Sunday, March 18, 2007

Worldwide Retailer from Rural North Dakota

One of my favorite examples of the changes taking place in business, driven by the internet, is Dakota Cabin Quilts. DCQ is located in Hettinger, ND (population 1,307), the largest town for 40 miles. It is remote!

Dakota Cabin Quilts was started by a local physician, Dr. Laura Walker, and her husband Wesley, because Dr. Laura couldn’t find quilting supplies near Hettinger. She built her business with an internet model and sells all over the USA and world. When I was last in Hettinger, they had eight employees.

She and her husband write a wonderful weekly e-zine newsletter about DCQ and their family. Even if you aren’t a quilter, and I’m not, you should subscribe to this newsletter. Here is today’s newsletter from Dr. Laura about starting the business.

After Wesley's funny & honest newsletter last weekend, I feel the need to confess. He's absolutely right. I sheepishly read "Help, I Married a Quilter", and recognized myself, my quilting friends, and many of our quilting customers in the book.

I paused, and looked back upon my personal quilt making history, and the history of our business. I clearly remember the time when I was inspired to start a little home-based business (in our basement), selling fabric & quilting supplies. My motivation: I wanted to buy my stash "for wholesale cost". Of course, I didn't tell my husband that, but he soon figured it out.

I told him that I might need a little help with my little business venture. He cautiously asked, "How much help? How many hours a week do you think I would have to help?" I looked him straight in the eye, answering, "Oh, probably no more than 3 hours a week."

Well, let's just say that it was never "just three hours". From the beginning, he worked side by side with me, and when we moved out of the basement, and bought our building, he became the store manager. He works many more hours at the store than I do, usually 6 long days every week.

It hasn't been easy. We've fired each other a number of times. But, since we're in this together, we forgive & forget, and smooth out the rough spots. In the beginning, Phyllis honestly commented, "I like working with Laura. I like working with Wesley. But, I don't like working with Laura & Wesley". She was right... sometimes we work great together. Sometimes, we don't. (She says we're better than we used to be, but I know we have "our days".)

Along the way, Wesley has learned a lot about the art of quilting, and about the retail side of things. He's a tough negotiator with the fabric companies, and has friends in customer service at every office. He has a reputation with the quilters in the area, "If you really need something, and all the shops say they can't get it, call Wes. He might be able to find it." Sometimes, this backfires, as quilters call looking for the impossible.

I had a moment of pride when we were unpacking at a quilt retreat about a year ago. A couple of older quilters, with years of experience dealing with female clerks in fabric stores, were watching us unpack our merchandise. I happened to overhear their conversation.

"A man? In a quilt shop?"
Her friend replied, "Yes, and he's very good. THEY SAY, he's much better with color than SHE is!"
"Really!", the first exclaimed.

Although hesitant at first, the quilter asked Wesley for help, and he rose to the occasion: knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. By the end of the day, they were fast friends.


k.k. said...

yes, they really are nice people, & I'm happy for them & their business doing so well (let alone happy for Hettinger, although there is more to the town than that)... the internet has made a lot of connections between people, & a lot of places less "remote"...

BoomtownUSA said...

You are correct about Hettinger having much more than just DCQ. I was very impressed with a town that size having a regional hospital with as many doctors as it did. I recall about a dozen!

I also loved the downtown and some of the very unique shops there and the story of them recruiting in the manufacturer near the downtown.

Hettinger is on my list of towns that I'd love to get back to for a visit.

k.k. said...

if you do, I suggest this early July, (3rd-8th)(although it does tend to get fairly hot in North Dakota during the summer) for Hettinger's Centennial Celebration, I doubt you'll ever see this town go more all-out than then...