December 28, 2004
When Gretchen Benson’s children were ages 4 and 7 months, the stay-at-home Gilbert mom got the itch to go back to work.
"But part of me didn’t want to put my kids in day care full time," she says.
Armed with a master’s degree in management, Benson decided to become her own boss, launching Baby’s Rent-N-Go from her home in 2003. The company provides baby and toddler accessories — cribs, car seats, highchairs and toys.
"I am the owner, operator and literally, chief bottlewasher," Benson says. Home business consultant Janet Drez of Chandler says the trend in businesses run by moms is growing in Arizona and nationwide. The swelling number of families in the East Valley helps explain the mother side of that trend. But Maricopa County, in particular, is a hot spot for small business start-ups because there are so many resources, Drez says.
Nonetheless, Benson and other mom entrepreneurs say there are distinct challenges to being a successful business owner and mother. Being self-employed is different than heading to a regular job every day because moms must often deal with their kids and their businesses simultaneously. Benson sometimes takes her kids along on deliveries, or schedules them when her husband is home to care for the children. Sometimes he even makes the deliveries.
"You’ve got a billion and one issues going through your head. At one time of the day it could be business," Benson says. "At another, it could be family."
To help ease her concerns and meet others dealing with the same issues, Benson joined the East Valley Entrepreneurial Mothers Association in July.
The group was founded by Kathy Stephens 18 years ago and has since grown to four Arizona chapters. Each chapter boasts a large network of mothers with a variety of businesses from tutoring services to child’s clothing stores. Doctors, accountants and real estate agents are also members.
Some companies are homebased or part time while others have grown into full-time or large Web-based businesses. There is tremendous diversity in the members’ backgrounds and interests.
"I’ve gotten some fantastic ideas and almost like mentoring from some of the women whose businesses have been established longer," Benson says. "It’s an everybody’sbeen-there, done-that sort of a thing."
Association member and mom Janet Weigel owns Weekenders USA, a private-label women’s clothing company marketed through independent fashion coordinators. She says the biggest challenge associated with being a mom-entrepreneur is juggling the organization of a business with that of a family.
"Typically, the mom is the one who keeps track of everything that’s going on for everyone in the family, whether that’s kids’ homework or coordinating their activities and making sure everything is being run smoothly," Weigel says, "or whether they are a single mom or have to keep track of stuff for a spouse, too."
The association helps with that. At monthly meetings, members discuss business strategies and help one another with concerns regarding finances, marketing and organization. But they also talk about being moms.
The association "allows us to talk about the unique challenge of balancing family and business in an nonthreatening environment," Weigel says.
And knowing women with expertise in such a wide variety of fields is helpful. "Members buy from me, my hairstylist is a member of the organization. Just about anything you might need, you can find within the membership," Weigel says. "What we’re really there for is to provide professional and personal growth."