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Published: Saturday, 9/30/2006

Home is where Mom has set up a business

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Sara Graff and her son David stuff an animal from her at-home firm, Sara's Critter Creators. Sara Graff and her son David stuff an animal from her at-home firm, Sara's Critter Creators.
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KATHY LOSEY and Kelli Harshman started out with a simple mission and ended up joining the ranks of a growing number of mothers who run businesses from their homes.

"We wanted a cool diaper bag to carry around, so we decided we'd just make one and went and bought some fabric," said Ms. Losey. "We didn't even know how to sew, so my mom taught us."

With their finished products slung on their shoulders, the two, each of them the mother of three young boys, soon were being asked by other moms about the custom bags.

"We wondered if we could make them and sell them," said Ms. Losey, a former teacher. "We totally started the business by accident."

Thus was born Shab Bags, which has been in existence for 18 months and now offers purses and medium and large totes, priced from $32 to $65. The partners estimate they spend 15 to 20 hours a week on the sewing and marketing of their items.

Almost by accident, the Sylvania residents have become "momtrepreneurs," the name coined to describe women who have chosen to remove themselves from the traditional work force to raise children but who run side businesses.

Kathy Losey, left, and Kelli Harshman are able to keep an eye on their combined six boys at the same time they run their bag-making enterprise. Kathy Losey, left, and Kelli Harshman are able to keep an eye on their combined six boys at the same time they run their bag-making enterprise.
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Half of U.S. businesses are based in homes, and more than half of those are women-owned, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Operators of many of those home businesses work less than 20 hours a week.

Of an estimated 10.4 million privately held women-owned firms in the United States, according to industry experts, 85 percent are traditional or home-based businesses run by mothers.

The numbers are growing, agreed Jennifer Fraone, a marketing associate with the Boston College Center for Work & Family.

"There is a generation of new moms who are highly educated, talented, confident, and also achievement-oriented," she said. "Their children are a huge priority, but that's often not enough."

Many moms working from their homes do so because they think they have a better idea than what's on the market.

Sara Graff, of Perrysburg, started Sara's Critter Creators when she was looking for a cheaper alternative for her children to get the experience of making a stuffed animal than can be found at the mall.

Searching the Internet, Mrs. Graff found a Web site for Critter Creators, started by an Illinois mom in June and now with more than a dozen sales affiliates across the country. The company offers stuffed-animal-making party and gift kits, with 15-inch-animal kits starting at $10.

"What I liked best was that I get a free Web site," said Mrs. Graff. "As long as the people go on and go to my link, I'll get 25 percent commission off the orders."

Linda Fayreweather, of the Women's Entrepreneurial Network in Toledo, said her group has more members who have chosen to leave the more stressful traditional workplace for something they can manage from their homes.

"Even I've chosen to do independent consulting and work out of my home because it fits my lifestyle with my family better than working for someone else from 9 to 5," she said.

Ms. Graff, of Sara's Critter Creators, attends craft shows to sell her products and will set up stages and entertain children at kids' birthday parties. Her children are Jordyn, 10, and David, 4.

Although that sounds like a lot of work, the luxury of doing a part-time job from home is not lost on her.

"I was a single mom with my daughter and I was working two jobs to make ends meet," she said. "I've stayed home the last five years and I've enjoyed it."

Said Ms. Losey, of Shab Bags: "It's not like we're going to get rich, but this gives us extra for fun stuff, whether it's buying new clothes for ourselves with-out feeling guilty or getting new curtains for the house."

Technology has made it easier than ever for women to have the time they crave to spend with their children and to use their talents to make money, said Findlay native Terilee Harrison.

After 15 years as a corporate credit manager and attempts at job sharing, she decided two years ago to stay at home and become The Business Mom.

Through her Internet site, books, and group coaching, she said she's making money as she coaches other women to reach for their dreams of working from home.

"I was miserable being away from the kids," said the mom of a daughter, 12, and a son, 4.

Her Web site gets 5,000 hits a month, she is the author of The Business Mom's Handbook, she has a Internet radio show, and she runs group sessions for which moms pay $99 each.

Asked for her best piece of advice, Ms. Harrison, now of California, said: "I tell them that it's entirely possible to work from home with the right support and help, and not to give up."

One Toledo-area mother who has happily made the transition is Tammy Hornyak, who runs a promotional product company from home with her husband, Rich. Her former jobs include store detective, office manager, and receptionist.

"I think everyone should work out of their pajamas like us," she joked.

The business, Innovative Pro-

motions, which sells silk-screened T-shirts and sweatshirts and embroidery and runs a related business recruiting others to start businesses, is lucrative enough to support their blended family of five teenagers and young adults, she said.

But the biggest advantage, she added, is the flexibility. "Our children are into sports, so we've been able to go to sporting events when we want, not when our employers would let us off to go watch them," she said.

Although many mothers choose to do home-party sales for such companies as Tupperware and Pampered Chef, the Internet has opened other avenues for entrepreneurs.

For example, Alice Seba, founder of InternetBasedMoms.com, wanted a traditional direct-marketing job so she could stay home with her children, but instead has become a guide to moms wanting to use the Internet to market goods and services.

The Vancouver, B.C., resident, who estimates she has at least 10,000 moms on her mailing list, offers tips and portals to other Web sites for which she gets a commission, and even employs moms to be virtual assistants.

"With information products, it's possible to really be at home," she said.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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