Welcome to the 6th installment of Boston Mamas Rock! – where we’re giving a voice to fabulous local mamas, whether they be entrepreneurs, avid volunteers, stay at home moms, moms who have closet talents, authors, media professionals, politicians, professors, etc. Read on for today’s interview with Jill Notkin, owner of Alex Casey Baby, and busy blogger. Then go ahead and nominate yourself or a friend!
Jill Notkin, Owner, Alex Casey Baby & blogger
Christine: Tell us a little bit about your background Jill. My understanding is that you used to sell semiconductors before becoming an e-tailer and blogger. What was the path that led you to semiconductor sales?
Jill: When I finished journalism school, I was journalism’d out. I needed a change. I was offered a job at a public relations firm and at a company marketing semiconductors. Believe it or not, I took the marketing position and I learned more about business in those few years than I ever thought I would. It definitely paved the path to where I am today.
Christine: Now you’re an e-tailer and blogger. Let’s start with your online business, Alex Casey Baby. Obviously, your first daughter (after which the business is named) provided inspiration, but what was the catalyst for launching an online boutique (other than the fact that kid stuff is cuter than semiconductors)?
Jill: When I had Alex, I went back to my desk job with the stipulation that when it stopped being interesting and fun, I’d leave. An unfortunate reorganization of the company made it happen quickly and this, combined with an idea that I had sketched in my head of an upscale baby e-boutique, made it all easier. I had always wanted to bring to the public the beautiful and unique items that I enjoyed buying for my daughter, and this was a great way to do that.
Christine: I’ll be honest with you and tell you that I get pitched by a lot of e-boutiques; it seems like there is so much competition! What do you do to make your online boutique stand out from the rest?
Jill: First of all, Alex Casey Baby presents in a simple, uncluttered, and beautiful way. People love to peruse the easy-to-use categories to find the perfect gift. I also am extremely serious about customer service. I’ll spend as long as it takes on the phone with a customer to ensure he or she finds the perfect gift. Everything is packaged perfectly, whether it’s gift-wrapped or not; every item gets a special touch. Not all e-boutiques spend the time making sure their customers are 100% satisfied. Not to mention, our assortment of products is diverse and exceptional. Some, like the personalized towels and photo albums, are exclusive to Alex Casey Baby. I’ve also made a name for myself doing corporate gifts – most are baskets that are custom-made to the company’s specifications. They can be hand-delivered and are very personal. People really like this.
Christine: OK, this is an organizational curiosity question since I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs who have either taken over their laundry rooms for storage/work space or literally work out of their closets (as in, office in a closet…). I assume you hold some product and drop ship other things. What room/area of your house has been taken over by product? And how on earth do you keep your little girls out of said area?
Jill: I absolutely inventory a ton of items. Luckily, I have an office in my home, though as my company grows, I’m being chased out of my office by cashmere sweaters and stroller blankets! While I don’t have a door (one can always dream!), I do have a gate, which my 2-year-old figured out within hours of it going up. I have lots of welcomed interruptions throughout the day!
Christine: Now, tell me about your work as Boston City Editor for The Savvy Source for Parents. How did you become connected with Savvy Source? And is the primary function of the site a database for regional preschooler resources, and then the Being Savvy Near You component adds the personal element?
Jill: I got the Savvy Source gig by being at the right place at the right time. A fellow Twitterer tweeted that she was in search of writers who had preschoolers and who lived in particular cities. I responded, submitted some sample pieces, and was hired. Within a week of being hired I had to submit 15 original pieces – I wondered what had I gotten myself into! While the initial work was intense, it’s now more scheduled and I am learning so much about my city and the activities and events within it.
Savvy Source for Parents was initially developed as the Internet’s first and most comprehensive resource for parents looking to navigate the enormous world of preschools. It has since branched out in other directions, with the most recent addition being the City Guides. The concept of the City Guides is to provide daily tips and interesting ideas on local educational resources from a local parent’s perspective. It’s not your run-of-the-mill activities, but sort of lesser known, or more personalized accounts of things in the city.
Christine: Between managing your e-boutique and blogging personally and for Savvy Source, you obviously spend a lot of time on your computer. When do you blog? Are you a wee hours of the night sort of person?
Jill: I keep really strange hours. In a typical day, I deal with whatever Alex Casey Baby stuff arises, like orders, marketing, and customers, I write at least one and up to three articles for Being Savvy, and I update my personal blog, The Daily Grind. Obviously I have to prioritize and my blog often takes a backseat to my other commitments, but I typically post four to five times per week. I’ve been known to tap away on the keyboard before the sun rises as well as long after my bedtime. I never imagined being a work-at-home-mom would be so busy!
Christine: You’re a work at home mom (WAHM). Do you have formal child care? And if you have limited or no child care, how do you juggle 2 under 2 with your work demands?
Jill: The first advice I always give to moms thinking about working from home is GET HELP! My kids have a nanny who watches them while I work, otherwise there’s no way I could accomplish anything during the day. But I have the best of both worlds – I can spend one hour writing and the next at a playgroup or splashing in the pool with the kids.
Christine: I hear from a lot of WAHM’s about the struggle of effectively creating a divide between work and home. Do you have any tips to share on this topic? What do you find are the most effective strategies for shutting off work mode when you are home?
Jill: I suffer from this as well. Truthfully, there is a very faint line between work and home since my family is usually home as I work. I very often get up in the middle of a piece to deal with meals or interrupt a conference call to comfort a crying child. My (very patient) husband has been known to come home after a long day at work to a wife who is holed up in the office and no dinner. So while there are plenty of perks, it is not without its challenges as well. When I shut down for the day, it’s because I’ve made a conscious decision to stop working and be done for the day.
Christine: I was interested to read that you are a native of Montreal, since I enjoyed several years in Canada while I did my Ph.D. Do you miss Canada? Do you still have family there? Did you want to return once you got pregnant so you could enjoy the traditional full year maternity leave?
Jill: I absolutely loved growing up in Montreal. It is, in my opinion, the best city in North America and if it didn’t have the uncertain political climate it has, we would still live there. The one thing they did get right though, is that full year of mat leave. I tearfully returned to work after a mere 15 weeks, and at that point I did wish for more. But I’m loving bringing my children up in Boston, where the culture is rich and diverse and the weather is a bit more temperate than Montreal’s.
Christine: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a Boston mama?
Jill: Boston has so much to offer for parents and kids. Beginning from the moment of conception, there are so many resources and this just continues for years! Also, there is so much to do in this city. We rarely have a weekend with nothing to do, even if we just hang out at the beach or on the Boston Common. I know my kids are enjoying growing up in Boston and we just have so much more exploring to do!
Know a fabulous local mama? Nominate yourself or someone else to be featured!