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Meet Apron Strings Quilt Shop

Apron Strings Quilt Shop
Located in historic downtown Maysville, Kentucky, Apron Strings Quilt Shop is a 2017 Better Homes & Gardens Quilt Sampler Featured Shop. In 2013, Apron Strings relocated their shop to Maysville, a traditional small town “river town” with a charming historic downtown area.

Shop Owner: Mary Honaker
Address and phone number: 52 West 2nd Street, Maysville, KY 41056 (606)584.7414
Region of the country: Southeast Central USA
Years in business: We have been open 12 years, as of July 2019.
Types of special services offered:
We sell quilting fabric and notions in a happy friendly environment. We also offer a small selection of Janome sewing machines and provide longarm quilting services, too.
Number of employees: ASQS has one almost full time and four part time employees, in addition to myself.
Social media info: We are active on Facebook and Instagram. We have a twitter account, but frankly, I use too many words to tweet!
Website: www.apronstringsquiltshop.com
Facebook: facebook.com/ApronStringsQuiltShop
Instagram: instagram.com/ApronStringsQuiltShop
Twitter: twitter.com/HappyQuiltShop

How wide of an area does your store draw customers from?
With a geographic location so relatively close to Cincinnati, Ohio and Lexington, Kentucky we regularly draw customers from both of those regions. Much like our local folks will take a trip to “the city” to buy fabric at some of the great shops in the Cincinnati area or the Lexington area, those folks come to visit us too. Part of the fun is the journey, right?

Do you find your proximity to Paducah is an asset or a distraction? We are still more than five hours from Paducah, so it doesn’t really impact us on a regular basis. When we are nearing the spring show, however, many of our regional folks that go to Paducah will start saving their fun money to take to the show, so we won’t see them as often. Many times they come back and show me the great stuff they bought at the show … that we also have on our shelves. Again, part of the fun is the journey.

How did you choose the colors for the interior of your store? I’ve always been a “blue” girl, but a chance encounter with aqua at a gift shop several years ago led me to my love affair with Tantalizing Teal from Sherwin Williams that is going strong after seven years. Even my daily travel mug and computer cover are nearly the exact color of my shop walls! (Sometimes, my mug “disappears” into the aqua abyss!)

What do you find are some ongoing challenges you need to deal with regularly? When we first started renting our current space, the original family that owned our building was still in possession of it. Although it was for sale, there hadn’t even been any legitimate offer made on the space in over seven years. It had been basically storage for some building supplies and other things. After getting it all cleaned up and painted, we had been open exactly six months (to the day) when someone came in and fell in love with our building. By some amazing stroke of luck, that deal didn’t happen, but shortly thereafter, the building sold. The original family was gracious enough to include us as part of the conditions of their transaction. We were to remain in the space for two years without any type of rent increase. About six months after our two years had passed, the second owner decided he was going to put the building up for sale, so we had to go through that agonizing experience again. We were fortunate enough to sign another two-year lease that was agreed upon by the purchaser. Thankfully, the current owner is remodeling an adjacent space in our building for his own offices.

Although we are going through some demolition and re-construction side effects, I think we will be all the better for having someone with a vested interest in building maintenance occupying the same building. He has also expressed that they have no interest in the shop leaving.

Otherwise, my ongoing challenges are the same as I’m sure we all face. How do we stay relevant? How do we continue to appeal to new quilters, while keeping our more experienced customers challenged? More recently my challenge has been with balancing work and family life. My mother is aging, so I want to make sure I’m available for her. I also feel like while working to grow our business, I’ve become less and less available for maintaining friend relationships that are outside of the industry. I’ve been making more of a concerted effort to devote some time for relationships outside of the shop.

You create a lot of kits for your store. What are some of the components you feel are important in including in them? Most importantly, I want to ensure that everything that is supposed to be in our kit is in our kit. I also want a kit to make life EASIER for our customers. They shouldn’t have to figure out what we used where. Labeling all of the components helps to ensure a good experience. Frankly, it’s a LOT of extra work. Sometimes I jokingly think that this would be a great service to provide to other shops.

