You love your parents, but could you run a business with one of them? While some entrepreneurs might find that hard to even imagine, it has proved to be a winning formula for these three family-run businesses.
HelloGrads is described as the go-to site for life after university, offering advice on housing, careers, finances and wellbeing. It started out as a design project for Sophie Phillipson, 26, who now runs it with her mum, Julie.
“During our initial research we realised that having two different perspectives, that of a young graduate and a mother who put three children through university, would be invaluable,” said Sophie. “I could relate to the hopes, fears and frustrations of our target audience and mum knows what information and life skills young people lack.”
The two also have different areas of expertise. Sophie’s design degree, age and job experience gave her knowledge of UX design, research and social media, while Julie had life skills and experience as well as a traditional marketing and business background. “The rest we learn as we go along,” said Sophie.
On resolving issues or making decisions, where their views are divided, she says they have a rule never to discuss things when they are hungry or tired.
“The advantage of being family is that we know when the other one is in a mood, or if we should leave it until later,” says Sophie. “But it also depends on the issue. If it relates to our audience, mum listens to me, as I’m closer to it. If it’s a business decision whoever has more experience gives the final answer, but we always discuss things together.”
They try not to let their business life impinge on family life, but Sophie admits that business talk has a habit of can creeping into conversations. “We find it helpful to make a point of being a mum and daughter rather than business partners,” she says. “So we’ll remove ourselves from situations where we can talk business by going shopping with my sister, too.”
Brian and Lee Waring are the father-and-son team behind Leyland-based RTG Automotive, which sells car parts all over the world. It all began 11 years ago when Brian, an automotive retail worker, and Lee, who was studying for an accounting and finance degree, started selling a few ‘shop soiled’ key rings on eBay in their spare time. They moved on to selling car parts and demand soared, leading to the launch of their business, which now employs 22 people and turns over £7 million.
The key to making such a close family business partnership work is their complementary skill sets. Brian said: “Lee’s skills are in the computer and accounting side of things and mine are the knowledge of the industry and my background as a manager and buyer. We both share the same philosophy about business, and all profits are reinvested into expansion. The partnership has always worked for us.”
In any business, family or not, there will be times when partners disagree on how to deal with a specific challenge, but need to reach a decision.
Lee says: “We find that if we both give our input in full, it usually becomes clearer which decision will have most benefit for the company. If we are still undecided, we might involve our manager, but I can’t remember a major decision where we haven’t agreed in the end.”
The real key to their successful partnership, says Brian, is the fact that neither partner feels that they are the more dominant one. And as for family life outside of RTG Automotive, he describes it as pretty normal, “just like it was before [they] started the company”.
He said: “We’ve been lucky that the company has always been financially sound, profitable and growing year on year, and when things are going good in the business that carries through to your home life too.”
Dog grooming business Millies Pet Services is run by mother and daughter team, Vicky Gunn and her mum Shirley, who are both qualified accountants, and had worked for the NHS and a local council respectively. Between them they own three spaniels, Millie, Isla and Harley, who were also their first customers.
Vicky had come up with the business concept and in July, got together with Shirley to crunch the numbers. They stacked up and within a few weeks Millie’s Pet Services went from being an ‘idea’ to opening its doors on Carnoustie High Street.
“With so little time to get up and running, it was clear from day one how we were to split our roles,” said Vicky. “Mum manages the dog grooming side of the business, everything from choice of grooming products, pricing and processes, while I look after the marketing, sourcing of retail products, and customer experience.
“Thanks to our accountancy experience we can share the business workload. The financials were very tight to start and we are constantly making decisions on where to invest in stock and product lines, while juggling general bookkeeping. Having someone else who understands financials is a lifesaver.”
In the pressure cooker environment of a new start-up, the pair found that they disagreed a lot, but mostly on small things. “Decisions that should have been quick and simple became so much bigger, like our opening hours,” said Vicky. “I have very high standards around the customer experience I want to create, which can lead to ‘differences of opinion’, however, time is a big factor in resolving them.
“Running a family business with a parent shouldn’t be any easier or more difficult than running any other business. But it does have pros and cons that have much bigger consequences on a personal basis, and that is something that we will keep working on.”