Mom’s the word as new entrepreneurial group focuses on mothers in business

Murtaza and Sukaina Jaffer started Mompreneurs of Lehigh Valley Business Group at EBC, their family’s business services office in Trexlertown. PHOTO/STACY WESCOE –

The fact that the idea to form a group to support mom entrepreneurs came from a man is not lost on Murtaza Jaffer, who runs Express Business Center and EBC Printing in Trexlertown with his brother Mustafa.

But he said when he met the right group of women at the right time, he knew that bringing these “mompreneurs” together was something he wanted to do.

Providing business services for many small businesses and entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley, Jaffer got to know a number of young mothers who had eschewed the corporate world and started their own small businesses so they could spend more time with their families.

While many had strong business backgrounds, many were running their own business for the first time and he saw their struggles.

“Having started a small business myself, I found myself often giving them brotherly advice,” Jaffer said.

After talking to a few of his mom and entrepreneur clients, as well as his own wife, Sukaina, he thought he could help even more if he gave these women a place to meet, share ideas and network.

And that was how Mompreneurs of Lehigh Valley Business Group got started.

On the third Thursday of each month, the group meets at the new EBC offices at 6034 Hamilton Street in Trexlertown.  A guest speaker is brought in for each meeting and every woman has a chance to speak before the group or during networking.

Amanda Ruth, one of the original members and founders of the group, said the mompreneurs group Jaffer proposed filled a perfect niche for her. She had quit her job at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and started her own marketing firm, Ruthless Media and Marketing, so she could have more time with her two young children.

She now works just a few hours a day and a few hours a week, as needed, to fulfill her clients’ needs and those of her sons’.

“I have always been in business, but I never owned my own business,” Ruth said.  “It helps me get an outside view and a little of their knowledge.”

Mompreneurs of Lehigh Valley Business Group meets monthly at the EBC Printing, Express Business Center offices in Trexlertown. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

And meeting once a month for an hour and a half is the right balance of getting the help and information they need while not adding another big time burden to their already busy schedules.

She said they find a lot of camaraderie within the group. Each woman gets her turn to speak, whether she wants to talk about successes or areas where she needs help or about business or family issues.

“A lot of people’s stories are the same. ‘I just couldn’t do the corporate lifestyle anymore,’” she said.

Aside from that, Ruth said, there is a diverse group of women in the crowd.

She noted that there are marketing women, such as herself, bookkeepers, notaries, graphic designers and even some women that work at selling products like Arbonne skin care.

She said many of the mothers with older children have more established and full-time endeavors, while some of the newer mothers are just getting started. Each has their own experience that they can bring to the group to help others deal with their own issues. Ruth said they have become each other’s friends and clients.

“We always say our group is for support, not selling, but I do like buying local and buying from other moms,” she said.

Helping each other

And so, in addition to being each other’s support group, the roughly 70 women who now make up the mompreneurs group, also provide services to each other.

“Lauren Phillips, for example, is now my bookkeeper. I don’t have that much business, but math isn’t my strength, so I have her help,” Ruth said.

Sukaina Jaffer, who has been a core member of the group since the start, said she’s impressed with how quickly the group took off and how it continues to grow, as well as how much the mothers in the group say it means to them.

“It’s about how supported they feel. The fact that they felt so isolated and now they have the group to fall back on,” she said.

She noted their only marketing has been a group on Facebook and that the group has grown from 10 women to almost 70 in just a few months because of word of mouth and women who discover the group introducing it to other mompreneurs that they know.

And as the group grows and thrives, Murtaza Jaffer said he’s proud of the role he played in getting it off the ground. He said by helping mothers build their businesses he feels he’s paying tribute to his own mother.

Upscale barbershop to open in Whitehall Township

An upscale barbershop is opening in Whitehall Township. (Submitted) –

Vintage Barbershop, which will offer an upscale environment for men’s hair and grooming services, will open its first location in the Lehigh Valley in Whitehall Township.

NAI Summit’s Jay Haines recently represented the owner of MacArthur Convenience Center and the new tenant, Aziz Atiyeh, in the multi-year lease transaction at 3690 Lehigh St.

Atiyeh said he is completing the inspection of the space and should be ready to open next week.

“I’ve been a Whitehall resident for about 20 years now, that location is very excellent, there’s a lot of foot traffic,” Atiyeh said.

Becoming a barber was originally not in Atiyeh’s plans but after gaining compliments from friends on his barber skills, he began working with a relative in the barber business about six years ago.

“I enjoy making people feel better about themselves,” he said. “I decided to go out on my own and see what I can do.”

Down the road, he would like to teach barbering, but for now he plans to focus on operating his new shop.

“I’m going for more of an upscale vintage theme, the 1950s,” Atiyeh said. “I’m trying to bring class back to the Whitehall area.”

Adapting to change in the kitchen-remodel space

The home improvement industry continues to be strong, a development that has helped one local, family-owned business to mark its 40th year.

Kitchen Magic, a family-owned business based in Lower Nazareth Township, marked its 40th year of operation this year. From left are company officers Lotte Bacho, vice president; Chad Bacho, management information systems director; Cindy Purcell, vice president of customer experience; Brett Bacho, president; and Renate Sprung, vice president of marketing. (Submitted) –

For Kitchen Magic, the past four decades has bought both challenges and opportunities for a tailored kitchen remodel business that began with just one employee in a small basement office in Allentown in 1979.

