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Meet Quilted Ceiling

Store name: Quilted Ceiling
Who owns the store: Steven and Mary Lee Nielson.
Address and phone number: 316 Central Ave. N, Valley City, ND; 701-845-4926
Years in business: Quilted Ceiling opened its doors November 4, 2005 – 14 years in 2019.
Number of employees: The store employs one full time woman (manager/buyer), five part-time women and also have five ladies who will fill in when needed

All social media info:
Website:
quiltedceiling.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/QuiltedCeiling — Facebook is used to show new items in the store as well as new finished quilts, or other happenings in the store.
Email: info@quiltedceiling.com

We send out an email newsletter with dates of classes and other special events.  A copy is available on our web site.

Types of special services offered: Quilted Ceiling has a web store that showcases all the fabric including, jelly rolls, charms and layer cakes.  Bridal couples are also listed on the web site with the date of the wedding and a listing with pictures of what they registered for.

Where did the name for your store come from? Our unique name came from one of our employees who said we should have quilt squares on the ceiling and call the store Quilted Ceiling.  We had 50+ people helping us paint the ceiling panels.  Each one has a different quilting pattern. A teacher brought her class of first graders and did the actual name and decorated the letters for the panels above the door when you come in.  This brought a lot of buy-in for the store as the artists brought in their families to show them their quilting square on the ceiling.

 

What do customers see first when they come into your store? When you first come into the store you are greeted across the room by beautiful sample quilts hanging from the ceiling.  As you gaze downward you will see a display of gift items.  Walking towards the back you will see rows of fabric and several walls filled with notions.  In the summer we get quite a few tourists and ask them to sign our guest book by the door.  It is so surprising to see where they all come from.  We are also supported by our local community and smaller towns around Valley City.

How do you delegate the workload among your employees? The work load is shared by all who work here.  Each employee is in charge of cutting at least one block of the month and they each have to be in charge of ordering for a category in the store.   One gal orders all the notions each week, one orders for the kitchen area, one does all the books and patterns, manager does all the giftware ordering and fabric ordering and so on.

From your social media: “Just a warning, you may laugh a lot if you come in. We have a lot of quick wits around here!”  Does your staff get along well? Many say Quilted Ceiling is the happiest store in town.  I don’t know about that but we all seem to have a good time and get along well.  One customer has said many times “if you ever need a volunteer just let me know, I love this happy place!”

How do you select teachers for your classes? Teachers are usually hard to find but we have been fortunate to have some of our employees also teach classes.  We also have about six ladies that do samples for us and some also teach classes.  We have had several teachers come in and show their new patterns and teach the technique used in their patterns.  At the present time we haven’t been doing a lot of classes as it seems it is getting harder and harder to fill the classes.

What are some of the ways your community shows support for your store? We are lucky to have three long arm quilters in our area and are happy to have their customers drop off quilts to be quilted and then pick them up when finished.  We have a list of sewers who will do alterations and give out their business cards for those in need.  We have a group of ladies who come every morning and afternoon for coffee in our break room and the best part is quite often they bring treats.  Not too long ago there were 17 ladies in our small break room, some standing and some sitting. Word of mouth is our most effective advertising.  We wouldn’t exist if quilters didn’t talk to each other!  It is amazing when folks from other states come in because they heard about us from other quilters.

How does your shop hop work? We have been in several shop hops over the years and each one has their own way of doing things.  The shop hop we will be part of this April will have around eight shops in it.  Customers draw for a 10, 15 or 20 per cent discount on their purchase, we stamp their pass port and usually give them a recipe for the treat we are serving.  We also give them a free pattern for the block our store created and show them the finished block made up.  We have kits made up for sale for those who want their block to look like ours.  Each store makes up a block and if the customer goes to each store they will have eight free block patterns for a quilt.  Those customers who have gone to all eight shops and had their passport stamped at each store turns it in at the last store.  Shop owners meet the week after the hop and throw all finished passports in a basket and draw for 1st prize and 2nd prize.

Your website says you have the largest notions supply in the area. How do you keep up with what’s new with notions as well as keeping your notions area well stocked? We are known for our large selection of notions.  Each week the gal in charge of ordering notions goes through the notions and makes a list of missing notions (this is where inventory tags are a must).  Unless it is something that has been on the wall a very long time she reorders each notion and then she goes through all the new items from each distributor and decides what would be good notions for our customers and adds those to her order.  We have slat wall throughout the store, most of our notions are easy to see and access as they are hanging.

 

 

 

 

What are your biggest frustrations and struggle as a business owner? It is most frustrating to hear a customer say “I didn’t know you were here.”  When we started we were on TV. We are on the local radio station weekly and advertise in the paper.  QC is part of a billboard on the interstate.  We are on FaceBook and have a website.  What more can you do?

