“My son and I work together every single day. Here’s how we make it work.”

Being in business with family is hard work. We asked this Kiwi mum how she and her son keep it professional. 

Wanaka-based Fiona Tomlinson and son Rogie have been working together in the food and beverage business for 6 years.  First, with The Damson Collection – a selection of liqueurs and condiments made with Hawke’s Bay fruit; and more recently with the launch of Sidekick Soda – a modern twist on the classic ‘shrub’ drink that Fiona’s mum used to make for her more than 40 years ago. 

“When I was a kid, mum made me drinks with apple cider vinegar and fruit,” explains Fiona. “Mum believed that if you had good gut health then you would probably be fine health-wise. She was probably right – she lived to 89!”

“Most of our ingredients are locally sourced, the plums are from Hawke’s Bay, apple cider vinegar comes from Nelson, and our honey is beautiful New Zealand bush honey. The Mango however comes from North Queensland – we figured that is close enough!”.

Working as a mother-and-son duo in business has its ups and downs. After navigating business together through Aotearoa’s lockdowns (while living in different cities) was one of the most challenging times, Fiona believes that when you have worked with someone in a challenging time, you get a great understanding of how each other’s strengths are critical in business.  

“During lockdown times, Rogie was able to quickly adapt the website into an online shopping site,” she recalls. “We were still supplying a small number of supermarkets during lockdown but 90 per cent of our business customers were gone. He sorted all our Facebook advertising and dealt with all the IT stuff and picked and packed all our orders. I’m trying to remember what I did during Lockdown – I was definitely juggling a lot but it was mostly production and compliance and talking to customers on the phone”.

“If it hadn’t been for Rogie’s speedy pivot, we would have been in trouble. I know we weren’t alone in this nightmare but his smarts and agility made things a lot quicker.”

Having proven himself, it seemed like a no-brainer that with any projects moving forward, Fiona and her son would work together, and they have with success. She admits that they have an exit-strategy should the partnership get to a point where it doesn’t work for them both, but here’s how they’ve made it work: 

I try to not go into mum-mode

“In saying that, not having strict work hours helps with our working dynamic. If Rogie wants to go for a run, ski or kayak, he can … as long as he is getting work done.”

We focus on the end goal

“If we get stuck on an issue we generally go for a hike in the hills. It seems to help us work our way through the conflict – fresh air and the mountains do that for you. In fact, most of our best work is done while walking.” 

“The absolute best thing about working together is knowing that we both have the same end-goal with the brand. We both have the same vision and are prepared to put in the hard yards to get there”.

Be mindful of the boundaries

“There is so much going in right now, with Sidekick Soda’s launch in the USA and sales in New Zealand. One of the benefits of living in the same house is that we can talk about the business all of the time, but one of the downsides is that we can talk business all of the time,” laughs  Fiona. “Occasionally, one of us has to ‘call off’ the work chat.” 

Outdoor Therapy 

Spending time outdoors is great for the body and mind. Rogie is currently training for the Coast to Coast, and Fiona enjoys running with her dogs or hanging out with her horse. 

Celebrating The Small Stuff

“Rogie is good at celebrating the small wins, and I am getting better at it. We got a bell owned by my mum out of a storage box recently, and decided we would ring it every time we got a new stockist (yes, inspired by Netflix’s The Parisian Agency)”.

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