This Mother’s Day, consider giving your mom something inspired by Estée Lauder, Frieda’s Fruit, or Ms. & Mrs.
No, not a gift. A mother-daughter business.
All three firms are run by mother-daughter teams (or mothers and female family members). While the father-son business has been a staple for centuries, its female equivalent now seems to be on the rise, thanks to the skyrocketing growth of women-owned businesses and a recession that’s disproportionately affected men.
Although there are no concrete statistics on the number of mother-daughter businesses, “it’s almost certainly a trend that is rising,” says Julie Weeks, president and CEO of Womenable, an advocacy organization that promotes women’s entrepreneurships. “There are more and more women in business now, more mothers are passing [businesses] down to daughters, and daughters are more interested in business now than a generation ago.”
“Given that 80 percent of people who lost jobs in last recession were men, the issue of being able to provide for your family as a woman has become increasingly urgent,” says Ms. Merlino, founder of Take Your Daughter to Work Day and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women grow their small businesses.
When it comes to women’s businesses, necessity is the mother of invention, says Merlino.
“Women start businesses to solve problems,” she says. “A lot of business ideas are need-based, based on personal experiences. They’re inspired by the relationships and responsibilities that mothers and daughters have.”
For example, after growing frustrated trying to color her hair by herself, Bonnie Steen invented Roots Only, a hair color applicator comb that allows a person to apply dye to hair roots. She was having trouble getting it into retail stores, so she enlisted the help of her daughter, Susan Ladua, who has an MBA degree. Together, they began selling the product to Wal-Mart. Today, Roots Only is in more than 3,000 Wal-Marts nationwide and is on its way to making $1 million in revenues.
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.
“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.”