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New Williamsville maternity business looks to grow online

Lou Ann Cane, owner of Bee Maternal in Williamsville, has made the next round of the 43North new business competition. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Lou Ann Cane may have just opened her new maternity clothing and services boutique in May, but she’s already looking at the future.

She recently made the first cut in the $5 million, 43North online Buffalo incubator business contest – more than 6,900 entered and she made the top 1,500 “finalists” – and she sees big this ahead for her Bee Maternal brand. (Read more about the contest here.) 

“We have a secondary phase for this business. I’m gunning for it,” said Cane, the subject of today’s In the Field feature in WNY Refresh.

Cane said her bricks-and-mortar maternity and postpartum boutique, at 5742 Main St., between Evans and Mill streets, is just part of her future. She also looks to use her website and other social media to drive business traffic.

“I’ve come up with an idea for a secondary business called Bee Live,” she said. “It is all interactive classes for moms and moms to be and their partners. They’ll do live webinars for childbirth education, breastfeeding, grief support, cloth diapering, lots of different classes. They’ll be able to go online and have a live instructor teaching them a class, and they’ll have an opportunity, if they need to, to purchase a one-on-one consultation with a professional advisor.

“ If they’re wondering if they should go to a doctor, or having some postpartum issues, they’re not feeling good or the baby’s crying and they’re not sure what to do, they’ll be able to talk with someone.”

Meanwhile, below are some excerpts from our recent interview that I didn’t have room for in the print edition:

What did you learn about the fashion industry while living in New York?

It was more about public relations, so I think I really learned to promote my business. It was a really great learning experience. That’s about as high powered as it gets, doing that kind of work. I wasn’t high powered but working for somebody who had that job, you’re always gunning for that space and fashion’s very cut throat. It was pretty intense, but it’s something I loved, so it was fun. Putting together their packages, promoting their new products and repackaging old products was really so cool. You get a lot of respect for the whole line, beginning to end. I also temped for a few years, so I got to work at National Geographic, worked for the mayor at Gracie Manor, a lot of fun stuff.

Were there some things you would have changed about your two pregnancies from the fashion end of things?

Yes. The clothes that I wore, I felt like I looked great, but in reality now, I feel like I was frumpy looking. You feel like you’re in survival mode, so you just put on what you can. I was trying to wear regular clothes. I remember being in a dressing room trying to get on a regular dress, trying to zip it, going, ‘I can get into this,’ because I didn’t really fancy the maternity clothes here. Between that and working as a midwife assistant, and listening to moms talking about their needs and their wants, and just their feelings – how they were feeling about themselves – really inspired me to start this part of my business.

What were some of those moms’ needs, concerns, interests?

The main thing is that nothing fits right. Having well-fitting clothing, anyone will tell you, is the key to looking great. Also, I noticed a lot of women generally weren’t feeling their best, weren’t feeling great about themselves. A lot of people have body image issues, and women, especially, are put on the forefront of that. It inspired me to go out and search for things that would look great on anyone, and not only fit them while they were pregnant but postpartum, too. That’s really a huge challenge, to find something that’s going to expand and shrink with you.

When did you start the business?

I had this idea during the winter, when nothing grows. It happened extremely quickly. I had never worked with wholesalers or knew where to order clothing, but I had an idea, I started talking about it and everything fell into place. A space fell into my lap, I started talking to my friends in L.A. and New York, and clothing distributors. I was able to take a peek at what they had and everything came together in about eight weeks. It was extremely stressful, but it opened (May 17) and we’ve actually had a great response.

What was the process like as you were determining what you were going to need and offer?

As a maternity aide, I kept a journal of all the births I had attended, how the women felt and how I felt. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but while coming up with this idea, I kind of used that journal as my springboard. It was like field research for several years without really knowing it. I was able to focus in on what was missing.

What was really needed was dresses for big events – Christmas parties, weddings, holiday parties – so I spent a lot of time looking for beautiful dresses that women could feel great in when they went out with their husbands or their partners.

It’s critical to have a good sense of self during this time. You’re getting ready to embark on a completely new adventure. You’re going to have a very small stranger in your house who doesn’t speak English for a long time. It’s funny, but it’s true. You need to feel good about yourself, and these are things you can do to make that happen.

I can sit here and talk with women and maybe put them at ease with what they’re going through, just be a good listener. I feel trusted by them.

What sort of lines did you focus on?

Dresses, nursing bras, washable breast pads, postpartum leggings, dresses, scarves, oils, charms.

What is the price range for the dresses?

They start at about $88 and I think $188 is the highest we have. We have a range of people who have nothing, and come in and buy everything, and we have people who just need a dress for a couple of events and they’ll find one dress that can carry them through. And it depends what number baby you’re on. Baby number one seems to get more clothes than baby number three. A lot of people dislike their maternity clothing and they are looking for something better.

Has there been a product that has surprised you in terms of how popular it's become in the last one or two weeks?

I’ve really been surprised about our leggings, called Blanqi. The main complaint is that women buy leggings that are less expensive and they fall apart or fade before they can even wear them a few times. ... I’m surprised that they still want to wear them because it’s summertime, but women still want to wear them. And our nursing scarves, our Infinity scarves, have been a real surprise, too. You get to combine fashion with something you really want to use.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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