New Jersey is home to many ambitious and talented women who juggle family, career and home. A select few of these women are also extremely busy building their own companies to help better manage the whole work-life balance. At NJ Mom, we want to highlight these extraordinary women building NJ businesses and learn the secret to their success.
Certified Baby-Wearing Educator, Retailer and NJ Mompreneur: Rachel Ullman
Rachel Ullman is the NJ Mompreneur and owner of Quirkybaby. NJ Mom had the wonderful opportunity to ask Rachel a few questions about her business and herself; here’s what she had to share.
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Rachel: Choosing and using a baby carrier is such an individual experience, for both mom and baby. Carriers are like jeans, or shoes, individual fit can be so different and what fits you and is comfortable for you, might not be the same for someone else, or even your partner. Each will fit various body types, babies’ bodies and ages and stages, and lifestyle needs differently. If you Google “best baby carrier”, you might find 100 recommendations for one brand name, followed by 100 testimonials from those who hated that carrier right after it.
And the truth is, there IS no “best baby carrier.”
There is only the carrier or carriers that fit you, your baby, and your needs best! Rather than go off of the experiences of others, I offer parents the opportunity to experience, for themselves, the ability to find a carrier that will suit their needs and help them comfortably and confidently carry their babies. Having attended both schools of babywearing in the United States, along with my background in human development and expertise in pedagogy and teaching, I offer a truly unique educational experience for parents and their babies.
NJMOM: What inspired you to come up with the idea for your business?
Rachel: To give you a little background on me, I hold a degree in Human Development and worked as an elementary public school teacher for 9 years, most of those as a kindergarten teacher in Princeton, and at the school where I met my husband, also a teacher. I gave birth to my first daughter Jane in May 2009. It was a combination of wanting to never let go of this baby I just gave birth to, the desire to fulfill basic, developmental needs, and the practicality of getting around a very stroller un-friendly town that started my babywearing journey with visit to QuirkyBaby for a consultation when my Jane was 2 weeks old. QuirkyBaby began in 2006 with its previous owner, Jane McClintock, formerly of Princeton, primarily as an online babywearing boutique, while also offering one-on-one appointments for local customers. I had found an ad for QuirkyBaby while sipping on a coffee at Borders Bookstore and reading an issue of Mothering Magazine. I knew I wanted an ergonomic baby carrier to help transport my newborn and was excited to find that there was a place, so close to home, that I could go try out different types of carriers and learn how to use them. My sister in law had mentioned that she loved her Moby Wrap with her son, so I thought, “I need one of those, too!” and set up my appointment. At that appointment, I learned that a Moby Wrap was actually NOT what I wanted, but did leave with my very first carrier, a Catbird Baby Pikkolo carrier. It was at this point that I learned that there is no “best” baby carrier, but rather a carrier that fits you, your body, your baby’s body, and your comfort and lifestyle needs best. What worked for you might not work for me, and vice versa. I appreciated the individualized experience that my one-on-one consultations with QuirkyBaby afforded me.
After choosing my first carriers, I would often attend QuirkyBaby Jane’s Central NJ babywearing meetings. Before long, Jane would sometimes ask me to help other new parents learn to use their carriers, since it fit so well with my passion for education as well as lifespan human development. I loved discovering and trying new carriers and methods of carrying and wanted to learn everything there was to know about the carriers that were “out there” and the “short” history of the use of baby carriers here in the US, as well as the very long history throughout time and across cultures. In Autumn 2010, I took over Central NJ Babywearing group with another friend, as Jane stepped down. I remained an active leader even after returning to work, leading evening and weekend meetings/meet ups.
To further my education, I attended Babywearing Institute training in April 2012. Not long after, I made the decision to leave my tenured position and teaching career to be able to focus more on my daughter and family in June 2012. At the same time, QuirkyBaby was looking for a new owner, as Jane was moving on with her law career and out of the state. I took the opportunity and bought QuirkyBaby in the summer of 2012. Then came pregnancy with 2nd daughter, Susan, a few months into ownership. So, it was an interesting first two years on this new career path (between pregnancy and a new baby combined with a new business).
