Going into business with mom? Prepare for roller-coaster ride

Succeeding in small business

September 30, 1991|By Jane Applegate | Jane Applegate,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Before you decide whether or not to go into business with your mother, ask yourself: Do you want to ride the roller coaster or do you want to ride the merry-go-round?

This advice comes from Lilly Walters, executive director of Walters International Speakers Bureau in Glendora, Calif.

Walters, who has been working with her mother, Dottie Walters, since she was 8, joined her mother's company on a full-time basis about seven years ago.

"I felt all kinds of trepidation, but where else would someone automatically give me this kind of opportunity?" asked Lilly Walters, who not only runs the speakers bureau, but oversees the design and production of Sharing Ideas, a magazine for professional speakers and meeting planners.

The mother-daughter team often disagrees about how to run their thriving home-based business, but they share the same goals and work hard to treat each other as professionals.

"When Lilly came to work with me, I said, 'Sit down beside me and I'll teach you,' " Dottie Walters said. "She said, 'Get out of my way.' "

Dottie Walters, a professional speaker, writer and consultant, admitted that she and Lilly get angry with each other, "but an hour later we are friends."

One thing is clear: Dottie Walters is not only president of the company, but the undisputed boss.

And deciding who is boss is critical to running a successful mother-daughter business, according to Ross Nager, executive director of Arthur Andersen's Center for Family Business in Houston.

"You have to decide who is in charge from the beginning," Nager said. "And it is often a more difficult situation when the mother is the founder and the daughter comes to work for her."

Dividing up the responsibilities and power is also essential to a strong mother-daughter enterprise.

Nager, who is now creating a succession plan for a mother and two daughters involved in a retail business, said he is dealing with the mother's reluctance to relinquish control over her daughters and everything they do.

"In this case, I've got a very strong-willed, overpowering mother and two fairly non-assertive daughters," Nager said. "Right now, they are getting along because they don't have much to do with each other."

Since American women are starting small businesses twice as fast as men, it is easy to understand why more mothers and daughters are going into business together.

Mothers and daughters who are close and share common

interests are also more likely to form a successful partnership.

"You have to try to treat each other as business associates, not family," Lilly Walters advised. "The fact that you didn't make your bed when you were 10 years old doesn't matter."

While Lilly Walters joined her mother's successful business, Jean Renfro did the opposite: She joined her daughter's new business.

Renfro recently moved from Indiana to California to help make earrings for Rachel's Mom, her daughter Connie's children's earring business.

Connie Dichtel had no experience as a jewelry designer. She was just tired of working as an insurance underwriter and wanted to spend more time with her family.

Dichtel created a small business that not only taps her creativity, but provides a way for her mother and her daughter to spend more time together.

Rachel, Dichtel's 5-year-old daughter, was the inspiration for Love U's pinch-on earrings. Like most little girls, Rachel loves earrings, but she doesn't have pierced ears, and she was always frustrated by the short life expectancy of the popular children's stick-on earrings.

Dichtel remembered wearing a kind of pinch-on earring when she was younger and set out to design a modern version. The family's two-sided earrings feature tiny hearts, butterflies and pearls. After a successful test-marketing campaign, the orders started rolling in.

"When I was still in Indiana, Connie made a videotape to teach me how to make the earrings," Renfro said. When the earring business appeared to be taking off, Renfro moved to within commuting distance of her daughter. By the time she arrived in California, she was a skilled earring maker.

Just about every day, she visits with Rachel while putting together the tiny, decorative earrings.

"My mother and I are very well-matched," said Dichtel, who makes earrings and manages the business. "We are very detail-oriented and we are both workaholics."

Apart from making money, Dichtel said the best thing about her business is that "Rachel has a chance to get to know her grandmother."

Dichtel and Renfro say they have yet to have a fight over the business.

But it doesn't surprise Renfro.

"I know Connie is the boss," she said.

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