How does the gifts area fit into your store? What advice can you give quilt shops who want to add gifts? When you live in a smaller town it is very hard to be a store that only sells on thing.  You have to be diversified.  We have our gift area in the front of the store, which includes an extensive kitchen area, picture frames, religious items, stoneware dishes, Oneida flatware, glassware, candles, jewelry, purses, signs and home décor.  The manager does the gift ordering as well as the fabric ordering.  We use to go to Minneapolis Gift Mart but in the past few years’ reps from different companies call on us and we order from them.  Having the gift area helps to bring in people that aren’t quilters and sometimes they end up buying something that has nothing to do with gifts.  If you are thinking of adding a gift department in your quilt store, I would start out small and see how it goes.  Remember you can’t just order what you like.  It is just like fabric; you have to order somethings that others will like.

Are there certain fabric or pattern designers you typically stock? Quilted Ceiling orders fabric from Wilmington, Moda, Riley Blake, Quilting Treasures, Hoffman, Northcott, RJR, Studio E, Free Spirit, Marcus, Shannon, Windham, Benartex, etc.  Right now Kimberbell seems to be the patterns of choice.

Open for Business is brought to you by American Quilt Retailer, a trade publication for independent quilt shop owners, and sponsored by QT Fabrics.

 

 

 

 

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Colchester Mill Fabrics and Quilting

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American Quilt Retailer is pleased to feature Colchester Mill Fabrics and Quilting of Colchester, CT, in today’s Open for Business blog post.

mainroomStore name: Colchester Mill Fabrics and Quilting
Who owns the store: Cheryl Dolloff
Years in business: We will celebrate 44 years in business in March, 2019.
Number of employees: I have eight employees. Three are full time and five are part time.
Social media info:  www.colchestermillfabrics.com
Facebook: Facebook.com/colchestermillfabrics/

Types of special services offered — While we are technically a full line retail fabric store, our main focus is quilting. We offer services you won’t find in many other shops. We have on-site scissor sharpening, we can cut foam for replacement furniture cushions, we make bows from our ribbon stock or from customer’s own. We carry a wide variety of yarns and offer help with knitting and crocheting projects.

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Store location — 120 Lebanon Avenue, Colchester, CT 06415
We are in the former Levine & Levine Coat Factory building, a 16,000 square foot free-standing building that still has the old steam pipes and sprinkler system, which adds to the charm of our building.
We are in the south eastern portion of Connecticut, thirty minutes from the capital, Hartford. We are 2.5 hours southwest of Boston and 2.5 hours northeast of New York.

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What is the history of your store?
My mom, Carolyn, was a stay at home mom who made custom drapes, slipcovers and pillows for customers. She shopped at Colchester Mill Fabrics for supplies. She became aware the business was for sale, and in the fall of 1974, asked her mother-in-law for a $25,000 loan to buy the store. The store was purchased in March 1975 and she suddenly lost her lease. My Mom found a small strip mall that was on the main road and decided to buy the location.  It housed several other businesses and as our business grew,  the other tenants were asked to leave. Finally, our store encompassed the entire 8000 sq. ft.
We were truly the one stop shop and had customers coming for as far away as Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York. We carried fashion fabrics, home decorating fabrics, trims, yarns, a vast craft department and every notion known to mankind. If we didn’t carry it, it wasn’t going to be found. We traveled to NYC several times a year to Cranston Print Works to purchase fabrics. When quilting starting to become vogue, we started carrying calicoes and later batiks.
On June 3, 1997, I was in NYC on a buying trip when I got a frantic call that the store was on fire. We had been burned to the ground in an arson fire. We had to decide what our future was going to be. The outpouring of love and support from our customers was overwhelming and Mom said, we had to reopen for them.
Mom had a vision for a new store and spent days trying to make that a reality. She and my stepdad were driving through town and found that an old Harris Tweed coat manufacturing building was for sale. She brought me to look at the building which was “off the beaten path.” I took one look and started to cry. There was no way we could make this rundown, old, smelly building work for us. She pushed me to look past all the ugly.
Exactly one year from the day of the arson fire, we opened in the former Levine & Levine Coat Factory building. We went from 8000 sq ft to almost 16,000 sq ft. We carried the same types of inventory in the new store as we did before but now had a more dedicated quilt department. With such a huge area to fill with product, we expanded in every department including having a classroom. Classes were a challenging and as new product came in, the classroom got smaller until finally, it was replaced with fabrics.

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Recently you changed from a fabric store to a quilting store. Why did you do that and what were the steps, and challenges, involved?
When my Mom fell ill, I took a more active role in the day to day business. I tried to have my vision but it was still Mom’s store and she had final say. She passed away May 5, 2011. In 2016, we reduced the square footage devoted to our home decorating department by about half, we cancelled our 40+ year contract with McCalls pattern company, and we added a small classroom.  We brought more quilting type products, reduced the square footage that we devoted to fashion fabrics, and rearranged fixtures to allow better quilting type displays. The classroom now has 10 tables, a 18×20 rug, retractable electric from the ceiling, a 55 inch tv and space to comfortably seat 12 people for classes, and about 50 people for guest speakers/lectures.
Mom’s voice is with me every single day. All these years later, I finally realized she was my mentor and without her, I wouldn’t have the amazing shop I have today.