Which social media platforms do you use the most and how have you trained your customers to look there first? I use Facebook and Instagram. Facebook is still the most used platform, although I feel like there was some sort of step away (in general) from Facebook for a lot of people. I believe it was prompted by too much political drama but many people have enjoyed the departure and didn’t come back. I still see more interaction from actual customers (both near and far) from Facebook than with IG.

What are the store successes you’re most proud of? I feel like our shop still has miles to go but just the fact that we’ve been able to reach some of the milestones we have never fails to amaze me. When you consider that I opened a quilt shop in 2007 and didn’t sew a stitch at that time to being able to sustain nearly 12 years of business, while gaining a loyal brick and mortar customer base and a small but growing online customer base, is truly humbling. We’ve been able to garner some national press both in print and online, and each time I question whether they meant to contact us. I was brought up to not talk about yourself, so it’s been difficult at times to realize that when I’m promoting the shop, I’m not bragging about me. The work that my staff and I have put into the shop has created an environment that people want to experience. That’s a pretty cool thing! If I’m not willing to shout that from the roof tops, then who will?

How has your store evolved since your first day? We met with our very first industry rep in early 2007. I asked Kim Polson (Moda) “so do you think 50 bolts will be enough to open a quilt shop?” She looked me squarely in the eyes and said “no” in a very sisterly kind of way. She was so informative, supportive, and honest. I knew from that moment that she was my go-to gal when I needed information that wasn’t sugar coated. She is forever entwined in our quilt shop story. When we moved our shop to Maysville we got another great Moda rep, Mark Pytel. It took me a while to get past being required to change reps. Mark is also an important part of our story with his ability to connect the dots and present opportunities that we might have otherwise missed.

Speaking of change, our first six years in Flemingsburg we were a very small very traditional shop. It was supportive of what the ladies in the area were interested in using to create their beautiful quilts. We decided to move the shop from the small rural community of Flemingsburg, Kentucky just a short drive away to Maysville, Kentucky. Many of the core customer group that had supported us originally in Flemingsburg had stopped sewing as often. Some had stopped sewing at all. I decided that if we were going to close, I wanted to know that I had done everything that I could to make the shop work. This meant trusting my own instincts in ordering, presentation, displays, and customer service. It also meant I needed to be present much more than working full time had allowed me to be. I quit my full-time job as a high school video production teacher, moved the shop to a bigger location, and became the full time shop owner/operator.

Although we still have traditional fabrics represented, I focused my ordering on two words: Bright & Happy. Things that made me smile to look at. Fabrics that would attract new sewists. Prints that were modern-ish, but not in a way that were too far out of the box for our customer base. We ramped up our pre-cut selection. We created an atmosphere where you are welcomed, and hopefully inspired. We painted our walls aqua with a splash of lime green on the upper level. We made sure our kits were never just thrown together in a bag. We revamped our logo. We created classes and events that catered to folks that were beginners, new mothers, new grandmothers, teenagers, retirees, or anyone else that wanted success and a tribe of people to be their cheering squad.

We hired employees that were younger and have different ways of thinking so we could see things from a different perspective on not only fabric, but also social issues. We don’t always agree, but it’s okay. (For the record, matters of religion, politics, societal injustices, etc. aren’t discussed by staff around customers.) My point is that I have a different view on some of these issues than the amazing ladies that are older than I am who operated the shop while I worked full time. The girls who are younger have different viewpoints than I do. We can all learn from each other and hopefully be able to assist all our customers from a place of greater understanding …  that even if we don’t agree about everything, we can still create and supportively coexist in this space.

What has been the most surprising part of owning a store? There is NEVER a moment where you can safely feel like you’ve reached your goals. There’s always something else to learn. Something else to achieve. Something else to dust. Because of that, you’ve got to do your best and know that it’s okay if it doesn’t all happen today.

