Mother & Daughter, Inc.
Maternity Clothing BoutiqueEmily Rosenberg & Annie Cohen, Bella Belli Maternity
Not long ago Emily Rosenberg, co-owner of Bella Belli Maternity, a clothing boutique for pregnant women in suburban Detroit, ordered a batch of bright-colored tube tops. This prompted Annie Cohen, her business partner, to protest, "Who in their right mind would wear these?"
When they proved to be a hit, Emily, 31, couldn't resist gloating. After all, Annie is her mother. "I said, 'I told you so,'" Emily recalls. "Then we laughed about it." For her part, Annie, 58, graciously acknowledged her daughter's keen market sense -- while continuing to lobby for more conservative styles. "As a parent, you think you know what's best," says Annie. "It's hard to let go and realize your little girl knows what she's doing. Turns out, my daughter understands what others her age want."
Despite their opposing opinions about fashion, Annie and Emily agree that the store is a success because their personalities and work habits are complementary. As company president, Emily manages buying and finances, while Annie, as vice president, handles advertising, marketing, and store appearance. "If something needs to get done, Mom does it immediately," Emily admits. "She's a harder worker than I am." Annie credits her daughter's bubbly personality for their success in attracting customers. "Emily is such a sweetheart," says Annie, "that her customers come back to see her even after they've had their babies."
Such mutual admiration wasn't always evident. Annie remembers a daughter whose indecisiveness -- as a child and as a young woman -- challenged her patience and that of her husband, Robert Cohen, who owns an industrial packaging company. Even after earning a master's degree in social work from the University of Chicago, Emily failed to find happiness at several nonprofit jobs. She did, however, recall that she had admired the gift shop her mother had co-owned until 1995. Then, when Emily observed that her pregnant friends flew to Chicago to find trendy styles, she knew what her life's work would be: She'd launch a maternity-clothes store.
Annie disapproved. "My mother tried to talk me out of it," Emily recalls. "She didn't think customers of a maternity-clothes boutique could relate to a single, childless saleswoman. And she worried that it certainly wouldn't be a place to meet eligible bachelors." (Emily has since married.)
But Emily had made up her mind and, valuing her mother's retail experience, invited her to help run Bella Belli. In 2003 Emily got a $100,000 bank loan -- with her father as cosigner -- and opened the shop in a 900-square-foot storefront in Birmingham, Michigan, with her mother by her side. Emily makes decisions for the store -- knowing she can turn to her mother for advice.
From the first day, sales exceeded expectations. Within two years the shop moved into a larger space. "I couldn't believe how successful the store became," Annie says. "I had to eat my words." Although Emily draws a salary, Annie reinvests hers, a common practice among owners of new small firms. "I have my husband's income," Annie says, "and I'd like to see the enterprise expand."
To help separate their personal and professional roles, the two avoid discussing business outside the shop. And they've also discovered they're more alike than different. "We're both perfectionists," says Emily, "especially when it comes to the store's success."