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A chat with Brenda Cornwell, Mom & Me Boutique of Virginia Beach, VA
Brenda Cornwell never contemplated a career in retail before her daughter asked for help on a college project. With experience running a preschool out of her home for 30 years, Cornwell channeled her entrepreneurial expertise when she and her daughter opened a belly casting service for expectant mothers. The in-home business flourished over the ensuing four years and, in 2014, it was moved into an 8,500-square-foot space and expanded to sell maternity and children’s clothing.
“It’s already overwhelming to be pregnant or a new mom, so shopping shouldn’t be difficult,” Cornwell says, noting that her goal is to keep the store’s experience fun and informative. To ensure knowledgeable staff, Cornwell only hires moms to create a team of experts. “When new or expecting moms walk in they don’t know about what they haven’t read in a book,” she says. “My staff covers the rest—it takes a fellow mom to explain what’s really going on.”
Debunking the perceptions that maternity wear is all frumpy and baby clothes are strictly traditional, Cornwell credits much of Mom & Me Boutique’s success to its unique selection. The kids’ selection, available in sizes newborn to 10 years, spans staple brands like Mud Pie and Rufflebutts to niche players like Kapital K, Tesa Babe and Izzie & Owie to select items from local artisans. “I do a lot of research on products to stay different from other local boutiques,” she says.
This year marks the first where Cornwell is leading the boutique without her daughter. (She left for an alternative career.) She is determined as ever to keep business going strong. “It’s an accomplishment to be in business for five years as of April,” she says, adding that “it’s especially true at a time when most businesses don’t last past three.” She attributes her longevity, in part, to genuinely helping new mothers understand and conquer one of the most exciting yet challenging chapters of their lives. “It’s all about making moms feel good about themselves,” Cornwell says. “Because a happy, healthy mother makes a happy, healthy baby—that satisfaction never gets old.” —Aleda Johnson
How’s business? We’re doing pretty well. Since taking over by myself, I’ve been ramping up our online business because I know that’s where the bucks are during slower times in the store. While there’s always going to be people who like to touch and feel things, we’ve been working hard on the backend of the website, which has been getting lots of visits. By the end of the year, we should be just fine.
What are your best-selling brands? Magnetic Me, Izzy & Owie and Magnolia Baby. Mountain Beach Boutique also performs well, which is big on Etsy and run by a local woman who makes her own dresses.
Any new labels added to the mix of late? We brought in a couple of new lines this year that are doing really well, like Lemon Loves Lime and Kapital K. We also started carrying Cotton On Kids.
What’s your fastest growing category? Swaddles and blankets are big right now, because everyone gifts them for baby showers. Monogramming is also becoming more popular.
What’s the smartest business decision you’ve made recently? Finding unique yet affordable maternity brands moms can wear nine months and beyond. We stock brands like Umgee, Entro and Blu Heaven, which aren’t maternity lines but can be worn whether you’re pregnant or not. We even test the clothing when we go to market by taking a pregnant belly with us and try everything on. We look ridiculous, but that’s how we find clothes we know our customers will love.
Where do you see Mom & Me in five years? I expect that we’ll have moved into a bigger location. While we’ll still be carrying maternity lines, we’ll also be carrying more of the essentials, like cribs.