“We love that we can continue our mom’s legacy”

Q&A with the Co-Owners of J.L. Childress Co.

One of the reasons I truly enjoy social media is that it allows me to keep up with the people I’ve met throughout my life and what they’re going out and accomplishing in the world.

A standout is one of my sorority sisters, Sarah Gray, who along with her sister Kate Doti co-owns J.L. Childress Co. Started by their mom Jan Childress 30 years ago, these working moms are designing, manufacturing and selling on-the-go accessories in the juvenile market both in the US and internationally. Plus, they’re unveiling a new sub-brand jay elle this August {pumping moms stay tuned!}.

If you’ve got a kid in a car seat and have lost count of diaper changes, you’ll want to keep reading to find out how these sisters are making parenting a breeze for busy mamas like us.

Self-promo time. Tell me what you do.

Sarah: Kate and I are the co-owners of J.L Childress Co. We’re a “small but mighty” company so we all wear many hats. I split my time overseeing the financials & accounting of the company with managing sales to key accounts such as buybuyBaby and Babies ‘R Us and leading our product development initiatives.

Kate: I am responsible for all of our operations & logistics including our full supply chain, as well as managing sales to key accounts such as Amazon.com and our International Sales relationships and finding time for some marketing & PR in my spare time 🙂

Did you always plan to go into the family business?

Kate: It wasn’t always an obvious choice for me, but in 2007, when my parents approached me and told me that they were considering selling the business, I knew in my heart that when I was ready to have kids, working for the family business could provide flexibility and enable me to create work/life balance according to my own terms. Family dynamics within a business are always challenging {especially in our small little offices}, but working with my sister is an amazing journey. We have this successful company with 30 years of history that we get to grow and experiment with. It’s like raising a kid with your sister… not always easy, but so fun!

Sarah: I planned to NOT go into the family business…obviously I had no foresight when I was younger. Things changed when I got married and saw the potential path of my previous career; it was a successful path, but just not the one I really wanted as I began to envision my life as a wife and mother. Kate and I actually semi-worked together in our careers prior to JLC, so I knew that we were a good blend of alike and different, and that we would complement each other well. Working with your sister {or any family member} can be a challenge at times because your “professional filters” can easily be forgotten, but the pros far outweigh the cons. I get to create something amazing with my best friend and share in our successes together…it’s pretty special. Thanks Mom 😉

How have your goals changed since starting families of your own?

Sarah: I actually think my goals have stayed the same, it’s just become more challenging how to achieve them. Pre-baby, I could stay late at the office, travel whenever and wherever, and really dedicate as much time to work as I wanted. Post-baby, the plan is, “how can I squeeze as much as possible into my shorter work day so I can still accomplish my goals?” That’s pretty challenging and I definitely have NOT figured it out yet. Will take any and all advice!

Kate: I agree with Sarah in that my career goals and goals for J.L. Childress have stayed the same, it’s more the timeframe for achieving them that has changed. There are only so many hours in the day and with my kids being so little right now, my #1 goal is to spend as much quality time with them as I can, while still giving my job 100%.

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Sarah and her husband love on their sweet baby boy

So what’s your must have baby item?

Sarah: I have a couple {sorry!}. My J.L. Childress Diaper Bag Organizer is so ridiculously handy & helpful {they’ll be available in June at buybuyBaby stores!}. I’ve been using prototypes for over a year and could not live without it. My son is only 19 months so I’ll say this one without any guilt…Wubbanubs J and multiple.

Kate: White noise machines {if I close my eyes and listen right now, I’m on a beach, waves crashing at my feet…}.

Where did the idea for jay elle come from?

Sarah: Working + breastfeeding = pumping at work…and I don’t think I’ve found ANYONE who likes to pump, especially at work. When I was pumping for my son, I was pumping 4 times at work and waking up in the middle of the night to pump enough milk for the next day. It was a challenging experience all around and I kept thinking working & pumping mamas need help! They’re trying to give their kids valuable breastmilk and struggling to fit this new “pump routine” into their “work routine.” I thought…what could we possibly do to help these moms? From there, we spent lots of time talking to all sorts of working & pumping moms to figure out what they needed to help them through this experience. This ended up being community, organization, discretion and encouragement. We used these four pillars to develop jay elle and our first product, a Breast Pump Bag Kit, will launch this August. jay elle is a play on J.L. Childress, and the company’s logo is written in our Mom’s handwriting. Life always comes full circle!