Do you take business classes, either online or locally? I had a few business classes in college but this shop wasn’t even a “what-if” at that point in time. I do read a lot of blogs, business magazines, etc. but I’ve not had any real training of any ongoing nature. (Wait – does learning from your mistakes count?)

Do you bring in designers as teachers for special events? How far in advance do you plan these? Do you have some tips? A few years ago, we took over the planning for our regional quilt show. Since that time we have brought in at least one nationally known “sew-lebrity” to teach and lecture at that event. The best case scenario is to start planning for the next event right after the last event is over. That’s not always practical if you are wearing a lot of hats. I guess my best piece of advice is to have a plan B, and also a plan C … and then be willing to roll with the changes while everything that you’ve planned on falls apart. It will fall back together. Hopefully, the grace you’ve extended to someone else will be returned to you when you need it. And trust me – you will need it.

What jobs do you expect employees to do and which do you do yourself? How do you delegate the work? I expect everyone to be able to assist customers. Everyone should be cleaning when something needs done. Otherwise, myself and one other employee handle the website/point of sale input. That employee also does most of our longarm quilting. The two ladies that ran the shop while I worked take care of most of our sample creation now. They also come back in for special events like shop hops or quilt show week. I’m horrible at delegating, so I’ve been fortunate that on MOST days, things fall into a groove and we all find the space we are needed for most.

What kind of store security precautions do you take? We have two sets of security cameras. One that is just on while we are gone, and one that runs all the time. Both can be viewed remotely. We are in a relatively safe area, so there are probably some security issues that I should have a plan for that I naively haven’t addressed yet.

When you have a day off, what do you typically do? Who manages the store when you’re out? I’d love to say I sleep in and then watch tv or read a book. However, at some point I lost the ability to sleep in. I miss it! I typically will cook a great comfort food kind of meal. You know – the kind you can’t pull off in an hour after work. Laundry is also always on the agenda. I get the biggest sense of satisfaction for the 20 minutes that my laundry is absolutely completely finished.

Do you have a hobby that isn’t sewing related? Aerosmith. Weird hobby, I know. I’ve been an obsessed fan since I was 12. I’ve seen them 50 plus times in concert. We have shop posts on band members birthdays. Sometimes, we have cake at the shop to share with customers! I know it’s not professional, but it’s who I am. Our RowByRow was Steven Tyler’s Mic Stand.

What do you want your customers to feel when they come in the store? I want them to feel like they can do it! I want them to feel happy, and to feel comfortable. I most of all want them to feel inspired.

QT FabricsThank you to our Open for Business sponsor
QT Fabrics for making this feature possible.

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Inspiring the Next Generation

Next Generation

How can quilters inspire the next generation?

When I started thinking about this topic I imagined kids, young girls (or boys) around eight to 14 who like to spend time with grandma and want to learn some of the things grandma can do.

As I started researching this project, I soon found out my idea of the “next generation” needed to be much broader.

As it turns out, many young people—think ages eight to late 20s—want to learn how to quilt but don’t know how to start.

Young Adults

There are many obstacles preventing these young adults from taking the next step; they don’t have access to a sewing machine, they weren’t introduced to the craft until they received a baby blanket for their first child, etc.

But there are many ways quilt retailers can help. Having classes where everyone is a beginner is a good place to start.

Also reaching out to this audience where they already are is a good idea. This social media-saavy demographic can even help you, if you don’t feel comfortable with Instagram take a poll at one of your events to find out what content your audience would like to see, then cater to that. As with anything, the more you use something, the easier it will become.

Youth

As for youth, it turns out classes are a good way to reach them too. Consider having a mother/daughter event that goes over the basics of sewing, and have easy projects so attendees can leave feeling accomplished.

The DIY industry is bigger than ever, it’s just up to us to tap into new talent.

Leave a comment below of your favorite children-inspired or quilting for beginners products and media.


