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(As published in the Summer 2000 issue of Craftlink -- Your Link to the Best Business Ideas)
Today’s businessperson has to be willing to evolve to survive, or, as marketing experts say, “find a niche and fill it.” Even in a business as traditional as quilting, this has proven to be true, and no one knows it better than Julie Golimowski of Newport Quilt & Gift Company, in Newport Oregon.
Julie started her business because of her love for quilting, but soon learned it would take more than that to survive in the small Oregon coast tourist town of Newport. She did not have enough local customers to run a traditional shop with classes and a variety of general quilting fabrics and merchandise. Instead, she found that the bulk of her business came from tourists who were stopping in town on their way down the spectacular Oregon Coast. We all know how far fabric aficionados will drive to find something unusual, and Julie’s store was no exception! Her tourist business was drawn to the most unusual of fabrics and to the impulse buy. Julie learned that to cater to the tourist crowd she needed to stock fabrics that her customers had never seen and few shops carried. Soon she was carrying a variety of unusual fabric lines like those from Kaffe Fassett, the renowned textile artist and other art or novelty lines.
Visitors to Newport, Oregon were drawn naturally to fabrics that reminded them of the scenic beauty of their holiday and as a result nautical and nature prints sold well. But summer tourist business wasn’t enough to help the shop survive in the wet winter months along the coast. It was then that Julie hit on an idea to keep her customers coming back all year long! Julie had noticed that unusual or hard-to-find quilt patterns were also in demand with the tourist crowd, and had designed several of her own that sold well to shop visitors. Taking it one step further, she starting designing original block-of-the-month designs for her tourist friends that would keep them buying fabric from her all year long.
Cobblestones or Stepping Stones?
A few well-placed ads and a modest web site later, she had a hit on her hands. Several of the designs sold so well, she could not keep up the demand for the fabric that the quilts had been designed around. It was just as frustrating to be faced with the problem of selling too much as selling too little! She found herself stocking hundreds of bolts of fabric so that her customers would have the designs they needed to complete their quilts, and even then she was not able to keep or find the right fabrics to stock. Unwilling to compromise, Julie found herself looking far and wide for suitable quilting fabrics for her block-of-the-month designs. One of her more popular patterns was an English Cottage Quilt and finding fabrics in the right scale, design, and color that would be suitable for the roofing materials, cobblestones, and brickwork was especially difficult. However, what could have been a stumbling block became a stepping stone instead to bigger and better things!
Julie recognized that other quilting retailers must be faced with similar dilemmas and decided to do something about it. Gathering her notes, drawings, magazine clippings and courage, she visited a fabric company in the Northwest that she’d always respected and felt a rapport with, and pitched her idea—she felt a fabric line that was built around her two best-selling block-of-the-month designs would have appeal to retailers other than herself. Retailers need a reliable source for consistent fabric lines and a manufacturer that was willing to go the distance to make sure fabrics would be in stock when needed to complete quilts that had been started a year or more before! Clothworks/Fabric Sales Company of Seattle proved to be that manufacturer. In fact, Julie feels that the commitment that Clothworks has made to continue to stock the line of fabrics, called the Material Resources Fabric Collection, will be its best-selling feature.
Designing a fabric line was certainly not what Julie had in mind when she started looking for ways to expand and help her business thrive and grow, but she was willing to step forward and meet the challenge. Her willingness to look for new and innovative ways of doing business has also opened the door for other retailers to thrive and grow. The original block-of-the-month quilts that the Material Resources Fabric Collection is designed around, called the Flower Garden Quilt and the English Cottage Quilt, are available in a professionally-designed wholesale program for other retailers to purchase, along with the wonderful array of fabrics that make up the 75-piece collection. Each of the fabrics in the collection is created for a unique purpose and in that way stands on its on, but at the same time, the fabrics are all designed to blend in color, design, scale, and function. One of the more unusual fabrics is a flower center design—bright and beautiful on its own, it allows even novice quilters who are trying to create realistic floral quilts to make artistically accurate quilts with intricate floral designs.
Julie knows a successful customer is a satisfied customer that will come back again and again. Helping her customers succeed in making beautiful designs that will be displayed in their homes for years to come has helped her, and now many other retailers, succeed in their businesses as well.
The Material Resources Fabric Collection and original English Cottage Quilt and Flower Garden Quilt block-of the month designs can be viewed and purchased online at http://www.newportquilt.com/.
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