Kate: We love that we can continue our mom’s legacy with jay elle. She started J.L. Childress with a bag for mom’s pumping at work and now 30 years later, we’re doing the same thing for a new generation of pumping moms!

What’s the best part of owning a business?

Kate: Continuing a family legacy and watching our ideas and hard work make it onto store shelves for other parents to enjoy.

Sarah: Flexibility! It’s the reason I am at J.L. Childress. If my son is really sick I can go home and be with him, or if he has a school event {some day} I’ll always be there. It of course means I’ll be finishing my work that evening when he’s sleeping, but at least I can be there for anything and everything.

What is a typical day like for you?

Kate: I’m still nursing my 13 month old, so she ends up in bed with my husband and me around 4 a.m. for a very-early-morning feeding. Cuddling with her in bed is my absolute favorite time of day right now and I’m cherishing every minute as I know it won’t last forever. Mornings after that are a total frenzy. I bring my 3-year-old to preschool and make it into the office by 9 a.m. I try to get home before 5 p.m. to squeeze in as much playtime as possible before the dinner/bath/bedtime routine takes over. By 8 p.m., I’m on the couch with my laptop, a glass of wine or a popsicle….or any combination of the three.

Sarah: I wake up to Danny making noises in his crib around 6:45/7 a.m. and then play and get him breakfast, attempt to get ready for work but usually playing with him wins. Nanny arrives at 8 a.m, rush to get ready in 30 minutes, head to office by way of local coffee shop, checking emails on the way in, and finally in office by 9 a.m. Work…work…work…mainly emails, meetings, phone calls, etc. 5 minutes for lunch at my desk {who has time to eat?!} and more work…work…work. 4:45 p.m rush to get out of the office so I’m home by 5 p.m. to relieve the Nanny and then play time {usually outside in the backyard}! Attempt to make a healthy dinner around 6 p.m. if there’s food in the house {or go to the grocery store with a toddler..eek!}. More family play time when Daddy gets home, then bath at 7 p.m., stories then bedtime at 7:30 p.m. Sleeping baby = pour myself a glass of wine and catch up on my favorite shows {or work!}. I go to sleep around 10 p.m.…wake up the next day…and repeat!

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Kate Doti smiles with her family of four

Finish this sentence. If I could go back and do it all again, I wish someone would have told me that…

Kate: …you should start looking for childcare early. I also wish that someone could have given me tips on questions to ask. Many of my friends come to me now for advice on childcare and I tell them to 1) trust your gut, 2) if it’s not working, change now – don’t wait and 3) remember that they work for YOU and should be making YOUR life easier.

Sarah: …you won’t know how you feel about working after baby until AFTER BABY. A lot of women make plans to return to work or not return to work before they have a baby, and I think actually having a baby can really change your mind and change your priorities. Just give yourself the space to really decide what will work best for YOU and your family. And any decision you make is the right one.

What’s the hardest part about being a working mom?

Sarah: Finding time for myself. When I’m at work, my work has my full attention. When I’m at home, my son and my husband have my full attention. I don’t get my full attention very much, and it’s been really challenging for me to give myself permission to do things for ME and take time for ME…and even when I do give myself permission, I rarely take action. Still working on it 🙂

Kate: Missing out on so much of my kids’ days.

I’m on a quest to having it all. Do you think you have it all?

Sarah: My Mother-in-Law says you can have it all, just not all at the same time. And I agree that “it all” is very different for everyone. I think after having a baby the importance of living in the moment really hit me. All I know is that we have TODAY…I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and I can’t change what happened yesterday. For me, any idea of “having it all” is really just living every individual day to the fullest, even if it’s just a pretty normal day. It means doing your best, loving the most, being as happy as you can be and being at peace with your life and loved ones. I think if you focus on each day, that eventually each day builds and builds and your goals become reality. If I can go to bed at the end of each day and be happy and healthy, and my family is happy and healthy, THAT’S having it all for me.

Kate: I do think that I have “it all,” and that the hardest part is being mindful and recognizing that we have been given such blessings. It’s difficult to always want more and to feel like things can always be better, which is a good thing for self-improvement and especially in building a business, but it can also be destructive if you don’t appreciate what you already have. To have healthy kids, a husband who is my soulmate and a selfless father {and cooks dinner 7 days a week… don’t hate me}, a successful career, to be able to work with my sister, be surrounded by family and friends who love and support us… I think that’s pretty much all I could ask for.

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