If you caught my recent post on the 7 Game-Changing Prenatal Wellness Appointments I Booked and Loved, you may have noticed my constant mention of West End Mamas. During my third trimester, I was invited to visit the West End Mamas locations to try some of their prenatal offerings, which couldn’t have been a bigger blessing during my benefits-free pregnancy. I was so excited to get to try things I had been constantly hearing about like prenatal acupuncture and pelvic floor physio, not to mention try out their prenatal massages to see how they compared to what I’d experienced at a couple of top spas in Toronto. If, by now, you have read my post on prenatal wellness appointments, you’ll already know that I’ve become a hardcore fan what West End Mamas offers, and think it’s incredible that women in Toronto and York Region have it as an amazing resource for both prenatal and postpartum health, wellness and education. Of course, simply visiting West End Mamas for appointments wouldn’t be enough for me, I needed to know more about this incredible business and who created it! So keep reading to meet Dr. Sarah Mickeler, the founder of West End Mamas.
Business Name: West End Mamas
Name & Title: Dr. Sarah Mickeler, Founder
Location: Toronto & York Region
Education: Chiropractor (D.C.). Randomly I also have a music degree (B.Mus.)
Edit Seven: Tell us about your business, what do you do?
Sarah Mickeler: I am the founder of West End Mamas–we operate Canada’s premiere clinics for perinatal health, wellness and education.
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
SM: After working as a perinatal chiropractor for many years, I had my own child and realized firsthand how difficult it was to be running around the city to the various practitioners who were experienced with pregnant and postpartum bodies. Furthermore, after my son was born, I realized how badly we need community. And not just any community, but a community of other mamas that understand the unique challenges of motherhood and who are able to provide, good, evidence-based advice and friendship. Given that it didn’t exist in Toronto, I decided to create it myself, and the first West End Mamas location was born in March of 2017.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
SM: Working with mamas is particularly satisfying. It’s so great to be able to look a mom in the eye and say “I understand you, I hear you, I am validating everything that you are feeling, I will give you all of the information you need and I will help you achieve your goals”. It’s an uncommon experience these days for anyone to feel heard in any healthcare setting and it’s something we do very, very well. I’m proud of the work that my practitioner are doing with our patients.
E7: What makes your business special?
SM: There are so many things. The fact that we approach each mama as an individual. The fact that we believe that power comes from education and that no one approach is going to be right for everyone. The fact that we CARE for our mamas as though they are family. We know their names, their kids’ names, when they’re due, what their unique challenges are, and we care. We are truly there to make their lives better and we will bend over backwards to make that happen for them. Our service is second to none. Plus, we direct bill insurance and provide child-minding during appointments. And we have online booking so that when you’re up feeding your baby at 3am you can log in an book your appointments. (We have a hilariously high online activity between 2-5am!). We make it easy for mamas to come in to see us.
E7: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business?
SM: When I first started West End Mamas, I was a practicing chiropractor. I was working with patients 4 days/week and I loved it. However, the clinic really took on a life of its own and in our first year we saw THOUSANDS of patient visits. My biggest lesson has been that you cannot work IN the business and work ON the business. In order for me to make sure that West End Mamas is providing the very best care possible for mamas everywhere, I had to take a step back from practicing (I did train a couple of clones!) and move into a management role so that the business could run smoothly. I get asked all the time if I miss practicing, and the honest truth is that I do – but I also have to realize that my greater vision is to truly change the lives of women and to change how we’re approaching pregnancy, birth and postpartum as a society and I have a much better platform to do this from as the founder and visionary of a large business like ours, instead of just treating a few hundred patients a year.
E7: Why did you feel that creating a business and community like West End Mamas was necessary?
SM: Somehow we’ve lost touch with the fact that pregnancy is normal, and that we don’t have to be in pain during pregnancy – in fact, most aches and pains are completely, and easily treated! We have forgotten the power our bodies have during labour and how giving birth is NORMAL. (Just to be clear – please know that we will support all mamas HOWEVER they choose to birth..whether that be with a hospital epidural birth, or an unmedicated home birth). We have forgotten that hundreds of years ago, we would be surrounded by women in this important period in our lives. Women who had been there. Who had lived it, and gone through it with the generations of women before them. Who would shepherd new mamas through the process. Who would truly BE that village.
We’ve forgotten how to do all of that. It’s time to bring it back. I think medical intervention is great when it’s needed. But the sad truth is that women don’t know what is normal during labour, birth and postpartum, and if we don’t give them the information that they need to help them make their very best most informed decision, they might not get that info anywhere else. If we don’t hold their hands and remind them what normal newborns do, they might not know that it’s NORMAL for babies not to sleep. (No one is saying it’s fun, but it’s normal). If we don’t tell them how they can feel better during their pregnancies and prepare for their births, they’ll be stuck crowd-sourcing second-rate info from facebook or google. We have to do this work.
E7: How did you come to decide what you would offer and why?
SM: I looked at all of the services that have good evidence behind them – things like pelvic floor physio, acupuncture, massage, etc. I looked at the things that I used during my pregnancy. Over many years of working with pregnant and postpartum mamas, I knew what they were doing, what was working, and what worked best together, and that’s what I put in the clinic.
