Let’s face it, going to work can be a pain. Open plan offices are too noisy and impersonal, small offices are too claustrophobic, no one ever clears up in the kitchen. The vending machine steels money. Bosses are unreasonable and bullying. The pay is inadequate, the days too long, weekends too short and holidays hardly ever come. Well, now I’m self-employed – I decide when to make a cup of coffee, and if the kitchen’s a mess – it’s because I haven’t tidied up after breakfast. I can drink the coffee in peace and quiet, if I choose, have a little nap afterwards (Please don’t draw this last comment to the attention of my partner, she still has to go out to work)
HMRC class me as a ‘sole-trader’, but of course photographing and filming are very social, interactive and deeply personal – you have to look in people’s eyes. My trade is capturing a person’s soul! But once back in the office, and making business decisions, I can feel very alone, it’s all down to me! So that’s when I go to business networking. It was at one of these meetings that I met Stephen Taylor. His business is called Taylored Room Solutions, designing and fitting bedrooms, kitchens and offices. It’s a partnership between Stephen and his sister, Julia. So they’re never alone making decisions. Which made me curious; how can a business relationship with a sibling, transcend childhood resentments, from parental favouritism to broken toys?
I sat down with Stephen and Julia in their New Malden office and showroom, upstairs at Big Yellow Storage, only recently officially opened by the Mayor. The good news is that they’re really busy. As I promised not to take up too much of their time they insisted it was not a problem, I could have as long as I liked. Here’s a clue to making any partnership work – be a nice person and find a partner who’s just as nice. First credit then must go to Mum and Dad Taylor. “Oh our parents think we’re mad.” Julia tells me, I imagine most parents would worry if two of their kids gave up good jobs to go into business. “But at the beginning, we needed some money and they stepped up with that.” Then she turns to Stephen – “Oh, I forgot to tell you, mum definitely want us to do her kitchen and no mates rates.” “Oh good, double the price then.”
There seems to be a relaxed ease between them that only siblings could have – a brother or sister can know someone’s sensitivities better than anyone. Know how to avoid them, or apply coercive pressure! I ask Stephen how they’d come to give up their jobs and set up in business together. “She bullied me!” Which Julia denies, explaining that she’d been unhappy in her last job and thinking of setting up on her own. At the same time she was wondering if Stephen would be interested. It took Julia’s husband Mark to start the conversation between the two of them. “We talked and talked.” Stephen says. “And then we talked some more. I don’t think either of our partners saw us for months.” I ask if they’d known whether they’d be able to work together. ”We were averagely close.” A guarded answer from Stephen. “We always got on well, I always had a soft spot for Stephen.” Julia drops to a whisper, perhaps so that neither of the other two siblings will hear. Julia’s the oldest, Stephen the youngest of the four and they both say they wouldn’t do this with either of the other two. As Stephen got into his teenage, Julia had already left home for college, so they missed some of the ‘difficult’ years. Instead, Stephen had someone he could talk to, out of the home, but in the family. “Julia was living in a bedsit, I’d go and stay with her. We’d go to the cinema or ice skating, that’s where our friendship developed.”
Their office is not big, Stephen sits with his back to the window, Julia’s has the window to her side and her back to Stephen. “There was a natural fit.” She says. “I did furniture design and worked for Sharps Bedrooms, Dream Doors, Kitchen Magic.” “She did a degree in flat-pack.” Her brother interjects. She visits the clients, does the design work and the costing, while Stephen runs the office, the financial management and marketing. “When we started, we had a list showing the split of responsibilities.” He explains. “The thing is, we have 100% trust, neither of us is going to run off with the bank balance.” Julia reinforces the trust and adds, “We try to have a weekly meeting when we both say what we’re doing, but it’s often cancelled because we’re busy.” “The trouble is, our meetings are never 10 minutes.” Stephen says with a smile. “Because we talk and talk, and then we talk some more and then we digress on to something else. But, as a small business, we ought to be able to react really quickly, but we don’t because we talk it through forever. We need to able to say, ‘ I made this decision because…’ And then, if it’s wrong learn from it.”
One of the disadvantages of being of business with someone you like must be a temptation to just spend time enjoying each others company. But what happens when they fall out? Did the Taylored Room Solutions business plan have a section headed ‘Dispute Resolution’? “No!” They cry in unison, “When it kicks off, keep away!” Stephen warns. “The first few times we fell out out… oh dear. It was difficult. It was always something minor, I understood something one way, and Julia another.” “We go really quiet, so we know something’s up.” “Then there’s a text or an email from whichever one feels they’re slightly less to blame.”
So would they recommend a sibling partnership? Stephen answers first. “Make sure your personalities are compatible, and complementary. This wouldn’t work if we were both creative.” How important has the support of partners at home been? “Daimon (Stephen’s partner) is very supportive, he’s not involved in the business but if he sees a decision is emotional rather than rational, he’ll say so.” Julia makes a similar point, “Mark (her husband) is the same, he doesn’t want to be involved, but it’s great to have him there to bat things off.” “They love us, but they have an outside perspective and can tell us if they think we’re doing something stupid.” Starting a business always involves a sacrifice. “Working twice the hours than I was before for far less money, and you can think, what’s the point?” Stephen asks. “But there’s value in this.” Julia says.
As we finish our talk, Julia goes back to advice they would give. “It does change your relationship. We were brother and sister, but also friends. Going into business has changed that.” From what I’ve seen I’d say it’s added to their relationship, brother, sister, friends… and now partners.