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The rise of the Mompreneur
Writer:Story and photos by Elizabeth Bokfi

entrepreneur n business person who attempts to make a profit by risk and initiative
mom
n an informal word for MOTHER
mompreneur
n an entrepreneur that is also a mother

Canadian English Dictionary, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. 2004

Taking the plunge and striking out on their own, many moms are choosing to open home-based businesses that allow them the time to pursue family interests while providing a source of income.

Julie Laurin from Midland, Epicure Selections sales consultant and mother of two, first heard about Epicure Selections after the discovery of her infant daughter’s severe food allergies. A friend’s invitation to a home presentation of the products, just as Laurin neared the end of her maternity leave, dramatically changed the course of Laurin’s employment and the health of her daughter. After taste-testing Epicure samples at the presentation and learning the product line was all-natural and unprocessed, Laurin decided to host her own presentation and later joined parent company Victorian Epicure Inc. as an independent sales consultant.

“On our learning journey about food allergies, we began to encounter many other individuals and families that were struggling to find not only healthier choices for meal preparations, but also ‘safe’ ones,” Laurin explains. “We (Laurin and her husband) were amazed at the number of food allergy cases in our immediate circle. So we got to thinking that if we became distributors of this product line, we could be making considerable changes in people’s lives - that we may have found a niche market to grow on.” Aside from the most important benefit of becoming a mompreneur – her daughter’s improved health - Laurin has reaped other significant benefits from working at home.

“Having an office in my home permitted me to remain here with my children for the last four years, and still contribute a significant share to our family income,” she says. “Time flexibility is the biggest plus. I can drop my calls to be with (the children). I am able to commit to volunteering in both their classrooms once a week and never miss a school trip, or be with them no questions asked if they are not well.”

The decision to stay at home with her children was initially a tough one. But, four years later, Laurin takes satisfaction from the fact that the income from her business is now close to replacing that from her previous employment outside the home. “Working only half the hours to earn (the same amount) has meant that my children get the best of both worlds.

“They are now old enough to help with my business - labelling jars, stamping catalogues, etc. It is turning into a family business.” Laurin cites other benefits that have made her decision to leave her bilingual office administration position at a local printing company one she hasn’t regretted. “Some of the greatest financial advantages are the income tax deductions: car expenses, telephone, internet, hydro, some groceries, training, and insurance. I purchase my Epicure products at a discount, so I save on food costs and I am home to prepare home-cooked meals every day for my family. We save on not having to eat out or purchase pre-packaged convenience foods, being able to remain a one-car family and I do not need a large business clothing closet.” She also saves on childcare costs, booking business presentations when her husband is home.

 

Life is very green on this side of the fence for Bradford mompreneurs and business partners Laura Jennekens and Vicky Gerke. The two friends opened their homebased eco business, Echoes in the Attic, on the heels of Jennekens’ illness, in what Jennekens describes as “a desperate act of recycling.”

While in treatment for cancer in 2003 and 2004, Jennekens cut off her hair, braided the strands into several individual braids then sewed the braids into a bandana, creating a faux biker chick look. From her initial recycling idea came the concept of reusing fabric and upholstery remnants to create one-of-a-kind handbags. Gerke, her then-sewing teacher, had the skills to help Jennekens bring the business idea to life. They sacrificed their own salaries for the first year and a half to make it happen, working from a home studio and office, even involving their children during the process. Their first order arrived out of Halifax in December 2005.

Initially, they sourced fabrics from secondhand stores. A year later, a childhood friend discussing Echoes’ recycling of fabrics for use in their handbags caught the attention of Robert Allen Fabrics, prompting Robert Allen to ask if Echoes in the Attic would be interested in their sample swatches and discontinued smaller bits of fabric. Thrilled to have a reputable fabric donor, Jennekens and Gerke now had name-brand clout.

 

Production and demand rapidly spiralled upwards after other companies such as office furniture manufacturer Global Group International of North York, Ethan Allen in Thornhill and Saturday Afternoons in Barrie began contributing castoffs to Echoes in the Attic. Production soared – from 30 bags per week to 60-75.

The connection with Global Group turned out to be one of Echoes’ biggest breaks. Echoes in the Attic, in conjunction with Global, designed and produced 300 swag bags that were filled with eco products from Grand & Toy for the Toronto Film Festival. “They were a huge hit and our joint venture with Global will hopefully be the first of many,” says Jennekens. MTL Textiles in Philadelphia further expanded their selection of designer fabrics. Fabrics bearing the Brunschwig and Fils label, sold only to architects and interior designers, were now at Echoes’ disposal, elevating their own brand’s status.

Sending out press releases and launching their web store caught the attention of a few national magazines and green retailers. “Since our launch in December 2005, we’ve stocked more than 100 stores, settling into a comfortable 50 that consistently re-order,” says Jennekens. “We’ve had 14 e-tailers, with nine that do well with our product and consistently re-order.”

The growing business has become a family affair, inspiring the kids to pitch in. “Vicky houses all the raw material that we gather and often her two, over-six-feet-tall boys are the ones schlepping the huge bags into her basement/studio. My 12-year-old son is a budding ad-man who came up with one of our funniest and most accurate slogans to date: ‘One lady’s trash is another lady’s purse!’” Jennekens’ 16-year-old daughter models for the company.

Combining motherhood with a successful home business has its ups and downs. “Some days are great,” says Jennekens. “I get up before kids and hubby and get work accomplished like a whirling (tornado). Once I hustle everyone out the door... my day really begins - even though I’ve already been at it for three hours.”

For Jennekens, there are more perks than drawbacks to working from home. Being home to look after the children when they’re sick, and having the option of running forgotten lunches to school, are just a couple of them. “Plus,” adds this practical mompreneur, “working in my jammies is a bonus.” SLM