E7: What do you look for when selecting the professional therapists and instructors who work at West End Mamas?
SM: First and foremost, they have to LOVE women. Once I trust that they have the patient’s best interest in mind (and not only their own gain), I look to make sure that they have adequate training and experience working with pregnant and postpartum women. The nice thing about our clinic is that I have so many amazing practitioners now that if I hire someone that I think will be an asset for our team, but who doesn’t have enough experience, we can simply train them in-house.
I look for someone that understands the role that all of the other practitioners play in the treatment of the patient. We are not suggesting other treatments just to have more patient visits. Believe me when I say we’re plenty busy already! We are suggesting those other services to help those mamas have the very best experience they can.
I look for staff that are not dramatic. I have no time in my life for drama. And it’s true – one bad apple can ruin the whole batch. So we keep drama to a minimum.
The final – and most important – thing that I look for is someone who is non judgemental. Just because you want one thing for your birth does not mean that anyone else will want that. Meeting patients where they’re at – wherever that is – is very important for me.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
SM: Get clear on what you want. Figure out what you want, figure out what it looks like to have that, and work backwards from that point to get there. Surround yourself with others that are already doing that thing, whatever it is, and learn how they got there. Your frame of mind is remarkably important for business success.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
SM: I wish I had spent a bit (a lot) more time working on operations and procedures before opening. Because we grew so quickly, we spent (and are still spending) a lot of time playing catch up for all of the different scenarios that can come up with running a business.
I also wish I’d known the importance of getting legal counsel earlier on in the process. Funds are always tight when businesses are opening but believe me – spending a bit more on good legal counsel for contracts etc. pays off in the end.
Lastly – I wish I’d known the value of knowing my numbers. Thankfully I didn’t let this slide too long, but most people running businesses don’t really know where their business stands. They can’t tell you if it’s profitable or not. They don’t know where they’re spending their money. Given that 50% of small businesses won’t make it past 5 years, it’s worth laying a solid groundwork for a successful business.
E7: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs in the prenatal and postpartum wellness care business to prepare for?
SM: Honestly it’s the same challenges as any other business. The one with the lowest overhead wins. If you can keep your overhead low, you’re golden. If you spend too much on equipment, renos, staffing, etc. you will not have a business in a few years.
The next thing would be to make sure that your services are viable in whatever market you are trying to open up in. If you move into a neighbourhood where your services have never been used before and the midwives and OBs who will be referring to you don’t know how to refer to you, you’re in trouble. Spend time on market research before opening up.
E7: You recently opened up your second location in Newmarket, why did you decide on this are of the GTA?
SM: I grew up in Stouffville and York Region is a hotbed for young families. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, the location is great because of its proximity to the 404, and it’s basically a 20-minute drive from everywhere in York Region. I think it’s a great location.
E7: Any plans to open up more locations?
SM: Yes indeed! We are moving into a franchise model. We should have our franchising documents ready to go in the next 8 months or so and then we would really like to start bringing our services to communities all across Canada.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
SM: I have a ton of organization methods but the one that works the best for me is a combination of trello, slack and google services (calendar, gmail, etc.). I keep track of projects in trello and I have it automated very carefully so that I don’t drop the ball. But I also have a lot of support staff that can help keep me on track, and that helps.
Balance – that’s a tough one. I would not say I’m well balanced at the moment but I’m getting there. I am making a commitment to exercising more and eating well, since I’ve been failing miserably with those lately. I get up very early to work most days (around 4am!) but I do try to shut things down at 4pm. My evenings are for me, my husband and our 4 year-old. Motivation comes from within, and also because I have a very, very clear vision of what I want this business to be, and I am motivated to get there. I also think it’s very important to show my 4 year old son what a strong working mama looks like. He already understands the value of hard work and can respect a woman at the top of an almost 100-person, 7-figure business. That’s a great motivator for me.
E7: Who are some of your mentors/role models?
SM: I always feel like a jerk saying this but I never know how to answer this question. I would love suggestions though of people I should be looking up to! I’ve been too busy looking down and moving forward with the business to really take the time to find mentors and role models but I’d really like those!
E7: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
SM: I work from the cottage in the summers (I’m looking at the lake right now as I’m typing this!) and these days I’m really enjoying going out for an early morning kayak on the calm lake while everyone else is sleeping. It helps ground me for the day and clear my head.
E7: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
I’m inspired by my team. They work so hard, and are really changing lives. Watching them achieve the results that they do, day in and day out, is very inspiring for me. It makes me want to do better and improve the experience for them at the same time.
E7: Who is the West End Mamas client and why should they consider booking in for an appointment or class?
SM: A West End Mamas is any woman. Fun fact – you don’t actually have to be pregnant or postpartum to come see us. So long as you have a uterus, you qualify! But as for our “target market” it’s a pregnant or postpartum person who is looking for either pain relief, labour prep, postpartum care, overall wellness care, a birth plan, education on how to do any of the above, or are just looking for community. They should book with us because they can be sure that we will provide them with the best experience possible. They will get the best, most current, relevant information on navigating all of it. We’ll take great care of them and we will be happy to do so.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)