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History of Quilting

History of quilting

The history of quilting; one subject I had never considered even though I have been quilting nearly all my life.

The question came to mind as I thought about best practices to influence younger generations into the art form (that post to come). What makes people like quilting? When and where did it start?

And that’s when I realized, I had no idea what the history was. I had always assumed it was a tradition passed generation from generation, but how did the tradition begin?

Origin

Although an exact date is not known, quilting is thought to have begun sometime between the first century B.C. to second century A.D. and the oldest quilt was found on the carved figure of a Pharaoh who ruled during Egypt’s First Dynasty, 3400 B.C.

Quilts were also found useful during the Middle Ages—knights would wear them beneath armor for comfort and throw quilts over armor to protect from the elements.

The New World

Flash forward to settlers coming to the new world, although no quilts can be found from this time, the art of quilt making likely arrived with the inhabitants.

The reason why no quilts could be found makes sense; quilts were utilitarian. They became useful, everyday tools: to provide warmth on a bed, mats for children, walls in one room houses, and more.

The earliest surviving American quilt is dated at 1704, thanks to an exposed newspaper clipping used as padding.

Modern Traditions

Quilting transformed into a social event during the settlement of the Great Plains as a way for women to socialize. Quilts also transformed into heirlooms and a form of fundraising, especially during the World Wars, and even continuing into today.

So why did quilts survive the test of time? Because the problem they solve still exists—protection from the elements—and as it turns out quilts are a great way to do just that.

*To dive deeper into these subjects, check out these websites.


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Pets in the Workplace

Pets at work

Pets in the workplace; yay or nay?

As of 2015, eight percent of workplaces allowed employees to bring their pet to work, a three percent increase from 2013. More recent numbers haven’t been released, but with prominent companies like Google and Amazon allowing employees to bring their furry companions, I’m sure that number has grown.

Benefits of Pets

Does your shop have a pet? If it doesn’t, you may want to reconsider.

According to this research, dog-friendly workplaces had less rates of absenteeism and higher productivity. They even reduce stress among pet-owning employees and are said to make a workplace more friendly.

Allowing a pet at work is not only a cheap wellness option (pets lower blood pressure), but could also come in handy when recruiting new hires too.

Concerns

Of course, there are many variables to take into consideration including allergies and checking with the landlord if you don’t own your building.

Other risks might be jeopardizing new business if your customers don’t like pets at work, or unforeseen risks.

To minimize these risks, make sure pets have fully updated vaccinations, maintain good hygiene, introduce them to the workplace slowly, and inform staff of dietary restrictions and needs.

Evaluate

Be sure to do your due diligence. What pets are allowed? Where are they allowed? Should you pet owners sign a waiver?

Ask around at other local businesses that include pets and think how your business compares. What do customers think? How long have the pets been around? What problems have they had?

What is your opinion on furry friends in the workplace? Leave a comment below to weigh in on the conversation.


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How to Shake the Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Are the winter blues making you feel uninspired?

We can all agree we’ve reached the point of winter where news of more snow makes us groan. Spring may be around the corner, but it doesn’t feel like it. And if you’re like me, you’ve contemplated a last second trip to a much warmer place.

This list isn’t going to tell you to print a photo of a beach to hang at your desk (hey, if that works for you, don’t let me stop you), but it will help change your mindset so you can make the most of this weather until warmer days come.

How to shake the winter blues

  • Lean into the boredom. The days may be dragging, but—believe it or not—boredom may be the answer to inspiring creativity. There is science to back this claim, but many artists also claim that having a job also inspires this creativity. Lucky for you, you have both, so the next time you have a big idea, go for it.
  • Meditate. There are apps to help you do this, but research shows that some is better than none. There is also a plethora of research that show the benefits, but after the first time I’m sure you won’t need convinced to do more.
  • Retrain your thinking. I’ve been struggling with this line: “What’s good is bad and what’s bad is good.” My busy schedule has made me used to not having free time, so when I find myself with it I don’t know how to enjoy it. I’ve come to enjoy what’s bad (never taking time for myself) to hating what’s good (having free time to enjoy time to myself). Take the time this winter to retrain this mindset.

