The Mommie Series: Blending Serious Expertise and High-End Shopping in Seminars for Mothers
Misti Pace-Krahl had an idea. The successful, accomplished mothers she knew didn’t have all they needed, she thought. They excelled at their jobs, their philanthropies, running their households. But they lacked a central source for cutting edge health information, fashion and business trendsetters, and other important instruction. Why not, Pace-Krahl decided, create a kind of concierge service for mothers – of the sort she had once provided to the wealthy of Dallas and Houston?
The result was The Mommie Series, quarterly seminars aimed at fast-track moms determined to care for their bodies and minds as meticulously as they care for those of their children. Every three months, from her modest office in Montrose, Pace-Krahl choreographs an evening of high-end shopping, cocktails, and talks by some of Houston’s most respected experts in health, finance, family, and fashion. Each seminar is hosted by a different clothing store, while Pace-Krahl gathers the audience and curates speakers as deftly as an expert magazine editor guesses the next season’s buzz.
The model may be unique. In the five years since Pace-Krahl founded the seminars, attendance has soared. While not a mother herself, Pace-Krahl understands Houston mothers’ needs so well that The Mommie Series audience has doubled in the past year, and the concept may soon expand to other cities. We sat down with her to find out how The Mommie Series came to be. In keeping with her work in fashion, Pace-Krahl seems to always look chic: blonde mermaid tresses, Pucci-style shifts. But telling stories over a glass of wine, she is irresistibly earthy – more cowgirl than debutante.
How did The Mommie Series begin?
In the years that I was a wardrobe consultant, I met and became friends with a lot of entrepreneurial women. This kind of consulting is very intimate. We have three meetings: purge, cleaning and donating; shopping together; and then looking at the person’s closet and deciding his or her goals. After awhile I’d get to know about their family lives, and their children. I’d ask, “How did you know this?” “Where did you find your expert for that?” And most of the time, they were just winging it. They’d get a name from a friend, or Google. These were women at the top of their game in their professional lives, but didn’t know where to find expert sources as parents.
I kept thinking, “Why isn’t there a way to meet those experts? People are all different, and need different things.” These mothers didn’t have a central resource. So I said, “Well, why not meet your Houston experts in a small, intimate setting, like an interview? You’d hear about a service or an idea directly from a founder or a top-level executive.” I wanted to provide them with something that wasn’t available. There were lecture series for mothers, but there wasn’t edutainment: education and a night out.
Our speakers have ranged from Kendra Scott‘s VP of design, to the president of Elite Private Tutors, to a pediatric dentist who is the first in Houston with technology for laser-based dental surgery that’s non-invasive. We’ve had a sleep coach, a financial advisor, and the cofounder of Lemonade Day, a charity that encourages youth entrepreneurship. At every edition, we try to bring in a widely known personality from the community. Like me, not all are mothers: We’ve had Project Runway winner Chloe Dao, and Houston Chronicle fashion writer Joy Sewing.
How do the seminars work?
You purchase a ticket online for $50, and you attend the series. It’s an evening event. When you arrive you’re greeted by someone from The Mommie Series, who shows you where the beverages are. There is about a 45 minute mingle time when you can shop, drink, meet the guests, and meet the speakers. Each event has four components: Family, health, finance, and fashion. Then, when the mothers take their seats, I introduce the charity we’re helping – we include a charity in each event – and our sponsors. After that our emcee takes the mike and introduces the experts.
Each expert speaks for 15 to 20 minutes, and there’s time for some interaction after their talk. Our fashion speaker is introduced, and there is either a fashion show or tips and tricks on fashion – the fashion speaker is also our host, and there might be a special promotion, a special percentage off on shopping. The series is always at a boutique or retail location.
The sessions are designed around whatever moms are buzzing about at a certain time. So they could meet an author, or learn about a charity or a new kind of pediatric service. And instead of just sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen, they can have a drink, meet other mothers. It has always been only four sessions a year, and seasonal.
I knew I wanted the event to be substantial. And I wanted it to create a sense of community. The location changes, the speakers change, the charity changes, so you can go to all four annual seminars and keep learning.
How did you get the idea to blend education, fashion, and event planning?
I studied psychology at Texas Women’s University, and minored in fashion. For my classic Global Fashion Studies I went to Paris and London, where I toured the fashion houses. I remember going to a museum in Paris, the fashion museum, where there was a picture of a huge runway on a dining room table and people eating as the models came walking down the table. Oh, to make that happen to produce something like that! All the small and large details captivated me.
During college, I was a professional assistant to high profile people in Dallas – high profile enough that I signed a contract that I wouldn’t disclose their names. The mother was a VP of private investment and Bank of America. Her story was that she married the love of her life. She skipped her graduation to marry him. They had two beautiful children. One day she picked up the phone in her house and heard her best friend and her husband planning a trip together. She got a divorce, and went back to work. She told me, “If I had not had my education, I would not have been able to go to work and support my children. Your education is the one thing no one can ever take from you.”
Later on, I worked as a personal assistant to a family that had an international business empire. It was related to the fashion world. I was with them close to two years. It doesn’t intimidate me to work with high profile people. When it comes down to it, we’re all people.
