Mother & Daughter, Inc.
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Mother & Daughter, Inc.

Does the idea of going into business with your mother or your daughter seem like a nightmare -- or a dream come true? These five pairs attest to how it can be a profitable partnership.

Mother-Daughter Duos

Perhaps no family dynamic is more complex than the one between a mother and daughter -- an emotional cocktail that mixes love with equal parts defiance and devotion, respect and regret. Placing the same two people in business together might seem like one way to set the stage for explosive results. But in fact, when today's new generation of moms and daughters join entrepreneurial forces, both reap personal as well as financial rewards.

Although this phenomenon is so new that no one has tracked the numbers, the rise of women in the workforce generally has paved the way for such mother-daughter teams. Between 1997 and 2006, the number of woman-owned companies grew at nearly twice the U.S. average -- rising from 5.4 million to 7.7 million.

Here are five mother-daughter duos who've turned their talents, energy, and shared values into success stories.

Mysteries, They Wrote

Traci & P.J. Lambrecht, Authors

"I do think we might share a brain," says Traci Lambrecht, who is half of a writing team that publishes under the pseudonym P.J. Tracy. The other half is her mother, P.J. Lambrecht. Writing in a single, seamless voice, the two have sold more than a million books, including comic whodunits Monkeewrench, Dead Run, and Snow Blind.

"We both have a dark and twisted sense of humor," says Traci, 40, "so that makes writing together easier." P.J., who's 61, concurs, adding, "neither of us is the leader of the team, so there aren't a lot of disagreements."

To write their thrillers, Traci travels from Los Angeles every other month and spends two to three weeks at her mother's farmhouse in rural Chisago City, Minnesota. There in P.J.'s home office, mother and daughter contribute equally to character development, dialogue, and their books' grisly humor. In Snow Blind, for instance, a killer stuffs his victims into snowmen -- just before they're judged in a charity snowman-building event. "We act out the dialogue," says Traci. "And we laugh a lot."

After developing the basic structure of a book, they retire to their respective cities and keyboards, revising drafts daily through e-mail and phone calls. P.J.'s husband, Ted Platz, a retired electrician, says their relationship is more like that of siblings than mother and daughter; in fact, Traci has always called her mother "P.J." "When we read our finished books, we can never remember who contributed what," says Traci.

The two women have been collaborating since Traci -- an only child -- was a kid. At bedtime they'd create tales in which P.J. would come up with one paragraph and Traci would provide the next. "We lived in the country with few neighbors, so neither one of us had anyone to play with," says P.J., who recalls few blowups -- even in the early years when Traci threatened to paint her room black during a punk rock phase.

P.J. began publishing short stories in the Saturday Evening Post in 1975 and romance novels for Harlequin in 1983. Then one day Traci, who'd graduated from college, needed money for a trip to Europe. P.J., who was overwhelmed with writing assignments, suggested they collaborate on a short story. They churned out the piece in a week, split the $2,000 fee, and the mother-daughter franchise was born. "Writing is usually a solitary endeavor," says Traci, who moved to Los Angeles in 2000 to live with screenwriter Dale Launer. "It's easier when you have a partner who can serve as a sounding board."

Since then, the mother-daughter collaboration known as P.J. Tracy has published 22 books, earning fans in 27 countries. In 2000 they were burnt out, so they took a break from romances and tried their hand at a mystery. Their first was Monkeewrench, a tale of a series of murders instigated by a computer game in which the killer is always caught. Published in 2003, the book quickly became a best seller in the United States and Europe and earned P.J. and Traci the prestigious Anthony Award for mystery writers.

They're now working on their fifth mystery/thriller. "We have no idea who's going to fall in love and who we're going to kill off," says Traci. "But getting there is all the fun."

 

Maternity Clothing Boutique

Emily Rosenberg & Annie Cohen, Bella Belli Maternity

Not long ago Emily Rosenberg, co-owner of Bella Belli Maternity, a clothing boutique for pregnant women in suburban Detroit, ordered a batch of bright-colored tube tops. This prompted Annie Cohen, her business partner, to protest, "Who in their right mind would wear these?"

When they proved to be a hit, Emily, 31, couldn't resist gloating. After all, Annie is her mother. "I said, 'I told you so,'" Emily recalls. "Then we laughed about it." For her part, Annie, 58, graciously acknowledged her daughter's keen market sense -- while continuing to lobby for more conservative styles. "As a parent, you think you know what's best," says Annie. "It's hard to let go and realize your little girl knows what she's doing. Turns out, my daughter understands what others her age want."

