As Megan Tamte tells the story on the Web site for her company, shopmama.com, her first clothes-shopping excursion, to a department store after the birth of her daughter brought her to tears. The store aisles were too narrow for her stroller, she was terrified the baby would start crying at any minute and none of the clothes fit her post-pregnancy body.

That’s when Tamte dreamed up the idea of opening a boutique that would cater to moms and moms-to-be and eventually came up with the concept for Hot Mama, a 16-store chain in the Midwest that is embarking on a national expansion.

Averaging 2,500 square feet and located primarily in lifestyle centers and other open-air properties, Hot Mama stores offer hip clothes for mothers—from those expecting a new baby to those with children in high school.

The retailer’s core clientele consists of affluent thirtysomething women, the same kinds of customers that shop at Anthropologie, LuluLemon and Nordstrom, according to Mike Tamte, co-founder and CFO. Hot Mama carries many upscale designer labels, including 7 for All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity and Michael Stars, and makes sure the kids have something to do while their moms try on the clothes.

The stores have community areas with seating in the center, where kids can simply hang out, in addition to video game consoles and toys scattered throughout the dressing rooms. Aware that Hot Mama is probably just one stop on a woman’s list of chores, store employees are trained to help customers pick flattering outfits without a long waiting time. In 2008, the chain’s first location, in Edina, Minn., which was opened in 2004, was voted as the #1 Women’s Clothing Store by Edina Metro Magazine.

“My wife has always been a boutique shopper and boutiques are typically unfriendly toward moms, kids and strollers,” says Mike Tamte. “We were going to bring boutique line designer labels that worked for the lifestyle of a mom. We provide entertainment for the kids, we are very hands on with our customers—our staff is trained to know what will look best on them.”

Hot Mama currently operates 16 stores in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. Going forward, the retailer would like to become a national chain by expanding its store base 33 percent annually for the foreseeable future. After opening three new stores this spring, Hot Mama plans to open six new stores in 2011, followed by eight new stores in 2012.

The chain’s expansion strategy will be opportunistic, according to Tamte, based on where the retailer can get ideal spaces at good prices. Currently, for example, Hot Mama is working on new stores in the Denver area.

Hot Mama stores probably fit best in upscale centers with affluent shopper demographics, according to Joseph Parrot, senior vice president with CB Richard Ellis, who handles the Glen Town Center in Glenview, Ill, where the chain has been operating a 2,800-square-foot store since the fall of 2006.

“They are doing something quite well that nobody else seems to be onto,” Parrot notes.

Hot Mama prefers suburban locations with lots of windows and easy access for its shoppers. It also likes to be near other retailers serving its core demographic, including co-tenancies with Anthropologies, North Face, LuluLemon and DSW Shoes, among others. It is signing lease terms of at least five years, with five-year options.

Property managers at centers where Hot Mama has opened locations say the stores develop a loyal following among female customers. “They obviously target moms and we’ve got a lot of kid stores so they are a good complement to our mix, but I talk to a lot of consumers who find them to be a destination,” says Jennie Zafft, marketing director for Cousins-owned Shops at Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove, Minn., where Hot Mama has had a store since 2005. “I think they definitely have a concept that would translate well on a national basis. They really fill a nice niche.”