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eMommie.com find niche in selling off-price maternity clothing

Credit: DEAN HOFFMEYER/TIMES-DISPATCH

Farah Hottle, who recently had her second child, runs eMommie.com, an online seller of off-price maternity clothing, from a warehouse/office on North Lombardy Street in Richmond. She started the firm in 2009 in response to requests from friends and co-workers who wanted to borrow her maternity clothes.


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Farah Hottle kept getting requests from her pregnant friends and co-workers asking to borrow her maternity clothes.

"I found there were essentially no alternatives to virtual yard sales like eBay and Craigslist where consumers shop at their own risk and sellers often have little to no accountability or support," she said. "I thought, 'Why not start a Web-based company?' "

Hottle created eMommie.com, an online resource for off-price and gently used maternity clothes, in 2009.

"We are like the Marshalls of maternity clothes," Hottle said, referring to the discount apparel retailer. "Our clothing is 40 to 80 percent off the retail price of a garment."

The company's warehouse/office on North Lombardy Street now holds nearly 6,000 units of clothing. That's up from the 1,000 pieces Hottle had bought from a variety of sources when she started the company.

"We are already outgrowing this space," she said.

Most of the clothes sold on eMommie.com are closeouts or overstocks. However, Hottle still buys used clothing from women who want "to recoup the cost of the clothes."

Hottle looked for new sources for her clothing when the business increased.

"I found there was an opportunity to buy closeouts and overstocks from existing maternity brands," she said, adding that she carries items from retailers, including Old Navy, to labels, such as Olian Maternity.

While the majority of the company's customers live in the United States, eMommie.com does have a growing international clientele.

"We have always received a few orders from Canada, and that has picked up. We've gone from one or two orders a month to orders daily," Hottle said. "From time to time, I receive requests from moms from other countries. I have shipped to Australia and Indonesia."

She also ships to families living on military bases overseas.

"They use us as a resource," she said. "The same is true for moms in rural areas that don't have a lot of options."

She is constantly adding new items, such as nursing apparel and accessories as well as baby gifts and gifts for Mom, to the website.

"Our inventory and products fluctuate daily," she said.

Abida Dini, program manager for Complete Care Birthing Center in South Richmond, appreciates the personal attention and service she receives at eMommie.com.

"This was a great find," she said. "The clothing is great as I am (a) petite size and was able to find affordable, good-quality clothing. eMommie makes it possible to buy new-to-you clothes that can help with a woman's self-esteem and self-image, which can suffer during pregnancy."

The company's sales have doubled each year since its founding, she said.

The Venture Forum, a group that promotes the local entrepreneurial community, selected eMommie.com in November as one of its Greater Richmond Companies to Watch for 2012. The award recognizes early stage companies that are on track for rapid growth.

Hottle originally named the company bellybargain.com; she changed it a few weeks later after learning that the eMommie.com domain name was for sale.

"I bought it because it was an existing domain and had search-engine rankings and existing traffic," Hottle said. "When I bought it, it had about 2,000 hits a month. By the end of 2009, we had almost 60,000 hits for the year."

The site now has approximately 30,000 hits a month, thanks to Hottle's investment in Internet marketing strategies, including search-engine optimization and creating partnerships with other websites that have similar audiences.

Hottle also donates some of the maternity clothing in stock to the Centering Pregnancy prenatal program at Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.

"Many of the expectant mothers in our program have limited income, and it is a real relief not to purchase a temporary wardrobe," said Christine Flavin, program manager. "Farah and her staff have showed us incredible generosity, and we appreciate our partnership with them. The clothing is youthful and beautiful, and women feel good wearing it."

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