 

Winter activities may be more constrained than summer ones, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be just as enjoyable. Rest is good, and hopefully these changes can help you enjoy it.


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It’s Time for a Website Overhaul

Website Overhaul

It seems like 2019 is the year of the website; almost everyone I know is working on or trying to update theirs.

The best advice I’ve heard this this: your website should reflect you.

Think about what you want – and what you want to evoke. Use these guidelines to help set a goal for your site before you start the project.

Website Content

What should a website include? I think the best answer is whatever you want your company’s webpage to do. No two sites are the same, which can be the best and worst part about the process.

Also think about how much maintenance you want to put into your website; if you want to include a weekly or bi-monthly blog, then by all means go for it! Be realistic when you consider how much time you really have though, if you already feel stretched too thin have your webpage include more evergreen features.

Your site should address the who, what, and where immediately on your homepage, and all information should not be more than three clicks away. When it comes to copy, less is more.

Funding the Project

And the part nobody likes to talk about – price. Remember you get what you pay for, so if you don’t currently have a website budget, start one.

While you wait for the site savings to grow, do some research with local businesses (with webpages you like) to see who built their website and how much they spent. Also while you’re waiting for more funds, keep up to date with what you like, don’t like, and want for your website so you’re ready when design begins.

Planning Ahead

In today’s social media-driven society, plan on addressing your site again in five years. Whenever changes happen within your business, your website should reflect that, too.

Find your annual checklist and add a site review to that list. The more work we do in the meantime means less work when it comes time for another website overhaul.


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Spinrite Acquires Coats & Clark Inc.

Spinrite acquires Coats

Leading producer of yarn Spinrite diversifies offering with purchase of the North American Crafts business of Coats.

The Canadian based craft yarn company is still closing the deal, but will absorb prestigious craft brands such as Red Heart, Coats & Clark, Aunt Lydia, and Susan Bates.

This means Spinrite will be able to offer sewing thread, embroidery thread, trims, and zippers outside of knitting yarn. 560 employees of Coats will also become a part of the Spinrite team along with manufacturing and distributing centers in Albany, Toccoa and Douglas, Georgia.

Coats Group

Coats, known as the world’s leading distributor of industrial thread, has offices in 50 countries across six continents and employs over 19,000 people.

The craft giant also operates in a variety of industries, including apparel where their personal protection technology uses their in-depth knowledge of digital blends to provide “differentiated flame/cut resistant woven or knit products.”

Other industries they operate in include footwear, automotive, medical, and more.

As for their specific brands that will join the Spinrite roster, Red Heart is known for yarn, Aunt Lydia for crochet thread, Susan Bates for craft tools, and Coats for yarn, embroidery thread, and zippers too.

From the acquisition press release, President and CEO of Spinrite Ryan Newell says, “We are thrilled to add the prestigious Coats craft brands to our growing portfolio… Product diversification is one of the key pillars of our long-term strategic plan, allowing us to offer a broader assortment to our retail partners and consumers.”

Stay tuned to the American Quilt Retailer blog to find out about industry news including acquisitions, events, and more.


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Aurifil Goes Plastic Neutral with Plastic Bank

Plastic Bank - Plastic Neutral

Aurifil goes Plastic Neutral through a partnership with the Plastic Bank.

Aurifil, considered the world leading manufacturer of 100% cotton thread, asked themselves what they can do to decrease the plastic footprint they create from the thousands of spools left over from their thread used to create garments, quilts, accessories, art, and more.

As it turns out, Aurifil customers care about the same issue, too. Aurifil was consistently getting asked same questions about what their spools were made of and what customers can do to recycle them.

