Finding success in collaboration

(As printed in the Journal Newspaper, May 2008.)

Mother-daughter teams make good business sense

Colleen Buck had retired from 30 years in the corporate world and was wondering what to do next. Her daughter Lorry Green had been working as a hair stylist for five years and wasn’t sure where her job was heading. Then one night at dinner, Green half-jokingly suggested they open a hair salon together. Buck thought about it for a few hours and called her daughter later that night to say, Let’s look into it.

They researched the industry and decided to go for it. Elle Marie was opened a year and a half ago and, according to both women, it’s been a huge success.

The thing that has worked is that we each bring our own skills to the business and we’ve done a good job of respecting each other’s skills and roles, says Buck.

Soon after the idea took root, the women brought in Green’s brother to do the marketing side of the business. We all bring in totally different things that the other people don’t know anything about, said Green.

Green manages the salon as well as working as a stylist full time and Buck takes care of the business side of things.

When we first opened, recalled Green, Mom said, To be professional, I don’t want you calling me Mom at the salon. Well, that lasted about two hours. I just can’t do it. She went on to explain that their guests like the fact that Elle Marie is family owned. They know our roles and they feel like they’re a part of the family in a sense, she said.

Other mother-daughter business owners agree. We’re all good at a different aspects of the business, said Haley Sullivan from Haley’s Cottage in Mill Creek. Mom’s really great at doing the bookkeeping, my sister’s great at doing the buying and she knows every product like the back of her hand. We complement each other.

One of the pleasant surprises for most mother-daughter teams is recognizing the unique abilities of each other. My surprise – a good thing – was that she’s just so capable, said Kathy Perkins of Paper Delights in Wallingford. I was aware of that, but not to this extent.

Perkins and her daughter Alicia Olsen opened Paper Delights a month ago. With Perkins 18 years of retail ownership experience, and Olsen working with her mother as she grew up, it seemed like a natural fit to go into business together. They decided to pursue it when Olsen was still living in the Los Angeles area.

Having a baby was a big motivation, because I wanted a job with more flexibility, said Olsen, who is due in a few months. Mom had so much experience with retail, so it was great to do with her. I was six when she started her own business and all of my friends worked for her, so I grew up working with Mom.

I’m at a point in my life when I’m more ready to take a back seat and so when I see her handling things I’m ready to let her do it, said Perkins.

The duo said that they never fight about things.

She’s just so good, she knows what to do, said Olsen.

Working together has allowed these mother-daughter teams to pursue their passions rather than simply earn a living. I think any business that you have yourself, you just pour everything into it, said Perkins. Because it’s your name out there, you love the product, it’s almost harder to stop yourself.

Olsen agrees. We go home at night and look through catalogues, she said. It’s not like it’s work, because we love it.

Buck and Green enjoy Elle Marie so much that they often blur the lines between family and business. Sunday night dinners, we talk about work, said Green. We’re still trying to find that fine line between work and home and family. All three of us have put our heart and soul, time and energy into this business – we love it so much, we’re passionate about it.

With passion fueling their work, it’s not hard to succeed. Elle Marie has doubled its staff since opening a year and a half ago. Typical growth rate for a salon is 2 to 5 percent a year, according to Buck, but they had 46 percent growth rate the first year and have already passed their projected growth rate of 29 percent for 2008.

The secret of their success, according to Green and Buck, is pooling their resources and talents. If one of those aspects was missing we wouldn’t be where we are today, said Green.

An advantage these women gain from working with their mother or daughter is better communication. In the corporate world everyone has a facade and is very careful how they word things, said Buck. Whereas in our meetings we just tell it like it is. We get mad at each other, we laugh about it and then we go on.

There’s less pressure, according to Olsen. You can tell your mom something that you couldn’t tell a friend or partner. It’s just not a big deal.

Having started with a good relationship, working as business partners has drawn these duos even closer together.

Our relationship has gotten better, said Green. It’s always been good, but now Mom sees a side of me that she might never have had the opportunity to see without working together.

Buck agrees. The way I look at it, it’s my way of continuing to help them grow, she said. It’s an awesome opportunity for me to still feel really connected to my kids. I am having so much fun working with them and seeing them grow. I feel like the luckiest person in the world – this works for me.

You read those books about your bliss, said Perkins, and for me it is this. You have all sorts of self-doubts before you begin, but I’m over that worry now and there’s really no down side.