Robert Duffy can think of 30 different occasions on which people have stopped him in a London street. Tourists approach him holding cameras. Americans, he notes, are particularly fond of having their photograph taken with him and his van.
Mr Duffy, 47, has not appeared on Big Brother, in a film, or as a colourful character in EastEnders. Instead, it is his van that attracts the attention. Or rather, the company name printed on its side: R Duffy & Daughters Ltd. "Since I set up this company, I can't tell you how many people ask about the name," he says. "I pick up work from it. People see the van in traffic and remember the name, then give us a call."
Mr Duffy chose the name for the personal touch – he has two girls, aged eight and 12, at least one of whom he hopes will one day join him in the business – and because he thought it was unusual. He's right – figures from Companies House show that in December last year there were 15,184 companies with "& Son" or "& Sons", compared with 156 names ending with "& Daughter" or "& Daughters".
The reasons for this startling difference are a mystery, especially as it is often easier for women to thrive in family firms than in large corporations. Research from the bank Coutts & Co in 2005 showed that women are 50 per cent more likely to achieve board-level success in their careers within family businesses. The Government Equalities Office (GEO) is mystified (the issue is such a fresh one that it has never looked into it), as are leading businesswomen in the UK.
Dame Mary Perkins, the founder of Specsavers, which has an annual turnover in excess of £1bn, said: "I've no idea why you have that difference. I suppose women would often marry and have to move away, whereas sons would tend to stay put in one place."
And Deborah Meaden, an investor on the TV show Dragons' Den, said: "I think it's obvious that historically women were disadvantaged and often passed over in favour of nephews if there were no sons. I don't think that's true any more, but there is that legacy, and there's also a tradition of not changing the name of a business."
Anita Brightley-Hodges, the director of Family Business Place, which promotes family businesses in the UK, says: "Multi-generational family businesses historically are very male-oriented. They often made stuff – manufacturing or construction." But, she says, these days women are "equally skilled. There are high-profile women as role models, attitudes are changing, and we have talented, entrepreneurial women who are fantastic assets in family businesses."
While the number of companies that include daughters in the name remains small, they have increased 32 per cent over the past four years. The types of business vary, from breakdown recovery to building restoration to the UK's leading provider of gourmet salad dressings. Some daughters are co-founders or employees of the firm; other companies, like R Duffy & Daughters Ltd, are named in honour of young daughters who may join in the future. Suzanne Hearnden-Smith, who established Hearnden & Daughters Funeral Directors in Middlesex, chose the name to emphasis a feminine, sympathetic element that she believes is crucial to the company's success.
The scarcity of daughters in company names has the added bonus of attracting noticeable consumer attention. "I recognise the marketing value," says Ms Meaden. "You do register the '& Daughters' because it's different."
And Bethany Morgan, from W Morgan & Daughters Recovery Services in Kent, says: 'One of the main reasons we decided on our company name was to stand out. We thought it would help people remember us."
Janet Field & Father
Jewellers (used to be John Field & Daughter Jewellers), Derby. Owned and run by Janet Field, 50, father John Field, 81, still involved. He owned the business previously
Janet "Dad started the business over 50 years ago. We have been in the same location for 40 years. I got involved when I was 12, when I had a Saturday job. I went to college, learning jewellery design and manufacturing, then worked in Bond Street and Knightsbridge. In 2000, I decided to come full-time into the shop. It seemed the right time. The name changed when Dad retired six years ago; I totally revamped the shop. I'm surprised there are so few parent-daughter firms. If you've only got daughters and you want the business to carry on, you don't think about it, it's natural."
Bryan Williamson & Daughters
Restoration and preservation for listed houses. Owned by Bryan Williamson, 57; two of his four daughters, Kelly (26) and Lauren (23) Williamson, work for him
Bryan "I set up the business 20 years ago. When the girls were young they'd come into the workshop and ask to help. They left school and went to do other jobs. Then one called and asked to come for a few weeks and earn a bit of money, and never left. We renovate Grade I and Grade II listed buildings. People tend to have a macho image of the building industry, but I've got another apprentice girl as well. Two of my daughters have worked with me for about four years.
"Lauren does painting, decorating, brickwork, and plastery. Kelly has taken time off because she's had a baby but her speciality is restoring doors. To be honest, there's not a lot they can't do. We've always been a close family – my wife does the accounts. We employ eight people full-time, and business is going well. People ask me if I wish I had sons, but I was blessed with four daughters and I get on with them."
Davies & Daughters
Building contractors, London. Run by Trevor Davies, 60. Two daughters work for him full-time: Ashley, 25, and Lauren, 23
Trevor "I've been running the firm for some years now but I changed the name about five years ago when my daughters started working for me. It used to be Davies & Sons – I took over from my dad. Building is not normally something that girls go into, but you see a difference now."
Lauren "I've been working for my dad since I was 19. We're family, so he knows we can be trusted. Ashley's usually on site, and I work from the office at home. People are surprised at the name – they ask if it's a gimmick."
Ashley "Often I'm the only woman on site, but I think the clients like it. One day my dad was desperate for a painter. I loved it so much I carried on, and learnt wallpapering and spraying cornices. I'd like to take it over from my dad, but I can't see him retiring any time soon."
Hearnden & Daughters
Funeral directors, Middlesex. Established by Suzanne Hearnden-Smith in 1998 with financial guidance from her father. Suzanne, 33, now runs the business with her husband, Lee, and they have two small daughters
Suzanne "Hearnden sounds like my father – I wanted some history. But the daughters give it a feminine touch. A lot of funeral directors are male-oriented businesses, and we find we are a lot more sympathetic. I have three sisters who were also going to join, but they went different ways. I set the business up with my father in 2007, but I bought the company from him and I run it. Now I have two daughters, which works well with the name. My seven-year-old, Charlotte, has shown an interest in the business, and Rebecca is four. If they took it over that would really be amazing.
"I think it's a big risk to put '& Daughters' – it's always '& Sons'. But it has actually served us well. A lot of people have chosen us because of the '& Daughters'. We have men that carry the coffins, but women run the front end of the company and see everything through from start to finish. We provide a sympathetic arm around the shoulder, and often occasions end with a lot of the family hugging us. It is an honour to be part of their day."
Mary Berry & Daughter Ltd
Buckinghamshire. Salad dressings and sauces. Set up and run by chef Mary Berry, 75, and her daughter, Annabel Bosher, 39
Mary "My husband always said my salad dressing was the best and asked why didn't I make it commercially. I was doing a television programme at the time and was terribly busy, and Annabel said she would do it if I gave her the recipe. She went off to the Royal Show with 300 bottles, rented a stand, and sold the lot. Now our products are available nationally in supermarkets and farm shops. We make salad dressings, sauces, chutneys, and now cake mixes."
Annabel "I've always loved Mum's dressings, I made them in the kitchen and designed the labels. We work from my parents' house. I've just had my third child so juggle the business with my children. My son is interested in the firm, but my husband has a six-generation building company and the boys might join him. It's up to them."
R Duffy & Daughters Ltd
Middlesex. Plastering and waste disposal. Set up and run by Robert Duffy, 47. Two daughters: Orla, eight, and Isabella, 12
Robert "I've got two little girls and when I decided to go limited I had to think about a name. I suggested 'R Duffy & Daughters Ltd' to my accountants and they thought it was a great idea. I wanted the girls' name on the van and for them to feel involved. One will work with me for sure – at weekends I have to sneak out the back door or she'll chase after me. I worked as a sole trader for years... Now I employ up to 25 people. I'd like to see it grow."