From consulting to retail, a newborn industry is taking its first steps in the Upstate
While popular in many parts of the country, baby-centered businesses have remained rare here – a trend that could quickly change as a new crop of Upstate entrepreneurs takes to the forefront to push the business of babies past healthcare and retail.
The maternity concierge industry encompasses a wide range of products and services that include everything from labor support to nursery planning to merchandise. For example, a popular cable television show called “Pregnant in Heels” follows a real-life “maternity concierge, fashion designer and pregnancy guru” as she deals with clients. Now in its second season, the show features the super-high-end version maternity concierge.
Locally, the scene is dominated by women – some spurred by their own experiences, others who simply saw a good business opportunity based on their own expertise. As more people step into concierge-type roles, support groups, healthcare providers and businesses have formed a tighter local network to serve new and expecting parents.
Katie Dill started Poppy Consultants last November after spending years as the go-to person among friends and family for advice on baby products and services. She finally decided the time had arrived to become a professional baby planner. She sought help from a company called Baby Planner Inc., a young Colorado firm that specializes in business consulting for the baby planner industry. She wanted to align her business to the standards of the International Baby Planner Association, founded in 2007.
Dill said South Carolina women are becoming more knowledgeable about alternatives for pregnancy-related services and want help navigating their options. She provides planning and consulting services herself, and also connects clients with other service providers.
Dill said the newness of the business to this area has presented some challenges. Getting her business up and running has meant having to explain to every service provider – from her lawyers to her business insurance agency – what exactly she’s doing. She said it took months to secure an appropriate insurance policy.
Dill refers clients to companies such as Greenville Nannies, launched earlier this year by Riley Haskell. Haskell herself had been a nanny on the side for several years and found she could not fill all her clients’ requests. The business has far exceeded her expectations, she said. Connecting families with experienced nannies is a fast-growing trend, and she’s busy trying to fill several requests per day. She said about half her business comes from people who want night nurses to help with newborns throughout the night.
Retail is still a strong part of the industry. Haute Mama of Spartanburg joined a handful of maternity and baby retail shops seven months ago. Owner Sara Riddle said while she’s unsure how many maternity wear businesses the local market can support, she knows from personal experience how few options exist for finding stylish maternity clothes. With a 4-month-old in her arms, she decided to do something about it.
Lean on Me
A recurring theme among these businesses is the notion that customers often need a bit of relief as part of the service provision. Stresses associated with pregnancy and new parenthood can be unrelenting, and even physiological, they say. Owners try to address those less tangible issues, recognizing that there can be a lot more to every decision or service than meets the eye.
For example, notoriously sleep-deprived new parents might have trouble just thinking about simple solutions for frustrating baby issues, Haskell said. So in addition to being available to perform child-care duties, a night nurse might also act as an advisor to parents.
Counseling is a major part of what she does, Dill said. “It’s a long-term relationship that I have with my clients. I am holding their hand through a very intimate part of their life, and I treat that with respect.”
Even a simple tee shirt and pants bring up difficult issues related to the physical changes pregnancy brings to moms.
“A lot of women have a hard time accepting the new image that they’re seeing in the mirror,” said Haute Mama owner Riddle. “So it’s been rewarding to help with all those things and have people leave with something that makes them feel good.”
Riddle’s store also keeps a calendar of events such as classes and film screenings meant to foster a sense of community for new and expecting parents. She said such support was necessary for her business.
“A lot of people don’t want to go back to the hospital after they’ve had their baby, so I wanted to do something different in a comfortable environment where they might be shopping anyway,” she said.
On the other hand, both Haskell and Dill said sometimes their job is to take the emotion out of the equation. It’s easier to tell Haskell that one of her nannies isn’t a good fit than to say the same about a friend’s daughter, for example. And Dill said she is often favored over friends and family for objective advice. Regardless of their roles, they can all rest assured that, having focused on babies, the market is unlikely to dry up any time soon.