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All In The Family

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Families can be loving, supportive - and dysfunctional. 
So does it really work if you go into business with your own clan? 
By Aine Dowling. 

When you're running a business, you face so many pressures such as managing cash flow, motivating staff and simply getting customers through the door. Add to that the complicated relationships that can sometimes be found in families and you could have a recipe for disaster. 

However, some use their strong family bonds to create powerhouse ventures and are slowly turning their small business into family empires. Latte meets four women who are successfully keeping their business all in the family. 

Lauren Chang Sommer 
Moi Moi Fine Jewellery 

"Square cut or pear shape, these rocks won't lose their shape." So sang Marilyn in the famous song "Diamonds are a girl's best friend". Sisters Lauren Chang Sommer and Alana Chang Weirick agree. The pair are co-founders and directors of Moi Moi Jewellery, which has stores in Sydney, Perth and Noosaville. 

Lauren, 32, and Alana, 30, opened their first store in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney in 2004, featuring a unique stone called Moissanite. 

These are not cubic zirconias. Nor are they diamonds. But these laboratory created stones are very similar to diamonds and boast the same kind of fire and sparkle of the coveted gem. Lauren says: "They have as much sparkle, depth and hardness as the real thing at a quarter of the price." 

In addition to moissanite, Moi Moi (pronounced moy moy) also sell created sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Lauren says these jewels have the same chemical, physical, structural and optical qualities of mined jewels. Best of all, they are conflict-free, which means they have not been sold in a war zone or to finance insurgent activity. 

Prior to founding Moi Moi, Lauren and her husband owned a picture framing business and small art gallery. With her business background and a Bachelor of Art Theory degree, Lauren's interest in the stone was piqued after her Dad brought a piece of moissanite back from overseas. 

"I was looking for diamond earrings for myself and diamonds were just way too expensive," she says. "Cubic zirconia didn't have the sparkle and quality I was after. I kept going back to the moissanite and then discovered that it wasn't available in Australia at the time, and I just thought - well, here's an opportunity." 

At the time, her sister Alana had a background in communication. Lauren says launching the business was a steep learning curve for both of them. The duo managed to create a brand name, store, website and jewellery range within five months. 

Tense Moments 
"We both have very different roles in the business and we're very different personalities. Alana is very organised and thorough, whereas I'm more creative. In the beginning, there were some tense moments - there was such a lot to learn, not just about the business but about each other. 

"Now I think we tend to compromise a little more, but then I think we understand each other better too. We've probably only had four or five arguments in the six years we've been working together; I think that's pretty good." 

Lauren runs the marketing and public relations in the business while Alana focuses on production, publications and their website. 

Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength, winning numerous awards. After establishing a presence in Sydney, Moi Moi has opened another two stores - Perth and Noosaville - and are now talking to potential franchisees. 

It seems that many customers are happily embracing moissanite. "The moissanite on its own is the biggest seller in our Sydney store," says Lauren. "But in Perth, our pink diamonds are more popular as they so closely resemble the natural pink Argyle diamond which is mined in Western Australia." 

Splitting Leadership 
Both girls are managing directors - but who's the boss? 
Lauren laughs: "I did say, just before we went into the business, that it would either work out really well or we'd end up hating each other. Fortunately, it's worked out. I also think that at the start of any business - family or partnership, you have to decide at the very beginning how you're going to deal with issues and problems that may arise. Talking it through and having a plan for that is a good strategy." 

Lauren and Alana's parents also helped set up the business and are still involved part-time. Dad, Stephen, helps on the production side and mum, Mary, does the books. Lauren says the best thing about working together is that they can cover for each other if one has to be somewhere else, and support each other. Lauren also sites trust as a big positive. She says: "Our stock is worth a lot and having family you can trust to look after it as you would yourself is a big plus." 

However, she says there are drawbacks. "We find it difficult to get together as a family sometimes as there's always one family member in the store," she says. 

"Planning a family function is like a military operation. Alana got married overseas and we had to close the shop for a week and face the loss of income - we managed to tie it in with a small renovation so the shop would have been closed for the part of the time anyway, but it was a big exercise to get everyone in the same place at the same time." 

Lauren now has a two-year-old daughter and another baby due in October this year. Would she expect her children to follow her in the business? Lauren is adamant: "Absolutely not. I wouldn't expect them to do something they didn't truly love and were passionate about. Going into a family business needs a lot of consideration and you have to be really careful not to damage close relationships. I'd really like them to find their own way in the world."