Despite their opposing opinions about fashion, Annie and Emily agree that the store is a success because their personalities and work habits are complementary. As company president, Emily manages buying and finances, while Annie, as vice president, handles advertising, marketing, and store appearance. "If something needs to get done, Mom does it immediately," Emily admits. "She's a harder worker than I am." Annie credits her daughter's bubbly personality for their success in attracting customers. "Emily is such a sweetheart," says Annie, "that her customers come back to see her even after they've had their babies."

Such mutual admiration wasn't always evident. Annie remembers a daughter whose indecisiveness -- as a child and as a young woman -- challenged her patience and that of her husband, Robert Cohen, who owns an industrial packaging company. Even after earning a master's degree in social work from the University of Chicago, Emily failed to find happiness at several nonprofit jobs. She did, however, recall that she had admired the gift shop her mother had co-owned until 1995. Then, when Emily observed that her pregnant friends flew to Chicago to find trendy styles, she knew what her life's work would be: She'd launch a maternity-clothes store.

Annie disapproved. "My mother tried to talk me out of it," Emily recalls. "She didn't think customers of a maternity-clothes boutique could relate to a single, childless saleswoman. And she worried that it certainly wouldn't be a place to meet eligible bachelors." (Emily has since married.)

But Emily had made up her mind and, valuing her mother's retail experience, invited her to help run Bella Belli. In 2003 Emily got a $100,000 bank loan -- with her father as cosigner -- and opened the shop in a 900-square-foot storefront in Birmingham, Michigan, with her mother by her side. Emily makes decisions for the store -- knowing she can turn to her mother for advice.

From the first day, sales exceeded expectations. Within two years the shop moved into a larger space. "I couldn't believe how successful the store became," Annie says. "I had to eat my words." Although Emily draws a salary, Annie reinvests hers, a common practice among owners of new small firms. "I have my husband's income," Annie says, "and I'd like to see the enterprise expand."

To help separate their personal and professional roles, the two avoid discussing business outside the shop. And they've also discovered they're more alike than different. "We're both perfectionists," says Emily, "especially when it comes to the store's success."

Handmade Jewelry Business

Cindy & Avril Joffe, Avindy Jewelry

When Cindy Joffe and her mother, Avril, started stringing beads in their basement five years ago, little did they know that their gem-encrusted creations would someday adorn the necks and wrists of celebrities including Hilary Duff and Naomi Watts. It was misfortune, however, that pushed this Atlanta mother-daughter duo to develop a million-dollar company.

In 2002 Cindy, now 32, became ill with symptoms ranging from bronchitis to dizzy spells. She was forced to take a medical leave from her job as a trademark attorney. Ultimately, her doctors found that she was severely allergic to the mold in her 100-year-old home.

On doctor's orders, Cindy and her husband temporarily moved in with her parents. At that time Avril, now 52, was winding down a 20-year career as president of the family's car-wash business and was spending time at her hobby, beading. Eager to keep her daughter busy -- and armed with $400 worth of garnets, topaz, and coral bought at a local gem show -- Avril got Cindy to try stringing necklaces and bracelets while she recuperated.

Three months later Cindy's allergies had cleared up and she was back at work as a lawyer -- but couldn't shake the beading bug. "My mother had always been artistic, but I'd never done anything like it," Cindy marvels. "It was like an addiction." Several times a week after work, when she wasn't hunting for a new house with her husband, she and Avril stayed up late making one-of-a-kind pieces.

They eventually invited practically everyone they knew to a show at Avril's house. In three days they sold $25,000 worth of jewelry, leading Cindy to exclaim, "We have a business!"

They linked their names to be a moniker for their enterprise -- Avindy -- and began to sell pieces on consignment in local stores. That autumn, armed with references from Atlanta shop owners, Avril visited Fragments, a New York City jewelry showroom that sells to top retailers. Its buyers snapped up pieces worth thousands of dollars, and a week later, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys Japan placed orders. Cindy resigned from her job and devoted herself to Avindy.

The first six months proved to be a bit rough. "When we did shows, she'd set up the display and I'd move things around," recalls Cindy. "Then she'd move them back. Eventually we found a look we could agree upon." Working out of Avril's cramped basement created further tension. "Everything was in Mom's house," Cindy says. "There was absolutely no separation between work and life."