After my trip to Europe, which took a month, it was starting to come to me what I wanted to do. I had all these great Dallas connections from schmoozing in my previous jobs. So I decided I would start a company as a wardrobe consultant. I ran it with a partner. Just as we were starting to go in different directions, I met a gentleman who lived in Houston. We had what I thought was a whirlwind romance. (Smiles). He turned out to be crazy. But during that time, he moved me to Houston. After coming here, I said: I’m going to start over in this city. I was ready to start a wardrobe consulting company and call it Miss Misti. A friend’s dad, a branding consultant, helped me. Just when it was all ready to go, he called me. “Can I be honest with you?” he said. ”Miss Misti sounds like a stripper. Just call it Misti Style.”
He was right, of course. Not only did it sound like the name of a stripper, it sounded as if it was only for a young female demographic, and it certainly didn’t suggest the all the things I wanted to do: photo styling production, events like the one that became The Mommie Series. So I named it Misti Style. I still do wardrobe consulting here and there for special clients. But the Mommie Series has now taken precedence.
How did you come up with the name The Mommie Series?
I just liked the way it looked. “Mommie” looked young, and I wanted to reach young mothers as well as older mothers.
I think that there’s always going to be a mommy market, because there is something really special with moms with children. I noticed a lot of mom groups were categorized by age. Ours isn’t. Our term “Mommie” is broad: we do not hone in on a specific age group with either the children or the mothers.
For instance, one of our speakers was a woman who helps high-school students write college essays. She can help moms with teenage children. Some of our clients are stay-at-home moms. They tend to be extremely active and engaged: philanthropists, or involved in community work. But many of the seminar attendees work full-time, and a lot of them are entrepreneurs, executives, or own their own business.
They’re also huge consumers! They’re very brand-aware. I’m very choosey about sponsors, who provide items for our gift bags or some refreshments, and the seminar attendees pay attention. For example, one of our sponsors is Evamor bottled water, a high-alkaline water. It’s good for nursing mothers, because it’s supposed to help digestion. One time it wasn’t there – and people noticed. That’s why our sponsorship is twice what it was last year.
How do people learn about The Mommie Series?
Word of mouth has always been key. We have about a 30 percent following, that is people who are regular attendees, and then 70 percent would be new faces. Of course we are reaching out each time to a new database – we have 16 different speakers, a new location every time, and our emcee is different every time. Our data base grows because of the speakers we choose. It drives traffic.
How has The Mommie Series changed since it was founded?
We now do a live Twitter and Instagram feed for the night of the event for those who can’t be there in person. Because we’ve doubled in size, our biggest problem now is having enough space. For more than three years, we were at 50 seats a session. Now it’s 100.
I was worried, when we first moved to a bigger space, about ruining the mood. But the way the chairs were placed, and the way the room was used, it made a large space feel small. That sense of intimacy is essential.
Is it hard to convince businesses to host for you?
I’m bringing them an audience that creates revenue, so it’s never been a hard sell. The responsibility of the host is to provide the location, the chairs, and the alcohol. Many of these places, including the clothing stores, do this already – they have wine in the back for when customers come in and ask for a glass of wine.
They keep the proceeds from any shopping that goes on before or after the talk, and there is always shopping. We ask them to donate 10 percent of the proceeds from the shopping at the event to the charity we’re featuring. Some of the places that have hosted include La Mode Lingerie, Tootsies, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the designers Sid and Anne Mashburn.
Why did you choose to base yourself in Montrose?
Who doesn’t want to live in Montrose? When I moved here from Dallas I loved it. I’ve always been pulled to it, and always been comfortable here. I do so much business around here, it makes it easy to get around. It’s also my playground. It’s a hundred percent walkable. I can go to the grocery store, get a cup of coffee, get a meal.
What lies ahead?
The next step is to build franchises. The original business model was for me to manage The Mommie Series tailored for Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and here, all by myself. I tested Dallas in my first year. I had lived there, I knew lots of people. But I found I was already too integrated into Houston. After two years, I didn’t know the schedule of events in Dallas anymore, which is key for setting up events. That was when I knew the business model had changed. A franchise was needed because the person who runs the series has to be integrated into the city’s day-to-day life.
We’re also branching into suburban areas with mini series events. I still oversee each edition, but we now have “mombassadors,” mothers in suburbs who know the interests and experts in their communities, and have the social networks to bring in audiences. We’ve had our mombassadors for three years; we have six altogether. They are located in communities outside the loop including Pearland, Kingwood, and Sugarland, and their duties are to be a sounding board. We work together to tailor a mini series form of The Mommie Series to their communities.
I also want to implement a database of all our speakers for our website. The audience members already reach out to them. Someone will say, “I called the sleep coach because my daughter was crawling into bed with us and getting between my husband and me. Her advice was fantastic.” It’s one of my favorite parts of The Mommie Series.
The next The Mommie Series seminar is scheduled for February 4 at Tootsies. The Family speaker will be Ashley Small, founder of Medley, Inc.; the Finance speaker will be Jacqueline Gartland of Med Life; the Health speaker will be Dr. Deepali Patni of Kelsey-Seybold Clinic; and the Fashion speaker will be Chris Goins, store director at Tootsies.