Alan Doan and Sarah Galbraith were recently named the 2015 Small Business Persons of the Year by The U.S. Small Business Administration for the remarkable growth and contributions of their business: Missouri Star Quilt Company. Alan reveals some of the secrets to their success in the following interview.
In just seven short years, Alan Doan, his sister, Sarah, and their family took a single quilting machine and used it to create the largest employer in Caldwell County, MO. combining e-commerce with a bustling brick-and-mortar retail operation, Missouri Star Quilt Company ships hundreds of quilting supplies to customers all over the world each day.
The company’s success, and its strong partnership with the community, has also helped put their hometown of Hamilton on the map as a tourist attraction, spawning new restaurants, small shops and other businesses. Today, around 10,000 tourists come through the town each month.
How’d they do it? Part of their success can be attributed to their incredibly popular YouTube channel. Hosted by Alan and Sarah’s mother, it features weekly quilting tutorials enjoyed by more than 250,000 subscribers.
Alan shares some insight on his small business success:
You run a global business from a small town. How would you say small businesses contribute to their surrounding communities?
We like being from Hamilton and enjoy living here. It’s where I want to raise my family, so it’s a natural place to have our business.
Our approach follows something our Mom always told us: If you’re renting a house, invest in that house and make it better than it was when you found it.
While we could go to another place with cheaper warehouse space, we want to make our town better. We’d rather spend our time and our money here, because the whole community can grow from what we’re doing.
What advice would you give to fellow small businesses owners?
I’d offer two thoughts. First, just hang in there. If you’re working hard, you know your product is good, and people are responding well, just stick with it and you’ll begin to see results. It won’t happen overnight. But if you’re a doer and not just a talker, you can make it.
And, you have to learn to do more, faster. Unfortunately, as an entrepreneur, you don’t get to work an eight-hour day and go home. You have to do more and work harder. Sometimes you just have to raise the expectations you put on yourself. That’s the key.
Did you start out with a formal social media strategy or did success just find you when you began publishing the YouTube videos?
We knew that one of our challenges would be creating our own audience. Quilting doesn’t have a watering hole. There’s no one place where everybody goes, like an ESPN for quilting.
So, we started from scratch and definitely had a strategy. Being that we were quilt shop number 1,512 out there, we had to figure out how we could get ourselves into the conversation. The YouTube channel did that for us.
It also helped that we have a passion for educating people about quilting – we’re happy to teach about techniques and materials free of charge, in person or on YouTube. We just enjoy that. Plus, the more people who learn how to quilt, the more materials we’ll sell.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Looking back, I wish I’d better understood people, and how to grow and develop myself. In fact, I don’t think I even realized I needed to develop myself and my leadership skills at the beginning.
My mentors helped me learn how I need to continually grow myself in order to help the company grow. My challenge wasn’t running a company that made $10 – I was used to doing that. But when the company started making $100, then $1,000, I had to adjust to that. To accommodate growth, you must continually change your leadership style.
Congratulations to Alan, Sarah, their entire family and all of their employees for the success they’ve enjoyed already – and for everything that will come their way because of their good hard work.