How large of an area does your customer base draw from?
Our core customer base comes from all over Connecticut, but we draw from all the neighboring states including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and parts of New York. We are approximately 30 minutes from the shore, so  tourist traffic is mostly summer traffic. We have great leaf peeping in our area, and we see an upswing of tourist traffic during October as well. Being 20-30 minutes from two casinos, we  many customers that visit them. We’ve heard plenty of stories of wives leaving their husbands at the casino so they can shop with us.

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What makes your business great?
We are much larger inside than what you see on the outside. First time customer stop right inside the door, eyes and mouth wide open, not knowing which direction to look first and just gasp. We carry nearly 5000 bolts of cottons from major manufacturers. We have patterns, books, batting, notions, and gifts for every quilter. Along with all the products, we have samples of many patterns on display as well as the kits to make them.  We also carry fashion fabrics and designer fashion cuts from the New York and Los Angeles Fashion District. We also carry sewing notions, crafts and yarns. We also provide services such as scissors sharpening. We are happy to provide the environment that takes you to another happy place.

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You have a lot of great events at your store. How many do you have each year and how do you manage them?
We try to have a big event each quarter. The event can be a guest teacher/lecturer, themed sale or a retreat. Each New Year’s Day we have a Pajama Party. If customers come in wearing jammies, they receive a store wide discount. Staff are required to wear their jammies to keep up the theme. In recent years, we have hosted fabric and pattern designer Toni Steere from Wing and a Prayer Designs, and Timeless Treasures for a trunk show and a two day class. We have hosted former Connecticut resident, fabric and pattern designer Jackie Kunkel from CV Quiltworks for a trunk show. Alex Veronelli from Aurifil Thread taught us all about thread. We were entertained by QT Fabrics and learned all about their long history and everything we wanted to know about fabric printing. We recently had Sue Reich, a local quilt historian with the largest personal collection of historical quilts visit us for a very moving lecture about WW2 quilts and how they related to Connecticut. We hosted our first ever Quilter’s Camping Retreat this past October. We have a Spring as well as a Fall Retreat in the works for 2019. The key to a successful event/sale is cooperation from my staff, delegating when possible, and a wonderful customer base that appreciates what we do for them.

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What advice can you give other shops about how to run events?
Organize, organize, organize and organize more. Myself and my manager, Liz have a wonderful working relationship. We both have vastly different strengths and we know how to work well off each other. Attention to detail is extremely important to us and while it can make for challenges organizing events, in the long run, it is a life saver for us. Expect the worst, plan for it and know that you can handle whatever situation arises.   I have a large wall white board calendar that is updated weekly that I can glance at for advanced ordering as well as classes and details for trunk show arrivals and return dates. Because we are having even more events in 2019, I’m working on a yearlong calendar that I can events/sales for the year. This will allow me to see what months we have gaps in events/sales. I know I must work harder on my organizational skills this year.

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Do you take time off during the week or for vacations or travel?
We are open seven days a week so I have scheduled time off. I rarely take more than an afternoon off, though. To stave off burn out, I travel to St. Croix 3-4 times a year to spend time at our condo. I’m extremely fortunate to have a wonderful staff and a bookkeeper who keep the store running smoothly. I have access to all aspects of my business while I’m out of the shop so I’m never truly away but I am able to step away and know the shop is in good hands.

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Do you bring in trunk shows from designers?
We bring in trunk shows or new quilt samples from designers we find at Quilt Market. Right now, we have a trunk show from Pieces to Treasures, a lovely Moda designer from Australia that features patterns using dish toweling. We do base some of our fabric buying around a quilt sample offered through our fabric vendors. We will reach out to designers asking to borrow quilts. This saves me money by not having to have a sample made for display. It also allows our samples to change on a regular basis so we always look fresh.

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Does your area have shop hops? What is expected of you when you belong to a shop hop?
For over twelve years, we’ve had a 12 shop Shop Hop, held every other year, in September.  We meet several times a year to determine what we will feature during the Hop. Each shop is expected to have a sample of their shop project on display, light refreshments and one or two sale items specifically for hoppers. Each hopper receives a free pattern for visiting each shop. We have our own quilt featured on the cover of the pattern we choose making each pattern that much more personal to the shop.  In previous hops, we have given away sewing machines, huge gift baskets and shop gift certificates for completed passports. This year, we are having a party themed hop. Each shop will host a different themed event. Our theme is Country Fair and we plan to offer games like pin the thread on the machine, bobbing for fabric etc.

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What kind of advice can you give for creating displays?
Having a large craft department helps us with products needed for displays. Being a very visual industry, our displays need to tell a story but not be so over the top that customers don’t want to shop the display. Various heights, colors, textures and shapes in our displays make a customer stop and see everything. I am a firm believer of signage. Customers need to know what they are looking at and not guess what pattern/fabric etc is used in a sample. We want our displays to make customer just have to buy something! My staff takes a vision I have and runs with it or I leave display ideas up to them.
I was given the ultimate compliment from a staff member this week. She explained that a first time customer commented on what a wonderful first time shopping experience she was having, that she doesn’t have a boss but has a leader that truly appreciates her staff. Appreciate your staff and let them know it often.

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