins of the business in the future.

“[Working with my daughter] has given me the opportunity to see her strengths as a woman, and it gives her the opportunity to see me in a different light, not just being the mom,” Foxwell says.

But it also has its challenges, and Foxwell is learning how to navigate family and business along the way.

“Communication as a mother-daughter is totally different from communication as a business partner or a boss-to-employee,” she says. “It’s a big challenge to separate family time from business.”

Setting boundaries and communicating effectively is key to going into business with your mother or daughter, says Merlino.

“Boundaries must be set in terms of what each person is doing,” she says. “Setting separate roles and responsibilities, that is key to avoiding problems.”

It’s also important to communicate appropriately, she says.

“There’s always the danger of falling back into familial relationships. Remember, you’re not running a family, you’re running a business.”

She advises anyone participating in a family business to see family business coaches, who help family businesses set boundaries and establish better communication.

When it’s set up properly, being in business with a family member can be rewarding, says Merlino, who works with her sister.

“I love seeing a member of my family every day,” she says. “It’s comforting, exciting to share successes and challenges with someone who’s known you since the day you were born. It’s not for every mother/daughter, but it’s great for others.”


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