Building Community: East Coast Momma Collective

In March I received an email asking if Anointment would like to participate in a one-day fair showcasing ‘mom powered pursuits’. The premise was simple: there would be no direct competition (only one vendor of a specific product) and you had to be a mom and make your own product or service to participate. The fair was to take place in Halifax which is located 250 km from where I now live. I am asked to participate in events quite often and I have to choose wisely – I decided to give it a try on a whim and was pleasantly surprised at how well it all came together – down to the last detail. Sarah Dhooge, with a background in event planning, is the mom behind East Coast Momma Collective. Sarah brought the inaugural fair together with a strong sense of community unlike any other event I have participated in previously. With the anticipated ECMC Summer Fair fast approaching (and me scrambling to have enough product made), I spoke to Sarah about her strategies for building community.

April: Sarah, Can you tell me what gave you the idea to start East Coast Momma Collective? How did it look in your mind before you put it into reality?

While at home with my new little man, I was inspired by all my Momma-friends who were busy being Moms and simultaneously running their own businesses. I wanted to connect all these awesome Mommas I knew and create a forum where we could all chat about the many hats we wear. The Facebook group was started to create an opportunity for home-based, Mom-run businesses to grow and evolve via feedback and support in the form of sales (and originally, via bartering for services and products). The small Facebook group grew quickly from 10 members to over 250, so my friend and I decided that we should have a Fair in order to connect all these Mompreneurs with each other in person, and with the greater Maritime community. Prior to becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist, I was an event planner, so throwing a big Fair sounded like a fantastic and exciting idea.

April: I have to admit I came on board reluctantly because I have been promised big things at other exhibitions and paid big money only to be let down by the lack of attendees or being promised a demographic that didn’t show up. You did a spectacular job of organizing the first ECMC event and you managed to deliver attendees and foster an amazing community spirit – what’s your secret?

The “secret” behind the East Coast Momma Collective (ECMC) Fairs are the East Coast Mommas themselves; it is a wonderfully supportive, non-competitive group of talented, local Moms. Everyone’s products are field-tested in the environments that matter to them most; in their families and communities. These Moms stand behind their businesses and are passionate about what they do. The Moms in the ECMC are the fuel for these events; they help with spreading the word as to how awesome the fairs are, and I along with my Board of Directors work hard towards marketing the events via the media (radio, newspapers, online forums, television, foot-trafficked flyers, etc).

In regards to the events themselves? Let’s just say I can’t use a sewing machine or bake a good pie, but I sure do love planning events! The ECMC has become my own “Mom-Powered Pursuit”, with hundreds of hours of dedication (and love!) that I put into it. It is something I hold quite dear to my heart.

Another secret I have have? Remember to GIVE, not only receive. I receive so much positive energy from the ECMC; I love meeting the enthusiastic Mommas who enjoy being a part of the ECMC. That is why at each Fair, I give each Vendor a “gift” for being involved. I also operate a charity raffle featuring amazing prizes from our vendors at each Fair. As a collective we vote on a local organization that helps Maritime families as the recipient of raffle proceeds. For the Summer Fair, our raffle proceeds will be donated to the IWK Health Centre.

April: What do you feel is the most important aspect of fostering community and co-operation among a group of vendors and their target customers?

My Mother always said when I was a child: “You can’t say you can’t play.” I firmly believe that this is a motto we adults should adopt. An integral aspect of fostering a community such as the ECMC is that everyone is included; everyone is welcome. We might not have enough space for each and every Mompreneur at our fairs (that would be wonderful!), but everyone is welcome to contribute, connect and communicate with members online and feel a part of the collective. I take this motto into my event planning for guests as well, from the venue (selected because it was child, stroller, and wheelchair accessible), to the absence of admission fees for guests to attend the Fairs, to my inclusion of those Mompreneurs who are Direct Sales Representatives, operate local storefront businesses, or are handcrafting their products. All are invited, and all are welcome.

April: The non-competitive spirit really speaks volumes about ECMC and I have been asked a couple of times for advice or to mentor some of the other vendors – do you feel that this spirit of “non-competition” is vital to ECMCs success?

Yes. Women live in a competitive world; becoming a Mother can heighten this sense of the need to be “good enough”. I very much struggled with this when my son was born; I just wanted to be “good enough” as a mother. It was a terrible pressure I put on myself each and every day. When I created the ECMC, I wanted to ensure that each and every member felt welcome; and that the vendors at the Fairs were not competing with the Mom next to them. Therefore, each vendor offers something unique; no two Mommas sell cupcakes; no two Mommas sell wooden toys. That way, there is an incredible amount of variety for “guests” at the Fairs. I also try and rotate vendors and incorporate new Moms into each Fair, to keep people coming back. The “one of a kind”, non-competitive atmosphere is indeed vital to our success, and it is why vendors and guests return.

Sarah reiterates that she feels honoured to be part of such a wonderful group of women – in a world where women too often tear each other down rather than support and build each other up, it is a pleasure to be part of this group. If you are in Halifax on June 24, stop by St. Mary’s Boat Club and see what it’s all about.