Today, the company employs 225 people in eight states across the northeast, with 75 at its Lower Nazareth Township site, where it offers a showroom, kitchen, offices and manufacturing space.

“We are the manufacturer that sells directly to the customer,” said Brett Bacho, president. “The home improvement industry is very strong. Kitchens are one of the top projects that people want to do. A lot of people are downsizing, aging in place, remodeling.”

The company focuses on kitchens, and offers specialty cabinet refacing, new cabinetry, countertops, tile flooring, storage solutions and accessories. The sales and marketing staff who work for Kitchen Magic go directly to customers’ homes to sell them the remodeling project.

“We bring the showroom to them, measure everything, give them a free estimate of costs,” said Linda Fennessy, marketing manager for Kitchen Magic. In addition to cabinetry, the company can add islands, accessories and other new components, she said.

Now, with second and third generation members of the family working in the company, Kitchen Magic is planning for what comes next, said Renate Sprung, vice president of marketing.

Both members of the first generation have passed away, Sprung said. Jost Fleck, the founder of the company, and his wife, Reine, were the parents of Renate, Cindy Purcell and Lotte Bacho, who is married to Brett. Purcell is the vice president of customer experience and Lotte Bacho is vice president of the company. Brett’s brother, Chad, also serves as a company officer, working as the management information systems director.

Over the years, the company has seen its share of challenges, largely stemming from the Great Recession, which prompted many homeowners to put off any home improvement projects.

When people couldn’t get home equity loans, that caused a big drop in sales, said Brett Bacho.

“We survived that,” he said. “I would put that up with one of our major accomplishments. We had processes in place. We had a just-in-time manufacturing process that protected us from putting out a lot of cash.”

Today, the just-in-time manufacturing process remains and helps the company avoid having to store products in a warehouse. The company mainly uses its manufacturing site only for production.

The company didn’t want to store millions of dollars in inventory, Sprung said.

“We know what those lead times are,” Bacho said. “While it sounds very risky, we ship right to the customer’s home.”

The only time the company stores products in its warehouse is if a customer cancels an order, he added.

However, 2008-2009 was a tough period for the company, as it was for businesses in many industries.

While there was a huge drop in sales during that time, the company made many efforts to keep the business afloat.

“There was nothing we didn’t do,” Sprung said. “It probably took us three to four years to stabilize.”

The company instituted four-day workweeks to keep people employed, borrowed money from the bank, and the owners put their own money into the business, she added.

Though still recovering from the Great Recession, the company knew it needed to find a new location.

The company began in Allentown, moved to Milford, New Jersey; then Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Fennessy said.

“We were outgrowing our facility in Phillipsburg and we weren’t finding anything that met our needs on the New Jersey side,” Bacho said. “The infrastructure just wasn’t there. There was more opportunity [here] to purchase a building.”

After relocating to the Lower Nazareth site it purchased in 2010, the company has grown considerably, and plans to continue hiring more people and expanding its products and services.

“For us, we are looking at other parts of the house we can improve,” Bacho said.

These could include libraries, laundry rooms, entertainment centers, mudrooms, and baths.

Having lost her mother recently, Sprung said the company wants to plan for its future.

“We are trying to lay a foundation for the future and present that’s doing the right thing and that it’s [the business is] built to stay and innovate,” Sprung said.

Bacho described Jost Fleck, “Joe,” as he was known, as the ultimate risk-taker for forming the business.

“Not everyone can do it…you are risking it all,” Bacho said. “The closest I got to it was building this building.”

Bacho, who has an engineering background, designed the building for Kitchen Magic.

In one way, a negative economy can lead to great things, he added.

Today, he views the company as one poised to attract talented people.

“We want to leave Kitchen Magic better than we found it,” Bacho said.

The three daughters have worked closely together for a long time, in addition to Bacho. They all plan to continue doing what they enjoy most; helping people make their kitchen into the space they always wanted.

“Life happens in the kitchen,” Sprung said. “You are making a beautiful space and it changes their life for the better every day.”


The Home Improvement Research Institute based in Indianapolis, Indiana, projected total home improvement products sales in the professional market to increase 6 percent in 2019 over 2018 and the consumer market to see a sales increase of 5.3 percent.

Entrepreneur starts flower-printing business

A local entrepreneur has moved on from painting stars on ceilings to inscribing messages and images on flowers.

A local entrepreneur started a flower-printing business, with plans to expand the printing to other objects. (Submitted) –

Matt Barklage of South Whitehall Township said he started Chatty Treasures, a new business with his wife, Maria. It involves applying phrases and corporate logos to roses and other items where you wouldn’t necessarily find printed messages.

“This is just another way to express your feelings for people,” Barklage said.

Barklage had been operating a business called Starscapes F/X, where he would paint stars on the ceilings of rooms. However, six months ago, a fall broke his vertebrae and spelled the end of the business, which was founded in 2018.

He started looking for another venture and settled on Chatty Treasures. The company, which operates out of his house, is a licensee of Speaking Roses, a flower printer based in Utah.

Barklage said the printing process is proprietary but noted that it is designed so it won’t hurt flower petals.

He eventually wants to print on fruit, candy, hamburger buns, donuts and cookies, among other edibles. While he can create those products now, his initial focus is flowers.

“It’s a learning curve, especially for me,” Barklage said.

He charges clients a one-time $10 charge for the printing template and $50 for a dozen roses with messages printed on them.

He plans to use his own vehicle to provide free delivery of the roses to the Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton areas and surrounding communities, he said.

Eventually, he wants to grow the business out of his house and into a warehouse.