For April and Darrin Morey, every day is “take your kid to work day.”
In 2011, their homemade cookie business, The Cookie People, – their 4-year-old baby – had never been busier. More customers meant more hours in the kitchen, more trips to the store and more time spent managing operations.
Then – surprise! – April and Darrin Morey learned they had another baby on the way.
On August 31, 2012, the challenge of raising both a small child and a small business began. Two days after their new son, Mason, was born, the Moreys were back in the kitchen with the infant by their side.
“Those first few months were definitely the hardest,” April Morey said. “Sometimes I look back and I don’t know how we did it.”
The Moreys joined the ranks of dozens of Triangle entrepreneurs trying to meet the demands of both their businesses and their children.
Jennifer Martin, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, a nonprofit that helps connect business with the community, estimated that more than 70 percent of the organization’s 318 members have children younger than 13.
“A lot of people have left the corporate world out of necessity or because of the economy,” Martin said. “Many had children and needed a schedule that worked more with them.”
Many entrepreneurial parents find it easier to manage their family life outside of the corporate realm. The hours of a small-business owner are generally more flexible than those of a nine-to-five employee. But most have found that parenting while self-employed comes with its own set of challenges.
Putting baby in the corner
Nine-month-old Mason Morey watches his parents bake thousands of cookies each week and is familiar with the three farmers’ markets they frequent.
But April and Darrin Morey’s work schedule falls second to their son’s napping and eating schedule. His needs dictate how much time they can spend at the markets, so they use a small team to help manage sales, baking and other tasks. Ben, April Morey’s 17-year-old son from her first marriage, often helps transport inventory and break down the tent when the markets close.
The help makes it easier, but it’s still not easy. Their baby needs constant love and attention, and so does the business, which, like Mason, gets bigger every year.
“This takes multitasking to a whole new level,” April Morey said. “It used to be Wednesday that we would start getting ready for the weekend markets, but now its seven days a week. It’s constant shopping, baking and cleaning, and only now and then do we get half a Monday to not think about the business.”
It’s a mindset J.P. and Amy Phinney, the owners of Unleashed, a Raleigh dog and cat product store, know all too well. They were forced to become expert multi-taskers 18 months ago when Walter, their first child, was born. At the time, they were in the process of opening their third store in Wilmington.
“Walter is with us all the time,” J.P. Phinney said. “He goes where we go. If we have to go to work, he comes with us there. We got a lot of use out of that chest carrier when he was born. We got some fun pictures of him strapped to my chest as we were preparing the new store.”
It’s easy for the Phinneys to keep Walter in tow – when he’s awake. When he’s asleep, he becomes an anchor.
“The lack of mobility is a big challenge,” J.P. Phinney said. “Before we had Walter, we could be anywhere in an instant. If there was a problem at one of the stores, one of us could just jump in the car and go. With a newborn, it takes seven times as long, or it’s just not possible. Naptime rules all.”
Now, the Phinneys are gearing up to do it all over again. They recently opened their fourth store, and Amy Phinney is just over three months pregnant.
A mother and a manager
For Courtney Tellefsen, it was much easier to manage her business, The Produce Box, a service company that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms, when her kids were younger. They happily rode in the car while she drove goods to a few of her neighbors.
That was 2008. Now, The Produce Box has about 180 stay-at-home moms and dads crisscrossing the state to deliver more than 6,000 boxes of local produce every week. At 9 and 11, Tellefsen’s children are no longer content to simply sidle alongside their mother while she manages the business.
“Every time the business grew, it involved all these little decisions about how I was going got spend my time,” Tellefsen said. “We had to have a conversation as a family about what it would look like if the kids went to year-round school. In the end they decided go through the regular school system, even though it meant they’d have to be in some camps during the summer.”
Camps, school and Tellefsen’s husband, Glen, helped ease the pressure of parenting both her kids and her business, but at times, she still was faced with more than she could handle.
“Two years ago, I got to the point where I was like, ‘I can’t do all this. Nothing is worth this much stress,’ ” Tellefsen said. “At some point, you’re working so much and you realize you’re out of balance. I picked the things I could give to someone else and promoted two of the girls to handle those things. I split my job again this year and gave half to someone else. I had to learn to trust the people who work with me to make decisions that will be close enough to what I would do.”
Big risk, big reward
Few parents with small businesses have forgotten the days when they had to face the inevitable “or” question: Business or kids? For some, it’s not a choice.
“There were times when we felt we just couldn’t do this anymore, that this was just crazy,” April Morey said. “But this business is our livelihood, and what else were we going to do? Going back to work for someone else would have been so difficult.”
But many of those who manage both have seen the benefits of making it all work. Mason makes both his parents and their customers smile, even on their busiest of days. Tellefsen’s 9-year-old daughter has shown an interest in planting her own garden, and the Phinneys became a seamless parenting unit after Walter came along.
“Running a business while having a baby is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and you have to treat it like a storm,” April Morey said. “It’s also the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.”