Sustaining the Happily Ever After
It’s been a busy few weeks, as we approach next week’s Humble Beginnings Adventure in the quilt shop. This is an event that has been in the planning and implementing stages for just over a year now. It began with a meeting at the fabric warehouse at the end of summer, 2015.
Kathryn, another small shop owner was there, browsing for fabric, as were Rick and I. After introducing ourselves, we spoke together of the mutual need to increase our customer base as we built our inventories … we spoke of wanting to publicize our shops’ existence, and how helpful the recent summer long Row by Row™ website was in advertising who and where we are. We knew of larger shops, well-established in their locales,that were well known and trusted to have the quilt-quality goods that the community of quilters looks for and appreciates, and supports. We knew that they ran successful shop hops each year, and had a loyal following of quilters. Our Quilters’ Quarter shop was then a year and a half old – and Kathryn’s was just coming up on her first year anniversary. She is running her shop as her business and career. I was running our shop as a community gathering spot for quilters and other friends to come together and enjoy creating beautiful quilts. With my teaching pension and Rick’s pension and social security earnings, we were not relying on the quilt shop for financial sustenance, as other quilt shops do. We did not have to meet a payroll, or afford insurance for ourselves and others. I was happy if the shop brought in enough working capital to pay its separate utilities and the monthly 2nd mortgage that had been incurred when we remodeled the second floor to relocate Rick’s woodworking space and make room for the quilt shop. The shop is doing that, but not yet earning enough to also pay for the expensive, quilt-quality fabric, thread and notions that we are acquiring.
And so we three together made a preliminary plan to gain partners in a shop hop venture that, like Row by Row™, would raise awareness of our shops and locations. We chose a time of year in which the environment would enhance the distance between our shops with its annual foliage display. Kathryn began recruiting a few more shops to join us, carefully selecting shops that were similar to our small size and unique in their own way. Geography was important, as we wanted shop hoppers to be able to enjoy the ride between our shops, with ours at the northeast border of our state, and hers at the south. In short order, we had five shops united in this goal. And a bit later a sixth was added. Kathryn was willing to handle the business end of the plan … she ordered brochures, tote bags, post cards, passes, etc., and organized a timeline of when to have our shop’s individual block patterns designed, block patterns printed, fabric to make up kits for our blocks, a sample quilt top completed at each shop; we began in earnest to be prepared. And each shop was to sell at least 50 Adventure passes to our customers. I gulped at that, not sure that we even had fifty customers… but we’ve managed to sell thirty-five so far. For their six dollar pass, customers will receive from each shop a free kit with fabric to make two blocks . It’s quite a bargain!
Of course, while we planned and kept things ‘under wraps’ until we were ready to reveal our plans, life went on and other plans were being made by other organizations. The printings had been ordered, paid for and received, making our chosen weekend dates unchangeable, before we learned that our local quilt guild chose the same autumn weekend as our Adventure weekend for their annual quilt show, which had always been in the spring. That meant that all quilters who were guild members would be busy on the Friday and Saturday of our Adventure’s three day event. And a local organization moved the date of their 5K walk/run for melanoma that starts each year virtually in front of our house; they usually scheduled it on Columbus Day weekend, but this year by chance chose the same weekend as ours, meaning that the road in front of our house (and shop) would be closed for a few hours on our Sunday date.
We knew that our son’s wedding would be two weeks after our Adventure, but didn’t know until late this spring that our nephew’s wedding would be the same weekend as our event, and as most of my family would be attending the wedding, they would not be around to visit our shop or support our efforts. No matter, I told my sister, the mother of the groom, who was very apologetic at the conflict in dates, that it would be okay, and that while we would miss their wedding we would be thinking of them. And I knew that our circle of artist-and quilter-friends would rally with us and help where they could, working around the quilt guild’s volunteer assignments and other calendar events. We will make this work. We have to make this work, as we have now invested several hundreds of dollars in event-specific fabrics, printing costs, kit-making supplies, refreshments, accomodations for customer comfort and so on. It is now feeling more like a business than just our own little retirement shop…
Having another cancer surgery on my back at the end of summer threw yet another chunk into our planned, relaxed approach to this event, as Rick was now my wound-care nurse, treating my back each night and day for the past eight weeks, trying to get the stubborn wound to heal. I’ve been prescribed both topical and oral antibiotics to aid the healing, and have been advised by the skin surgeon and his assistant not to stretch my back any more than minimally necessary, as that would only continue to open the wound. This, I kept to myself, trying to remember not to twist or bend while turning to pick things up in the house or the shop, but not wanting to sit out the chores related to planning an event for several hundred visitors in a three day period. Rick has arranged for the delivery of a “porta-potty” as there is no water in our barn to accommodate shoppers’ needs for a “facility.” He is planning to set up four canopy tents in the back yard to shelter refreshment tables and some sale articles. And we’ve used our ‘free become a member’ card at BJs to stock up on snacks as promised for the three days and possibly three hundred quilters (or more!) Our snacks will be simple treats and cool and hot drinks. We are not going to serve warm appetizers, though the other shops are planning to do more. I’m glad they will.
Rick and I are supplying the Grand Prize for the winner of the drawing at the end of the Humble Beginnings Adventure: we took one of our Singer Model 66 handcranks, dated 1915, added a hand crank and put it in a white oak base that Rick built for it, with two storage compartments containing needles, bobbins and a few other items. Kathryn asked us to assign a value to the prize, and we collectively came up with a retail price of about $200.00 Not too shabby a grand prize!
What I’ve learned from this experience is that running a quilt shop hop is no small matter, involves an output of a lot of money, either cash or credit (and as we don’t generate lots of cash it has been primarily on credit, with interest charges added.) Instead of feeling like we’ve done something exciting for our community of quilters and good for our shop, it feels like we’ve needed a lot of our friends’ help to get this up and running, at a time that the quilt guild itself needs their time and energy. My central business goal is still the word “HAPPY” and I do still feel optimistic that this hop may at least pay for its own expenses eventually, but presently it feels like it has added a large financial weight to our plates. It feels less like our normal ‘happily ever after’ and more like a business.
Our New England autumn environment will either make or break this event … the weathermen are predicting a ten day forecast of clear skies and comfortable temperatures next weekend … that will be good for the road race, the quilt guild, our nephew’s wedding, and our unpredictably-ill-timed Humble Beginnings Adventure. We’ll live and learn through this one … and perhaps be more reticent to offer to join in next time. We’re not spring chickens anymore … we’re more like autumn leaves, smiling brightly but fading easily! We are truly blessed with good friends who are like fairy godmothers with their rakes and their dusters and their work gloves and their wonderful creativity. We want to make this a happy event for all. Wish us good weather and luck? And thanks to those who will come and support us in this Adventure!