Office meetings between Sara Hanna and Charlotte Ayoub are a brief affair. By the time the kettle has boiled the mother-and-daughter team have caught up and are back to work at their home-cumheadquarters in Northamptonshire. Speed is of the essence as they capitalise on a new burst of interest in TLC Sport, their women’s leisurewear range, after a dramatic facelift. “People often say, ‘I don’t know how you can work with your mum’, but I don’t think I’d give as much to anyone else as I do to her,” said Ayoub, 26, who studied law before joining her mother at work in 2011. “Our principles and ethics are the same and that’s why the redesign worked.”

Hanna, 50, established the business, formerly the Leotard Company, in 1989 after working as a fitness instructor in Cairo. Her flair for design quickly made a name for the brand, but more recently its outdated website saw it struggle to stand out in the competitive sportswear market.

The managing director knew it was time for a change, but a new business partner in the form of daughter Charlotte took even her by surprise. “I never encouraged her to work for me as I’ve seen what it can do to families,” said Hanna, “but we complement each other perfectly; she’s very calm and polite, I’m less so, but it’s a balance that works.”

That is not to say their working relationship is without its challenges. “We have quite different styles; I like silence, while Mum will be doing 20 things at once,” said Ayoub. “Working right next to her is my worst nightmare. She’s a very passionate person, so if there’s a problem with her laptop I’ll know about it.” Their solution is to manage different aspects of the business from opposite ends of their HQ. Hanna designs the clothing in their studio and oversees manufacturing at their factory in Cairo. Ayoub has focused on modernizing and streamlining the business.

The brand was relaunched with a new website and logo in April. “I designed our original logo while pregnant with Charlotte, but I’ve learnt to be open to change,” said Hanna. “I’ve learnt to listen to her and she’s learnt to trust me. We both know the value of compromise.”

Ayoub is also creating a social media presence to attract a new, younger clientele. “It’s been a steep learning curve but we finally feel like we’re taking back control. And that’s been reflected in new customers,” she said. Traffic to the website has risen 20% since the relaunch. Also, the company has begun working with big retailers such as Tesco.

While keeping business in the family is nothing new, TLC Sport is one of a growing number of businesses that are being reinvigorated by ambitious offspring. Research from the Institute for Family Business shows the number of family- run businesses has risen by 30,000 since 2010. Fiona Graham at the institute suggested their growing appeal was down to having a shared vision. “Parents and children have an opportunity to learn from each other and build a business that reflects their values,” she said. “Their multigenerational outlook means they plan for the long term and make sustainable business decisions.”


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