Business Management

"All in the Family" Takes on a New Meaning

Mothers and daughters discover that their business relationships are based on the same cornerstones as their family life: communication and trust.

Business is business, even when mothers and daughters work together in a salon. There are unique benefits---and challenges---to working with family members. Whether one handles the operations while the other does nails, or each is involved in every aspect of the business, the key to success is communication---knowing when to talk and when to listen, when to give advice and when to accept constructive criticism.

Developing a successful business takes years of hard work, determination, and patience, no matter who is involved.

Kathy Herman Haller and her mother, Esther Sconce Herman, know something about patience. They have been running Elegante Nails in Arlington, Texas, together for 13 years.  It started when a friend from California introduced them to sculptured nails.

 “We didn’t even know what they were,” says Haller. The friend convinced Haller and her mother that sculptured nails were the up-and-coming trend.

The three of them decided to open their own salon in Arlington, which had only one other salon, but an unexpected commitment forced the friend to return to California. At the time, Haller was only 18 years old and a senior in high school, but she and her cousin, Lori Sconce, received their licenses the week the salon opened.

 “We did everything by a hair,” says Haller. “It was a lot of pressure for two 18 years old.” Elegante Nails has grown from one shop with two technicians to two salons with 23 employees.

A former personnel director for a plastics plant and office manager for American Airline’s Flight Attendant Union, Herman had the business background to help in setting up and managing the salon. Although she has her nail license, Herman puts her skills to use in the salon by handling bookkeeping, taxes, payroll, and other business functions.

It didn’t take long for the partners to discover that by sticking to their strengths (Herman managing and Haller and Sconce doing nails), they were able to work together more effectively.

Two years ago, Herman and Haller decided that Haller should learn the management aspect of the business so that either partner could run the salon alone. Since Herman and Haller were in a position to expand, they decided to split the salon into two separate shops, one on the north side of town and one on the south side. “Although they are part of the same corporation and share the same name, they function as two completely independent salons,” says Haller.

Haller works with clients Monday through Saturday and does her bookwork at home on Sunday so that she can spend time with her son. Sometimes, though, even Sunday is taken up with extra projects in the salon. “Because I’m in the salon six days a week, Sunday is the only day my mom and I can get together to handle things like remodelling,” says Haller.

Because of their different functions, the women have their own financial arrangements. Haller, who is in the salon doing nails six days a week, draws a commission. Herman’s salary is based on the income her salon (the south shop) brings in.

Now that Haller is responsible for the business aspect of her salon, she realizes just how much work her mother has done over the years. “Most teenagers don’t really know what their parents do on a day-to-day basis to earn a living,” says Haller. “Now I can see what my mother went through. I have a lot of respect for her.” Herman, on the other, appreciates the trust she has been able to place in her daughter.

The two have grown closer over the years they’ve spent working together. “Nobody is going to treat your business like you are except for your own family,” says Haller. “It is an awesome responsibility keeping a business going. Not only are you responsible for your own income, but for the income of your employees. Working as a team with my mom alleviates some of the stress. There is a big difference between being on someone else’s payroll and being responsible for the profits and losses of your own business.”

Often, Haller and her mother deal with the stress by laughing. “We call each other a couple of times a day to exchange jokes and gossip,” explains Haller. Although the two women can act like giggling schoolgirls together, Herman is still “Mom” to Haller. “We’ve gotten a lot closer over the years, but i’ve never been able to call her Esther,” she says.

Both women are careful not to step on each other’s toes. “My mom doesn’t call me in the evenings. She knows that is my time to be with my son,” says Haller, a single mom.

The one difficulty with running a family-owned enterprise Haller claims, is that it becomes a lot more than just a job. The partners need to know they can rely on each other constantly, and their employees and clients need to know they can rely on them as well. Every decision they make affects the success of their operation. “The salon is our baby. It’s a part of the family,” Haller says. This can be rewarding, as well as exhausting, for the two women.

The most valuable thing she has learned from her mother, Haller says, is the importance of hard work. “My mother has always been a role model for me, showing me the benefits of working hard and never giving up,” she says.

Herman has learned from her daughter to loosen up and have fun. “She has always been very professional, but she had to learn to relax,” says Haller about her mother.

There is another mother-daughter set at Elegante Nails. Brenda Stacey and her daughter, Christie Williamson, are both technicians at the salon. Stacey was originally one of the Haller’s clients. Although she had another full-time job, she thought it would be fun to do nails and Haller offered to teach her. Stacey started out part time, but found herself making so much money that she quit her other job and devoted herself exclusively to nails.

Williamson followed her mother into the salon and now they even take over each other’s clientele when one goes on vacation. Williamson likes working with her mother because she gets to see her often. “Even though my mom works on the other side of the wall, there’s still plenty of time to talk during the day,” says Williamson. Like Herman and Haller, Williamson and her mother have found that working together has brought them even closer.


