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The rise of the mommy economy

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Articles - May 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
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The rise of the mommy economy
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A former executive with KinderCare, Kelley Peake opened Play Boutique so she could spend more time with her family and achieve a better work/life balance. The indoor playground and café “is a great place for moms to meet other moms and relax a little bit,” says Peake.
// Photo by Eric Näslund

Like “supermom” and “opt-out mom,” “power mom” is something of a media-generated term; few women fit so neatly into a single category. With that disclaimer, power mom is also a good faith effort to describe an emerging reality. In the late 1990s, authors Patricia Cobe and Ellen Parlapiano coined the word “mompreneur,” which typically refers to a woman who left the workplace to raise children, then launched a business instead of returning to work. But as such businesses grow in number and clout, even that term is becoming outdated, many women business owners say.

“Mompreneur — it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s cute, you have a business,’” says Marlynn Schotland, who founded Power MOB, a professional organization for mom-owned businesses in 2006. A former public relations director for the Art Institute of Portland, Schotland, 38, left the corporate world after the birth of her first child, and now owns a design and strategy studio in addition to working as a regional district manager for Plum District, a San Francisco-based daily deals site aimed specifically at mothers. “We call ourselves the mom sales force; flexing our professional skills while making calls around drop-off time.” (Power MOB shuttered last year, and Schotland now holds informal mom’s networking events).

A subset of women business owners, power moms/mompreneurs embrace their essential mommy-ness, with products, services and/or aspirations that revolve around kids and families. Historically, such enterprises have been ignored by the entrepreneurial community. But in the past couple of years, “investors and VCs are definitely starting to take note,” Schotland says. One example is Plum District, which recently went through Series C funding in addition to acquiring two other companies.

Bound by their common maternal ownership, the businesses themselves run the gamut: big and small, virtual and brick and mortar. In Oregon, which has about 108,000 women-owned firms, up 35% since 1997, mom-owned businesses gDiapers and Little Busy Bodies, which makes Boogie Wipes, a saline wipe for kids, have hit the big leagues. The former has increased sales 50% annually since 2005 and recently expanded into Great Britain and France. Beaverton-based Little Busy Bodies grossed $10 million last year, and is in the process of being partially acquired by Nehemiah Manufacturing, a Cincinnati-based company. Co-founder Julie Pickens, who refers to herself as a “Boogie Mom,” will retain her ownership in the company.

Smaller enterprises include Play Boutique, a Beaverton and Lake Oswego hybrid indoor playground/cafe/school founded by Kelley Peake; SpielWerk Toys, a traditional toy store in Northeast Portland; and Wyatt-MacKenzie, a Deadwood, Ore.-based publisher of books authored almost exclusively by moms, among them Bailey’s Mom 3.0.

Today’s mompreneurs are as diverse as any group of entrepreneurs. But there are some common features. If today’s crop of mom businesses differ from those in the past, one reason is a demonstrated interest in building community, a mother-hen sensibility that intersects with a business environment favoring both the local neighborhood store and global online gathering places. Thus SpielWerk’s owner, Stacee Wion, says she was inspired to create “a community resource, a place where families and kids grow with us.” She also is planning a line of locally crafted toys. For her part, Dornfest, a former technical writer, says she started Parent Hacks “not to make money, but to create a place for community … where parenting is as much about hacks as real expertise.”

 



 

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