Although Aurifil encourages consumers to reuse spools, they took a look at the ever-increasing plastic build up in our oceans and knew that step alone wasn’t enough.

Aurifil Goes Plastic Neutral

Going Plastic Neutral

Enter Plastic Bank, a non-profit based in Canada that works to stop ocean plastic while impacting impoverished areas across the globe.

Plastic Bank accomplished their goal by changing plastic to a form of currency. Impoverished communities can exchange collected plastic for money, items, or rewards. By transforming plastic into a form of currency not only does it incentivize collection but makes an economic impact on communities around the globe who are most in need.

The new partnership will offset Aurifil’s plastic production rate by 8000kg. This means that areas around Indonesia, Haiti, the Philippines, and Brazil will clear 8000kg of plastic from their oceans.

Of course you can help the cause too by recycling spools in the traditional sense, or taking note from Kate Brennan, sales and customers serivce at Aurifil, who uses empty spools to store binding.

Individuals have the opportunity to go plastic neutral too, find out more at the Plastic Bank.


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Threads of Success Registration Open

Threads of Success Registration Open

The wait is over! Registration for this year’s highly anticipated event at Quilt Market, Threads of Success, is now open.

The event takes place from October 25th through the 28th at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.

Threads of Success will include 35 breakout sessions that include opportunities for networking, lectures from keynote speakers, and educational features.

Geared toward industry entrepreneurs, the sessions will cover topics including writing, inventing, pattern design, Focus Tracks of Fabric Designers, accounting, copyright law, and more.

Of course anyone is welcome at the stand-alone conference but the event will be extremely beneficial to anyone breaking into the industry.

22 industry leaders have already been announced as speakers including Tula Pink of Tula Pink, Inc., Jennifer Keltner of Martingale, Christa Watson of Christa Quilts, and more.

Some of these speakers will present during one of the conference’s three breakfast and two luncheons.

The conference also includes a mentorship program with well-known names in the business and exclusive access to the Quilt Market trade show on the last day of exhibits.

Schoolhouse Series

Registration for Schoolhouse Series is also available upon registration to Threads of Success.

Schoolhouse Series includes over 250 sessions offered in 15-30 minute intervals on October 25th. The information-filled forum provides opportunities for manufacturers, designers, retailers, and veterans of the industry to display new products and techniques.

Both of these events give attendees insider access to a wealth of knowledge. Industry professionals will help you find out how to get published, avoid costly mistakes, market yourself, expand your creative network, and so much more.

Registration for Threads of Success costs $750 for the four day event.

For a complete list of classes and events, check out their website.

Continue reading Threads of Success Registration Open

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How you know it’s time for expansion

Expansion - is it time?

Are you wondering if it’s time to grow your business? Check out these six signs to see if expansion is the best option for you.

  • You’re bored. Do the days feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Maybe it’s time for a challenge, and one challenge that will get you off the hamster wheel is seeing if expanding is the best option for you.
  • You’re overworked. You gotta make money to spend money, and if you’re doing work that could be delegated to someone else, think about hiring someone part time. With that extra time you could find more ways to make money.
  • You’re in high demand. Do you have to schedule orders weeks in advance? Are you having to turn customers away because you’re out of stock? This is a tell-tale sign to find ways to partner to make sure everyone leaves your store happy.
  • You’re profitable. If you’re making a profit in the hundreds (or even thousands) consistently, you are ready to expand. If your profits aren’t trending, then wait a while until they do. Read this article from Forbes to find out more.
  • You have opportunities. Has someone contacted you for a larger than usual order? Are people wanting to partner? Jump on that opportunity before it goes away (after all you never know when it will come again).
  • You have ideas. The best entrepreneurs act on market trends. Do your research first, but if you’re sure something is going to take off find a way to make a profit off it.Expansion.png

Expanding is exciting and can open doors for your business you never imagined. If you’ve been thinking about it, maybe it’s time to take the next step.

This article was inspired by The Small Business blog.


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