At Nails Etc. In Torrance, Calif., mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and nieces all share a business relationship. Sue Myhre started Nails Etc. with her daughters Debbie Scott and Cindy Kayter 16 years ago. A younger sister, Laurie Myhre, joined them eight years ago.

Debbie Scott’s father, Tom Myhre, helps out, too. After retiring two years ago, he started running errands and doing the bookwork and product ordering for the salon. “He basically keeps everything running smoothly,” says Scott.

Even Scott’s 15-year-old daughter, Casie, takes calls, makes appointments, and fixes coffee. Kayter’s two daughters come in after their ice skating lessons to answer phones and clean the workstations.

 “Our clients have become part of our large family,” says Scott. “Some of them have watched us and our children grow up. They’re doing a lot more than just coming in to get their nails done.”

Despite the homey family environment of the shop, Scott calls her parents by their first names. “I was only 23 years old when we opened the salon,” says Scott, “and I wanted to sound professional. I didn’t like the way ‘Let me ask my mom’ sounded.”

Although Scott, her mother, and her sisters spend a lot of time together in the salon, they don’t get in each other’s way. “When we’re working, we’re doing our own thing,” explains Scott. “Last night my husband asked me why I was calling my mom after I had spent the last 12 hours with her.” Scott replied that they were so busy during the day, they didn’t have a chance to talk about what was really going on in their lives.

Scott and Myhre know they can always depend on each other and that things will be taken care of. This is why Scott is so unhappy about Myhre’s talk about retirement.

 “I don’t know what I’m going to do without her,” says Scott. The women help each other when something unexpected comes up. If one needs to take a day off, the other covers for her.

Scott compares a business relationship with a marriage, in that communication is the most important element of both relationships. Differences in opinion are to be expected and can actually enhance relationships. When handled effectively, they promote a more creative, well-informed decision-making process. Scott feels that she and her mother have been successful because they take the time to hear each other out. When something bothers them, they get it out in the open and work through it together. “It’s hard to stay mad at family members for long,” says Scott. “When we do have a disagreement, we tend to make up quickly, knowing we have to face each other at family gatherings and holidays.”


Brenda Copper and her mother, Della Bambino-Hann, know how important communication and compromise are to running a successful salon. They opened Tips to Toes in Pasadena, Md., three and a half years ago. From the start it was a 50/50 partnership. Each has an equal say in decisions and an equal share in the profits.

The partnership started when Bambino-Hann’s husband passed away and she decided to open her own business with Cooper. Bambino-Hann had the customer service know-how to complement Copper’s salon experience. From business courses, magazine articles, and books, the partners learned the mechanics of operating a salon.

Copper says that anyone going into business together should make sure their expectations are realistic. “Each person has different opinions and they might clash when trying to decide how to run the business. There was a lot of compromise involved the first year.

 “Most of our disagreements would have occurred whether or not we were working as a mother-daughter team,” says Copper. When starting any business, basic decisions have to be made and the partners are not always going to see eye to eye. Initially, Copper found she was more willing to take chances. “I wanted to offer a wide variety of polish colors, Copper explains, but Bambino-Hann was more cautious about investing in merchandise.

The two found they often had different ideas, but soon learned that talking it out always brought a solution. Both women realized the importance of employee benefits, although they disagreed over what those benefits should be. For example, when Copper wanted to offer paid holidays to employees, Bambino-Hann was hesistant. But after she listened to Copper’s ideas, she was supportive.

Despite their differences, Copper and Bambino-Hann complement each other. Bambino-Hann thinks through situations---considering every alternative and remaining objective. Working with her mother, Copper has learned to consider all the angles of a situation. She has learned that she needs to have a clear head to make a decision.

 “I get hot-headed when I’m upset and I’ve learned that I need to wait and cool down before I jump to conclusions or make a decision too quickly,” says Copper. “You don’t think so much about raising your voice to a relative, but different rules apply when you have clients in front of you.”

Copper and Bambino-Hann don’t discuss business at the shop. Instead, they meet away from work at least once a week and get everything out in the open.

 “I can’t make a decision with clients around,” says Bambino-Hann. “I feel like I am being pressured and I don’t need the extra stress when I’m working.”In a neutral setting, they can deal with their problems and make well-thought-out decisions.

 “Now we know each other’s moods and quirks and how to deal with them,” Copper says. Copper and Bambino-Hann like the security of working with family members.  Copper, who will be going on maternity leave shortly, knows she leaves the business in good hands. She says. “You know you can trust your mom. You don’t have to worry about your partner running off and embezzling your money.”

Regardless of how these business people run their salons, they all have found their own unique formula for success. Working with family members can be an advantage in terms of security and trust. Although each family has its own system, one common element has proven to be an indispensable tool for them---communication. Differences in opinion can be a positive force when each side is willing to listen to the other, accept praise and criticism equally and share ideas.

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