An unlikely hobby-turned-moneymaker — quilting — helped two Missouri entrepreneurs revitalize their rural hometown and make their mom a YouTube star. They even won an award from the White House.
Every year during National Small Business Week, the US Small Business Administration names a small business person of the year.
Siblings Alan Doan and Sarah Galbraith received top honors this year for their Missouri Star Quilt Company.
With the help of cofounder David Mifsud and their mom Jenny, Doan and Galbraith grew their business from $1.7 million in revenues in 2011 to $10 million in 2013. They expect to continue growing 100% to 200% year-over-year.
The quilting company has become the largest employer in their hometown of Hamilton, Missouri, as well as the entire county. In the past year and a half, they've gone from 40 to 180 employees, Doan says.
It all started when Doan and Galbraith decided to find a way to bring their parents some supplemental income after their father not only lost his job as a mechanic for the Kansas City Star in 2008 but lost most of his retirement savings in the stock market crash that year.
While neither sibling was a quilter, their mom had recently picked up the hobby. Doan called his childhood friend Mifsud, a financial planner with whom he'd previously started some small businesses, to help them get a quilting company off the ground.
It turned out quilting was a profitable niche waiting to be filled, and by 2012 all three cofounders committed full-time to the Missouri Star Quilt Company. The company sells a massive selection of pre-cut fabrics for quilters, and offers quick turnaround custom quilting services.
Doan and Galbraith's mom Jenny began regularly uploading quilting tutorials to YouTube, and soon built a fanbase of quilting enthusiasts from around the world. Many of her weekly videos bring in hundreds of thousands of views, and six have exceeded 1 million views.
Mifsud says the tutorials, the variety and affordability of their products, and their fostering of local and online communities have been responsible for their growth.
Doan adds that from a management perspective, they clicked when they began trusting their employees more.
They began to "put people into autonomous silos, where they could create, succeed or fail, and not have us helicoptering over them," Doan says.
The cofounders started their business in Hamilton largely out of convenience to their family, but quickly noticed its positive effect on the community. They decided that as they grew, they would remain there rather than expanding to a big city.
The Doan family moved from California to Hamilton, a small town of 1,500 people, in 1995. "When we got there, there were a lot of things happening," Galbraith says. "As the years went by, it just started dying. People started moving away, and hardly anything was going on. The economy in Hamilton couldn't support itself."
"We recreated some of the reasons to stick around," Doan says. "I mean, we could go somewhere else and rent a factory and become an internet company, but we saw a lot of value in investing millions of dollars back into our community — build buildings that line our streets and create those 180 jobs in this tiny town."
The Missouri Star Quilt Company has one warehouse and six quilt shops, with seven more under construction, which they hope to have completed by the end of the year. Mifsud says it's all part of a plan to turn Hamilton into "Quilt Town, USA."
"We have people locally that continue to drive value to us," Doan explains. "The social effect of that for the people who live here is something you can't recreate."
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