Running a Mom-Friendly Business (in Heels)
Before there was a Saturday Night Live skit making fun of her accent, and long before she had a hit reality TV show, Rosie Pope was a successful mompreneur. Her maternity concierge service—in which she's something of a freelance mother's helper—is the focus of Bravo's Pregnant in Heels. Pope also designs her own line of maternity clothing and owns a couture maternity clothing boutique in Manhattan's Upper East Side. In 2010, she started MomPrep, a training facility for expectant moms. In between taping the show and designing the next season of maternity clothes, Pope talked to Inc.com's Tiffany Black to answer questions from Inc.'s Twitter and Facebook fans on running a business, maintaining work-life balance, and Pope's infamous accent.
One of our Twitter followers, @SpelaStore, is a mom-owned childrens store and café in Pennsylvania. The owners want to know how to get local moms to shop at their store.
When we first started this business we did everything wrong. We did the thing that everyone does, which is model yourself on a really big business. You think big advertising budget, big snazzy store. But people don't care about that, they care about the product. Especially if you are a mom-owned business it's all word of mom marketing. Honestly, spending a dollar on marketing or advertising at this stage of their business doesn't make any sense. They have to make the moms like them and if the moms like them, all the other moms will come. It means finding in their community a local mommy group and they should offer them things for free. They could have some kind of interactive thing so people can come in and see that they are a legitimate and great business, and then they will spread the word-of-mouth.
Facebook Fan Mina Di Marco Rosas asks: How do you balance it all out?
I'm very lucky that I own my own business. I get to make my own schedule to a large extent. It does seem like I'm doing it all, but on the other hand I don't have to report in to a boss. So I don't want to take too much credit because that really does make a huge difference. But I think the most important thing is schedule. It sounds boring but it's everything. Every Mom I know is more efficient than anybody I have ever met. If you explain to your boss that maybe you might need to leave at 5 o'clock but you absolutely will work again at 7:30, and you will probably end up doing more work, they might give you a chance. I've had a few clients who managed to persuade their bosses to work with them on their schedule, and it normally works out really well. Try not to be too afraid to ask your boss.
How much sleep do you get? Do you ever take a day for yourself? What about a vacation?
I think I get like four or five hours a night. I gave up the notion that I was ever going to sleep, too, because that just makes you depressed if you think that you might get a full night's sleep. Once I gave that up, it was good!
Nadim Majid asked on Facebook: How do you achieve balance with family, business and life?
One thing that is really important that I haven't been very good at but I've got much better at is being in the moment. Because what would happen is even though I would structure my life so that I spent more time with my kids when I was with them I would constantly be thinking about everything else. And then when I wasn't with them I would be constantly thinking about how I ruined that time with my kids because I was thinking about something else. It was just a lose-lose situation. I'm getting much better about having to be in the moment and turn off whatever else is going on.
Melissa Delphant Livingston asked on Facebook: Where do you advertise? How do your clients find you?
We only ever once spent money on advertising. That was the first week that we opened and it was the stupidest thing we've ever done. If you are going to do advertising you can't just do one-off advertising and expect it to make a difference. On the face value the ad is not worth it for a new business, new mompreneur business—but what you might be able to get from the people you are advertising with might be worth it.
Erin Serrano asked on Facebook: What is the craziest request you have ever gotten from a mom-to-be?
The craziest request is that I had to make a couture gown to give birth in. It's a silk dress so you can't wash silk. Dry cleaning is a no-go because everything at the hospital has to be sterile. So we had to put it under UV lights, like the ones you use to dry your nails at the nail salon. Its the only way we could get it sterile. We had her requirements aesthetically and then we had the hospitals requirements. So it had to be able to open in the back in case there was an emergency and they had to whip it off. And she had to be able to breast feed because in New York City, in most hospitals now, the moment you give birth they give you the baby to feed immediately. So there were a lot of requirements to this dress. Everything had to be sanitary so that's what I did—a sanitary couture gown.
Can you talk a bit about the development of your business from a store and fashion label to a studio and concierge service?
I didn't just want to be a fashion label. I wanted to provide everything that a pregnant woman needed. So that's why we started the studio. The studio (MomPrep) has everything from prenatal yoga to baby CPR and Lamaze. Those classes are $30. New York City is a fast-paced place so women would come in and say I don't have time to take your classes I need you to come and meet with me. So it started off much less extravagant. People would want us to come to their house on Sunday and teach all the classes.
A lot of Wall Street woman wanted us to bring wardrobes to them. They were used to shopping at Barneys and Saks and having them come and bring them the clothes. They wanted the same thing but while they were pregnant. So we started tailoring these packages to them, and that's when things started to get a little bit crazy. Because I had access to all the greatest people whether it was throwing a baby shower or designing a nursery so then they would be like, "Hey Rosie, do you know anybody that can design a nursery for me?" And I'd be like, "hmmm, yes I do. Me." And then it just started building from there.
Can you talk more about the concierge service?
Cost of services depends on what they want. I'll say it's normally like a high-priced-lawyer. People will ask for anything! I keep thinking I'm going to get punked by Ashton Kuther and one day he's just going to pop out and say this is not a real request.
How has social media impacted you personally and professionally?
Social media is wild. It really is fascinating. I was not that, I'm embarrassed to say, clued in to it before the show but now I'm Twittering and Facebooking away. I think it's really interesting because you get to really hear what everyone thinks. I like it a lot because 99.99 percent of the time I've been really touched by how nice people are. And then the rest of the time I am shocked by how mean people are. It's also difficult that social media is such a small snippet of somebody that because of the IVF struggle, I get a lot of tweets from people who are going through it. One of the hardest things for me is responding in 140 characters or less genuinely helping them. I feel like they want some kind of advice and I can't fit that in to 140 characters. But it allows you to reach so many people.
When do you have time to design the maternity line?
I just started freaking out about that yesterday. Spring 2012 is already done. It's kind of like binge designing. When my son was born I had 10 days to design the spring collection and I did it in 10 days while he was sleeping. So I have to do Fall 2012 in July so I just kind of disappear because you cannot design in 30-minute increments. It doesn't work. You have to completely absorb yourself in it. I do it at my apartment, I don't go to the office. There are boards everywhere, and pins that are too long for children to be around. I shut the bedroom door. But the only way my son lets me work is if he gets to draw on the boards.
What is your expansion plan?
I hope to open another store next year in the South. Everyone wants us to go to Los Angeles, but we are thinking the south. If we did open another one in the North it would be in Washington, D.C., or Chicago. And I'm working on the book. People of our generation want to learn, but they want it fast. They don't want to learn from a book that is 500 pages long. So the book will be a lot of bullet points and snippets because that's what people want at MomPrep.
What is your favorite item to travel with?
It would have to be my microwave sterilizer steam bags by Munchkin. Because you have to sterilize everything for babies. So when I go to a hotel I always throw the bottles in the steam bag and ask the hotel kitchen staff to throw them in the microwave. They are always so nice about doing it. Or in the plane, the flight attendants will do it, too.
What is your favorite tech item?
The BlackBerry because I can type and walk. I can't type and walk with a smarter smartphone.
What did you think of the Saturday Night Live skit?
I loved it. Anybody that thinks I did not love it does not know me. It's the biggest honor I think of my career, honestly. It was so surreal seeing yourself on Saturday Night Live. My favorite part was where they held the martini glass underneath her. I think it's funny the whole voice thing. I never knew I had a lisp or a speech impediment, but now I think maybe I do. My husband keeps saying, "what?" all the time. I'm like, "do you not understand me?"