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