What I learned from the Missouri Star Quilt Company
Last week I went on a three day trip with my lovely wife Jackie to a place called the Missouri Star Quilt Company. This firm is located in Hamilton, Missouri, a tiny town about 50 miles from nowhere. Well, actually it’s just 11 miles from Cameron, which is about 35 or 40 miles northeast of Kansas City. Get the picture? This is the very definition of “rural.”
Why did we go there? Well, Missouri Star Quit Company (MSQC) is the place for quilters. People come from all over the world to shop in one of their sixteen themed stores. At the motel where we stayed (which was in the next town over) we met fellow pilgrims from as far away as California. And I had a conversation with one of the folks at MSQC who said they had some women from Australia there a couple of weeks before.
Why do I bring up this quaint little business? Because it is no little business. Last year it won the small business of the year award from the SBA. I mentioned the scope of it’s appeal above. It has single-handedly revived a dying town, has become the largest employer in the town and the county it’s located in. It grew from $1.7 million in revenue in 2010 to $10 million in 2013.
Just a little more background. As I understand the story, the parents of the owners (Alan Doan and Sarah Galbraith, and Doan’s childhood friend, David Mifsud) suffered severely from the financial crisis of 2008. The kids decided to help restore the older Doans’ security, and cast about for some way to do it. Jenny Doan, the most visible image of the company, began doing YouTube videos showing quilting techniques. And the popularity of these videos became the basis of the company’s marketing and growth.
OK, you might say, that’s interesting, but how does that apply to me?
Well, maybe it doesn’t. You don’t have to have won the Small Business of the Year award. Or maybe you have not had 427% revenue growth in 3 years. Maybe you are content with the place your business is right now. After all, good is good enough.
But, if you’d like to do something different, I believe the way this company operates can teach us something no matter what our situation is. Because I believe these five things truly make a difference between good and dominant.
Let me illustrate with another story about my trip. While at one of the theme shops (actually it was the location of JC Penny’s 500th store, opened in 1924) there was a quilt displayed on the wall. It advertised the “Missouri Hwy 36 Quilt Trail.” When we asked we found out that 17 quilt shops across Missouri from St Joseph to Hannibal were having a competition. Stop in each one, get a quilt pattern for part of a quilt, then make your own and submit it for a prize. Neat idea. The point is, of those 17 quilt shops, how many had people from California and Australia come just to see them? Just one–MSQC.
True, a company does not grow and prosper from the occasional tourist, unless you are one of Disney’s properties. But it does grow and prosper by dominating its locale. You want to be the first business that comes to mind in your field for anyone in your area. From the standpoint of local quilt shops, I’m sure MSQC meets that criterion in north-west Missouri. And if you are known as an online business, you want to be the first one on Google when you put in your field (excluding paid entries). If you put in “quilt shops in Missouri,” MSQC is number 5 (if you don’t count it’s ad at the top) and the first four are quilt shop directories. If you put in “quilting tutorials,” MSQC is number one on it’s own.
So how do you fare in your field in your area?
I want to use the things I learned at the company to provide the five lessons for business domination. It’s not about SEO and advertising and best social media hacks. Those things might play a part, but all they do is get you noticed. The things that make you grow and prosper are what’s behind the marketing. Once Google gets you noticed, what will people who visit you really find?
Well, here are the lessons I learned that will provide the substance of profits and growth. Those five lessons are:
- Niching–finding your unique place
- Unified business practice–it has to be one business
- Systemization–everything has to follow a pattern
- Responsibility–whether it’s just you or a team, everyone has to have the freedom to act and the freedom to fail
- Customer experience–why customers come back
Over the next five weeks, each blog post will deal with one of these lessons. I hope you will stay tuned and utilize them for your business.
Send me a comment and let me know which of these five lessons intrigues you the most, and why.