By Leslie T. Snadowsky
Jillian Atkinson is the mommy-in-charge of her family business, where the help just happens to be her relatives.
Atkinson gave birth to her second child, a son named Landon, just a week before opening a new Moonlit Lullaby location in Bluffton, where you’ll find baby, toddler and children’s clothing, toys and accessories for sale. Atkinson said it was her mom and dad who stepped in to become her most important employees.
“My mother is my best and hardest worker,” Atkinson, 34, said. “She worked in the shop with me when I brought my newborn in, and she has continued to work for me for four years at this location in Old Town Bluffton. My dad also played a big part in helping to build up the whole store. He installed fixtures, he painted, he hung things up. Anything that I need, he fixes exactly how I want it to be.”
According to market research data firm Fortune Business Insights, the global kids apparel market size is projected to grow from $187.29 billion in 2022 to $296.85 billion by 2029. Part of the growth comes from rapid changes in consumer lifestyles and changing demand for branded clothing. Atkinson is trying to capitalize on the growing market by offering unique and stylish items in her store, including bamboo muslin swaddle blankets, mystical unicorn long pajamas, rattle toe baby socks and twirl and tutu dresses, but she said you can’t put a price on familial employees.
“I own the store, and even though I’m the child, my parent employees support my decisions,” Atkinson said of Lynn and Larry Ruocco. “Sometimes people are like, ‘I don’t know how you work with your mom. I would never be able to do that.’ My mom is my best friend. We’ll work together a full day and then we’ll call each other after work, even though we’ve been together all day.
“Family members could potentially be your best employees,” Atkinson said. “It’s just really nice to have somebody right there who’s working for you that you know you can trust and who wants you to succeed.”
Atkinson said while you may have to be more diplomatic communicating with regular employees, you can be honest and direct with family members. At her baby boutique she has the best of both worlds.
“I do have other employees, and they are literally like family,” she said. “We waited until we found people who fit. We didn’t even put it out there that we were hiring. I feel like everyone who works for us, we found naturally and they found us and they just became part of the family. So it feels like a complete family business because they all fit so perfectly. It’s an amazing thing. They even call my mom and dad ‘mom and dad.’”
Atkinson said when she and her mom go on buying trips to find top brands and on-trend gifts, her mom lets her take the lead when stocking up on crab bath swimmer toys, dribble bibs, flamingo swim trunks, footie rompers, onesies, pima striped polos, playsuits, rattles, teethers, security blankets, shoes, sandals and even scented slime.
“She supports me and how I want things to be, but she also gives her input at the same time, which is great because I really appreciate it,” Atkinson said. “I like getting both my mom’s and dad’s opinions. My dad will come to me with a fresh idea of how he thinks something should be displayed in the store or something, and sometimes I’ll tell him I love that idea, and sometimes I tell him I don’t. They’re involved, but they don’t try to overtake anything. They let me maintain my creativity. Even though I am younger, my parents support my vision.”
Atkinson said her biggest family business challenge is balancing being a mom, having a husband in the military and operating a business. She said when her husband, Sean, is at home, he’s the resident “character” at the store who dresses up like the Grinch during Christmas and the Easter bunny in the spring. But it’s her seven-year-old daughter who often vies to be the boss. “My daughter, Lilly, always asks me when she can come to work in the shop, and when she does, she tries to immediately help customers and talks to them about the merchandise,” Atkinson said.
“Or, she’ll say things like, ‘Mom, I like what you’ve done with the store.’ I just laugh because she’s so young and she’s already got her heart in the business, and that’s kind of cool as far as carrying on the family business. I don’t know if that’s what she’ll want to do, but I think it’s really cute that at this age she has this interest and that she’s a natural at it.”