The Lemonade Stand: A Savvy Auntie is Not Your Old Aunt Sadie

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Life is clique-y. We all belong to one affinity group or another. Maybe it's the office softball team, a spinning class you attend with 20 others, or perhaps a weekly play group with your kids.

But did you ever feel like everyone around you is part of a particular group and you're just not in it? That's what happened to Melanie Notkin, and she refused to let it get her down. When her nephew was born, she found that everything for kids was directed toward moms, not aunts. Notkin, then a world traveling global beauty executive, was the furthest thing from the "old Aunt Sadie" stereotype.

"When my nephew was 2, he turned to me and said, 'Auntie Melanie, we're family,'" Notkin recalls. Then she knew she had to find a way to recognize the special relationship between women and the children in their lives who were not their own--and possibly make a business of it.

Before jumping into the world of business ownership, Notkin did her homework to corroborate her theory -- that there were more women like her out there. She checked Census data and found that, in 2006, 45.1 percent of women under age 44 didn't have children. Two years later, the number was even higher. This was an untapped niche.

SavvyAuntie.com launched July 9, 2008. Twenty-three minutes later, she received email from the agency that markets Hasbro toys. Two hours later, makeup retailer Sephora got in touch. These two emails showed her that the aunt population is a unique group: they care deeply for children in their lives, but they also focus on themselves.

"She's a very powerful woman in the marketplace," Notkin says of the typical aunt. "She always existed, but unfortunately we've only been able to separate women as women as a whole and moms."


Not Necessarily Your Sister's or Brother's Kids

"Aunts" can have loose definitions. Savvy Auntie embraces them all: aunts by relation, aunts by choice, older cousins, godmothers, neighbors, coworkers, any non-parent woman who has a presence in a child's life. Notkin calls them all part of the "family village."

She notes that the word "childless" doesn't really define many of these women: "They are able to spread their love and their income and their time and their maternal instincts to many children, not just their own."

Many women in history provide high-profile examples of "aunts" in the greater definition: Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few.


A Home for Aunts

According to Notkin, Savvy Auntie empowers women to be the best aunts they can be. Notkin uses a cadre of experts to address issues that come up in the community of aunts -- from reviews of top toys to psychological advice to personal finance (aunts can start 529 college savings programs for children in their lives).

Aunts have more influence than they know. When baking with nieces and nephews, for instance, they're actually teaching the kids math and science -- and Savvy Auntie points this out.

Women other than aunts see the value too. Notkin notes she hears from moms who are thankful that their sisters are becoming better aunts. With more than 2,000 Facebook followers and 12,000 Twitter fans, the message is spreading.


It's Not All Easy

While Savvy Auntie is about empowerment and not saying, "Woe is me," the site provides a community for members to share experiences and advice about the challenges of "aunt-hood." For example, many aunts claim to never get "thank yous" for their efforts or gifts. Should they say something to the parents or to the child? What if a child comes to an aunt in confidence? Is the aunt compelled to pass the message on to a parent?

Savvy Auntie doesn't claim to have every answer. Notes Notkin: "If we don't have all the solutions, at least we have a community."

The Lemonade Stand is a series about entrepreneurs finding new niches in old areas and profiting. These people have made lemonade out of lemons to great success.

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