In February 2014, I was excited to expand my professional educator training with Center for Babywearing studies and to focus on growing the consultancy and educational role of QuirkyBaby, as the world of the small retailer in our industry was changing. I am continuing to run QuirkyBaby as an online store, but enjoying the growth of my local business and expanding my role as not only a local baby carrier retailer, but also as a post-partum service provider, providing personal consultations and group education and classes that compliment my role as retailer.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Rachel: The group presentations and the consultations, without a doubt! My passion lies in education and that’s where I get to really use those talents. In many ways, I feel that I’m much more devoted to the education side of my business over the retail side.
NJMOM: What is your background in your business expertise?
Rachel: I’m learning as I chug along! I come from an education background, but am also the daughter and grandaughter of entrepreneurs and business owners. I’m also lucky to be a part of a very collegial baby carrier industry community, where we share in each others’ business experiences and expertise. I’ve learned a lot from that community and am proud to serve as a new member of the board of directors of the BCIA – Baby Carrier Industry Alliance – our industry organization.
NJMOM: What’s the best piece of parenting advice your mom ever gave to you?
Rachel: I have said this so many times to moms in my office, over emails, over the phone, and I’ll say it again… The best piece of parenting advice ever given to me came from a colleague of mine when I was pregnant with my first daughter and still teaching in Princeton. She said,
Don’t try too hard to figure your [baby]out. Don’t stress too much over one phase or another. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, she’ll change! Enjoy her.”
We really tried to live by these words with my first daughter. We rolled with it, because my teacher friend was so right… every time she went through some rough patch of development, we’d worry a bit, think about ways to “solve it,” and sure enough, a few days later, a few weeks later, that was over and something new would come up. I still catch myself falling into this pattern of worrying about ages and stages sometimes, and I try to remember my colleague’s words, often. Our children grow and change so much, we just have to ease up on ourselves, as parents, sometimes. We really need to take the time to get to know our children, build that trusting relationship, and then hold on tight for the ride and try to enjoy every moment.
Right now, society, baby “experts”, marketing tactics, can get parents so riled up, feeling so insecure and so unsure about our own kids. We forget to trust ourselves, our children, and what we know after years of observing human development. We accidentally sometimes view babies and children as a “project” or a riddle to solve, and fall into the traps of the marketing campaigns that tell us that this or that product, this or that book on kids, will fix it, give us the answers. I don’t want to ever be viewed as a baby expert. I have some “expertise” in using baby carriers, the developmental needs of babies they can fill, but, in the end, I want parents to feel that THEY are the experts in their own children, and that holding your baby close and getting to know him or her can really help you with that. I hold onto the hope that a more wide-spread confidence among new parents might help to squelch the tendencies toward comparisons and/or insecurities that we all feel sometimes, and help to put an end to the “mommy wars.”
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Rachel: My favorite season is autumn, right now! There’s nothing more wonderful than the changing of the leaves and the slight chill in the air. There are so many great options for enjoying the outdoors as a family, whether it’s visiting a local farm like Terhune Orchards for apples and pumpkins, exploring the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed nature center, heading out to one of our local parks or playgrounds like Rosedale or Kunkle parks in Pennington, our hometown, or strolling around the towns and stopping in the unique shops of Pennington, Hopewell, Lambertville and Princeton. We love to visit Howell Living History Farm in any season, but especially this time of year.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Rachel: My children, of course, but also the community of other moms and parents you join when you enter the sisterhood of the moms – finding comfort in the fact that your mom friend who lives down the street has a six year old going through the exact same phase as yours, when you were just starting to think that an alien had taken over your child’s body!
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Rachel: As a small business owner, myself, I love shopping “small” and supporting local business. I think the list might be too long to actually type out! We love our hometown of Pennington, and Emily’s Cafe, Vito’s Pizza, Cuginos Italian Specialties, Uncle Ed’s Ice Cream, Pennington Quality Market, and the Front Porch, to name JUST a few, are frequent stops for our family. We’re a long-time Music Together of Princeton Family, and are also often found at various community and school events at our synagogue, The Jewish Center of Princeton, and at our daughters’ school, the Waldorf School of Princeton.
NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Rachel: We live in and love our small town of Pennington. Our VERY VERY old home (one of the oldest in Pennington) has seen many owners over its 225 year history, including briefly operating as a tavern. I operate QuirkyBaby out of my home office, right on Main Street. I admit, I hate driving, so I feel blessed to live in a town where I can walk everywhere – TWO public libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, salons, the grocery store, parks, shops, schools, and, most importantly, ice cream!