The two, along with a staff of five, are now busily creating in a loft in Atlanta's hip West End. With differing working styles -- Avril designing in her head before stringing beads and Cindy playing with the gems until an idea comes together -- the pair expect to generate about $1 million in sales this year.

-- Adriana Gardella

A Family Restaurant

Tina Young & Stacey Merriman, Merriman's Restaurant

"I stay out of her pot and she stays out of mine," says restaurateur Tina Young, 46. To her, that's what keeps the peace in the kitchen she shares with her daughter, Stacey Merriman, 24. As co-owners of Merriman's, a restaurant and tea shop in Ashland City, Tennessee, west of Nashville, they work to bring "a little bit of British tradition" to their community, as Tina describes their menu, featuring tea sandwiches, scones, and clotted-cream tarts.

Tina and her sister opened the eatery three years ago as just a tea shop, with their daughters as waitress and cook. After Tina's sister and her daughter left to pursue other interests, Stacey stepped up to management. Today she and her mother are equal partners in a full-service restaurant. In addition to the duo's kitchen duties, Stacey serves as hostess, decorator, and manager, while Tina does the bookkeeping. No chore is beneath them, though. "If we run out of linens, we haul them home and wash them," says Tina.

Neither is a stranger to hard work. Tina, who is married to an appliance installer, cleaned houses for years. Stacey dropped out of high school at 15 before earning a GED and marrying an appliance repair technician at 19. "When I was little, I helped my mother clean houses," says Stacey. "She taught me never to call in sick unless you're dying and always to treat people as you wish to be treated."

The two had $30,000 in savings to launch their restaurant -- not enough to renovate, decorate, and equip the 100-year-old cottage that would house it. So they wound up doing much of the work themselves.

Despite -- or because of -- their 12-hour workdays, both insist the experience has strengthened their bond. On days off they browse antiques malls and tour historic homes for ideas for their operations. They've recently made an offer on a property they'll turn into a bed-and-breakfast. "Going into business has brought us together," says Tina. Stacey agrees: "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

Designer Shoe Store

Sylvia Urrutia & Desiree Osmon, Sabot Shoes

Desiree Osmon had managed several clothing stores in her hometown of Atlanta but always wanted her own shop. When she recalled the flirty sandals she had seen on summer vacations while visiting relatives in Puerto Rico as a youngster, an idea formed in her mind: She could offer footwear like that in an upscale shoe boutique and bring edgy sophisticated style to the relatively conservative South. "I truly believe your heritage influences your taste," she says.

After taking out a bank loan for $75,000 three years ago, Desiree, who's married and has a year-old daughter, opened the store with her mother, Sylvia Urrutia, as a full partner. At first glance they seem an unlikely pair. Sylvia is artistic and bubbly, a 63-year-old former painter who was born in Puerto Rico. Desiree is analytical and cool, a soft-spoken 39-year-old M.B.A. Yet mother and daughter have parlayed their differences into a thriving business. By selling designer shoes that range from $130 to nearly $500, they have carved out a profitable niche. Sales have increased 20 percent annually.

In the store, Sylvia is in charge of merchandising, Desiree handles finances, and both deal with customers. "We work well together because our taste is so similar," Desiree says. "We both like things that are feminine, sexy, and practical."

The shoe store represents a professional leap for Sylvia, who moved to Atlanta with her husband after he completed medical school in San Juan. Having raised two children, she earned a bachelor's degree in art and began creating abstract oil paintings. But after a dozen years and only modest success, Sylvia wearied of the painter's life. "I like people," she says, "and it was hard to be alone all the time."

When Desiree approached her, in 2003, about launching Sabot -- French for "clog" or "open-back shoe" -- Sylvia jumped at the chance. "I love fashion and beautiful things, and this is a creative business," she says. "I also wanted to support my daughter."

The two attended trade shows in Paris, Milan, and New York, establishing vendor relationships by paying advances to preferred designers. "It's fun to travel and find shoes you wouldn't see in a mall," says Desiree. "We look for designs that are different but wearable, with buttery leather and beautiful craftsmanship. To us, they're works of art."

Both mother and daughter note they've had few disagreements. "My mom treats me like an adult," says Desiree. "Many clients say they could never work with their mothers, but we get along fine."

They talk about the store all the time, and neither ever tires of the subject, according to Sylvia: "It's great to get up in the morning and know you'll be with your daughter all day long. That hasn't changed since she was a baby."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2007.

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