Meet Ling Chan. She is the owner of La La Ling, a cutting-edge baby lifestyle boutique in Los Angeles that carries unique, fun and edgy fashion for babies and kids as well as modern nursery furniture. The store also offers language classes for babies and toddlers. Ling also created and runs the online boutique www.lalaling.com which has been regularly featured in InStyle, DailyCandy and other national press. Prior to children’s retail, Ling was a vice president of international marketing for Warner Bros. Pictures.
She lives in Beverly Hills, California with her husband and two sons (Finn, 5, and Ty, 3). They are all excitedly awaiting the birth of child number three this winter.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The thing I love best about my job is the creativity involved in owning and running a store…from the buying, to the merchandising, to the décor, to the window displays, to the website, to the latest promotion, to the hiring, to programming the classes…it’s endless how insanely stimulating it can be. I’m always on the hunt for the latest newest thing, whether it be in fashion, toys, books, classes, furniture…and it’s so rewarding to give a new designer a shot and then get a huge response. I also love the spontaneity of dealing with customers and forming instant “relationships”…it’s a fascinating human sociology study as every single person is different who walks in the door, and I love figuring out the best way to interact with that person! Sometimes you can tell a customer just wants to be pointed in the right direction and left alone to shop at their own speed while others want a lot of hand-holding and personal shopping services while others, say new moms, just love the environment and want to hang out and chat about their baby and the ups and downs of motherhood. I meet such interesting, vibrant people every day I’m at the store!
The worst things about this job are that because it’s my own business and every decision is my own, the blame for anything that doesn’t work or doesn’t get done falls completely on me. Whereas before, in the corporate world, every single decision or action was ruled by committee after committee so that many people were at fault and I didn’t take it so personally like I do now. But this can also be viewed in another way…the rewards are that much greater when it’s your own thing while the defeats are that much more painful when you run your own business!
Do you work exclusively in the office, exclusively from home or some combination? What are the pros and cons of your schedule?
I work both at the store and my home and no day is the same. Having come exclusively from a corporate background where flexibility was a rarity, being my own boss has been incredibly liberating as I can dictate my own schedule. It really is the ideal scenario for a working mom like me who wants to be part of a carpool at school and wants to go to all the t-ball practices. Right now, my kids are little so they still think I’m “cool” but pretty soon they will want nothing to do with me, so I’m savoring every moment I can with them. Plus, I’m an inherent night owl so most of my work gets done at home after my boys are in bed!
Would you work if you could afford to stay home? If so, why?
Yes, yes, yes…I have so much excess energy that only gets used if my brain is stimulated. It makes me a better mom to also be happy in a career as that is so much a part of my whole identity as a woman. I wouldn’t be satisfied if I had to choose one or the other, family or work, but having both is what I consider to be the most satisfying, productive, inspiring way to live.
Of your female friends that have children, what percentage work outside the home?
A lot of my friends are now stay-at-home moms having decided to give up a corporate career once they had children, and then quite a few have started their own children related businesses as well. It makes sense as there is a way to fuse one’s business sense with the mode we are in as mothers.
Describe your childcare set up.
I am incredibly blessed in that my retired parents also live in Los Angeles and love to dote on their grandsons! They take on the majority of childcare but I do have a back-up nanny who can help out when my parents are not available. It’s very common in the Chinese culture for people to work all their lives with the goal of retiring so that they can enjoy their later years with their young grandchildren. My father says he feels 10 years younger when he is around his grandchildren. So my parents are absolutely essential when it comes to running my busy life as well as the busy lives of my kids who attend two different schools, each have playdates, various enrichment activities from t-ball to piano to language classes…we all pitch in with a crazy amount of driving. And best of all, my parents only speak Chinese around my kids so they have grown up with it from day one and both are fluent in Chinese now!
If you do have a spouse or partner, how do you divide up the family responsibilities? Who makes the lunches? Who takes the kids to school, etc. Do you feel like you do more than your share of the domestic duties in your household?
My husband and I have a great partnership when it comes to raising our kids, both knowing our strengths which compliment one another. I am definitely the more structured one in the marriage, so I naturally am the logistics “coordinator” in that I handle everything when it comes to operating our daily lives…the meals, everyone’s schedule, what everyone needs to bring to what, all of our appointments, any essentials…I am a control freak at heart so all of these duties of running the show suit me well. I love to manage chaos and that is what so much of running a household is, especially with young, energetic boys! My husband is an artist at heart and in his career so he provides all the fun and adventure for the household…he’s the one who is their biggest cheerleader in every activity, helps with the homework, is the most creative problem solver, teaches the ABC’s, takes them to school daily, to the ballgames, to the movies…Neither of us would be a good parent without the other truthfully.
Did your mom work? If so, what did she do?
No, my mother has been a homemaker all her life. She was in an arranged marriage with my father in China and they both immigrated to the states so that my father could pursue a PhD in physics. In China, women of her generation were not encouraged to pursue careers, instead the goal being to find a good husband which she found in my father! Given that he was a college professor for over 30 years, she chose to be a stay-at-home-mother to raise me.
Do you travel for your job? How often? Do you try to avoid it when you can or do you consider it the great escape?
In my prior job doing international marketing for movies, I had to travel overseas quite often and that is essentially why I decided to switch careers even though I loved the travel prior to motherhood. Now as a store owner, my trips are buying trips that are mostly in New York. The great thing is that the trips are short and I love the excuse to get to New York anyway as I love, love, love the energy of that city.
What do you do when you feel totally overwhelmed?
If I’m feeling overwhelmed with work, then I check out by hanging out with my kids…they are the best distraction and really bring home what is really important in life. And then if I’m feeling overwhelmed as a mom, I go to the store as it can seem like a vacation! So I guess you could say that it’s a very yin yang scenario I have between my family and my business.
Describe your worst working mom moment.
Back when I was at Warner Bros., I had worked out a part-time situation in my last year which definitely had its challenges even though my schedule became slightly more flexible. However, there were times when I was supposed to be home with my kids and then would get called in for something… one day when I was at a playground with my kids, I had to take an emergency conference call with six other people, all calling from overseas. I was trying to hide the fact that I was not in the office but was mortified when one of the callers asked what the chirping sounds were and why there were kids laughing and screaming in the background. That was a moment when I knew that working part-time was not as ideal as I had hoped it would be!
What is your favorite thing to do with your kids?
My kids are “foodies” like me so we love to go on food adventures. Nothing makes me happier than when my kids try new foods and like it. Their latest obsession is sushi!
Do you have any advice for other working moms about how to manage all the chaos?
The biggest life lesson I’ve learned since having kids is to just go with the flow. If I wasn’t a mother, I am an insane type-A person in that I could plan every day/week/month of my schedule down to the ½ hour, but you can’t operate that way with kids. Some days they just want to hang out at home doing art projects or building forts, the other day we’re all in the mood to find a new adventure, something fun to do. So I just try to have days where I just sit back and let the day just happen, and as we all know, kids make even the most mundane activity a blast!