By Nancy Ngo Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
Megan Tamte's vision for Hot Mama a decade ago was a kid-friendly place where fashionable moms could shop.
It was one hot idea.
The concept has been so popular with shoppers that Hot Mama has grown to more than 40 stores across the country.
As the 10th anniversary of Hot Mama approaches, we caught up with the founder and CEO at corporate headquarters in Edina, where Tamte, 40, talked about plans for the retail brand.
And as the recent recipient of the Ernst and Young's Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year award, Tamte also shared her philosophy for success.
Q: How did you get your start?
A: I was a third grade teacher and then a stay-at-home mom. I wasn't looking to start a national retail brand. I was a mom who loved fashion. I wanted to look and feel my very best with clothes and products that fit my lifestyle, but I couldn't find anything out there. There needed to be a clothing store that fit the needs of moms like me. I'm the ideas person while my husband, Mike Tamte, chairman and CFO, is the numbers guy.
Q: How has Hot Mama grown over the years?
A: We're approaching the 10-year anniversary of our first store at 50th and France in Edina this November. We now have 44 stores across 15 states. We have three more store openings planned by the end of April. This takes a team of more than 700 employees.
Q:How has Hot Mama changed in philosophy over the years?
A: Hot Mama started out with no maternity wear. But because we were a lifestyle store, some people thought they would find maternity clothes at our stores. So we started carrying a maternity section, which did very well for us. But that section no longer exists. Eventually, we went back to what we originally set out to do -- offer a clothing store for fashion-loving moms that was not maternity.
Q: There were some recent changes at the St. Paul location on Grand Avenue. Are other locations getting makeovers?
A: We're always changing the product and store design. We just updated our St. Paul location because we wanted a layout that made it easier for shoppers to shop on their own in addition to offering assistance from our in-store stylists. We also updated the floors and the dressing rooms. We like to go back and revisit our stores. In the coming years, we can expect to see some new design in our stores.
Q: You were recently named Ernst and Young's Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
A: We have a business that is about more than just making money or selling clothes. It was created because we wanted a culture for moms that encouraged success. That gives me great pleasure and joy. It's important to keep in mind the purpose of what you're doing.
Q: When you're not shopping for customers, where do you like to shop?
A: I don't shop a ton -- 100 percent of my wardrobe is from Hot Mama. That's the nice thing about working in a shopping environment. When I do shop, it's the grocery store or Target. As a mom with two teenagers, I spend a lot of my time at these places. We're getting ready to have 40 teenagers to our house for my daughter's birthday. I'll be at Target stocking up on things like chips really soon.
Q: What's next for Hot Mama?
A: Continued growth. I think there are a lot of things on the horizon in terms of our brand. Our online business has exploded (shopmama.com). Our goal was to open eight stores in 2014. It's looking increasingly like that will be closer to 12 and would include the expansion into four to five new states. But things aren't official. We still have leases to sign.