November’s One Successful Mama Profile: Mama’s Milkbox
“Overall, the largest benefit to my family has been my happiness. I like working. And my being happy as a function of flexing my creative and working muscles means my kids have a happy and creatively thriving Mommy.” – Elena Petzold, Mama’s Milkbox
This month, I’m profiling Breastfeeding Stylist Elena Petzold, creator of Mama’s Milkbox, a Pittsburgh-based nursing apparel subscription for breastfeeding moms who want to look good, feel good and breastfeed their babies. Elena is also the founder of BFS Design Studio, her private fashion label, which is exclusive to Mama’s MilkBox. Elena is the mama of two small children, ages 5 and 3, as well as two dogs, ages 6 and 5 months. “All in all,” she says, “Four small creatures who have required and/or still require poop maintenance.”
How long ago did you start your business? What led you to start it?
My business started in 2013 and the vision was a brick-and-mortar maternity & nursing boutique in Pittsburgh. Coming from NY and having previously lived in Washington, D.C., when I was pregnant with my second child, I was struggling with where to get cute maternity clothes. I created my company, purchased inventory, found a location and was hours away from signing a lease. Because of complications with my pregnancy, I delayed opening a physical store and instead sold clothes, door to door, via private appointment. The private-appointment style was very successful and was also very flexible. One of my clients mentioned a friend who lived in Chicago who was “jealous” of her fabulous nursing wardrobe – I told her to give my number to her friend, I did a style consult over the phone and from that, Mama’s MilkBox was born! That particular Mama received her box the day she had a breastfeeding support group meeting. She brought her items to her meeting and two moms called me from there. I sent those two referrals boxes (I didn’t even have the name Mama’s MilkBox at the time) and then three mamas called me from there. It just went on and on.
What types of services/products do you offer?
Our Styling Team evaluates the needs of breastfeeding mamas by reviewing their Style Profile and then pulling breastfeeding tops and dresses to match. We save mamas hours of searching on the internet just trying to figure out all the breastfeeding brands and then we match them with the clothing that they need in styles that are comparable to what they used to wear before they had babies.
Describe your first few months getting started. What were your major challenges?
The biggest challenge of Mama’s MilkBox was automating the whole system and designing my website. Before I knew Mama’s MilkBox was my business and had the payment processors in place for such a business model, I spent an entire summer (with 2 children!) calling women for credit card information. I have blacked out that time frame because it was “The Summer of Hell.” It was eternal phone tag and because every sale was critical to the future of the business, I was a slave to a ringing phone. I could be in the middle of changing a baby’s poopy diaper but if the phone rang, I had to get it!
What has surprised you the most about yourself when it comes to running your own business?
It turns out I don’t like being the boss. I think a big “sell” for entrepreneurs is “Be your own boss!” or “Never work for anyone again!”. In some regards, I can see how that is appealing but in reality, being an entrepreneur and the boss is more like: “Be an Accountant, an HR representative, a Marketing Director, the Design Team and more!” Sometimes I don’t want to be my own boss…I have moments where I wish someone else would tell me what to do so I could just do it.
How has owning your own business benefitted your family?
It would be nice if I could say we were rich! Ha! But we’re not. Overall, the largest benefit to my family has been my happiness. I like working. And my being happy as a function of flexing my creative and working muscles means my kids have a happy and creatively thriving Mommy. I did stop working for a brief time while my first child was a baby but I felt stifled once that first year passed.
What do you enjoy the most about owning your own business?
The two things that keep me going every day are the customers we have that we support in breastfeeding, and my employees. Having created a company that creates jobs in my community (for moms especially!) is something that I am very proud of and we frequently have days where a subscriber will tell us that the clothes we have provided have made breastfeeding easier and made them feel so good that they want to breastfeed even longer. When that happens, I feel VERY good. If you ask my child, “What does your Mommy do?” he’ll tell you, “She helps mamas breastfeed babies.” All that is pure joy for me.
What are your goals for the future?
I would really like to grow the company so that we have a team of 8 Stylists across the United States. I already have the plan but we don’t have the technology or capital at this time. My team also dreams of a bigger warehouse, which I know will happen some time next year. We are constantly bumping into each other. We’ve stopped apologizing and joke around about the day we’ll need walkie-talkies but when that time comes, I think we’ll also miss the closeness.
What advice do you have for women who may want to take the leap and own their own businesses?
I think owning your own business can be incredibly empowering, but it is also very time-consuming and there is a lot of pressure for Mommy to balance it all (and I don’t believe there’s such a thing as true balance). If your little is 12 months or younger, I encourage moms to enjoy their time with their babies before taking the leap. There is a lot of pressure to “jump” on your ideas when you have them but there is ALWAYS a new idea and I don’t think “acting now!” is always the best advice for moms. Growing a company requires a lot of time and if you’re a mom, you will require a lot of support – people to watch your children when you need to focus, extra help making meals, and the laundry will still need to be done too, etc. In the same way you would make a business plan for your business, I think moms who want to own their own business need a family plan. You need to figure out how much of your time your business would require and then draw lines around what you can and can’t do and then figure out and line up the support of who and what will take up the tasks that are now outside your box. This makes sure you have time to grow a thriving business, but your family and mama can continue to thrive too.