Angela Veeck is the owner of my local quilt store here on Long Island, named Pieceful Quilting. The business has two locations, and offers a wide range of fabrics to satisfy every facet of the quilting community. She’s probably not what you’d expect when you think “successful quilt shop owner”: Angela didn’t open her business due to a mad addiction to fabric. She approached it as a seasoned business-woman, who, through a series of smart decisions, found herself the queen of this amazing fabric empire! I had the chance to interview her to find out what it’s really like to be the owner of a quilt store, and I hope you are as interested as I was to hear what she had to say!
Q: So, before we get into your role as quilt shop owner, tell us a little bit about the woman behind the storefront!
I am married to the Sewing Machine Tech, Ken Veeck. We have five children: all grown and gone. We also have two adorable grandsons, one upstate NY, and the other in Boulder, CO — not great places to have grandchildren when you live on Long Island — but I have no control over that!
Q. How long have you owned Pieceful Quilting?
That just might be a trick question! Pieceful Quilting started as an on-line business that carried only gifts for quilters. We did quite well. . . as no one else was doing anything like this. We also sold our goods at quilt shows (about 15 per year). At the time (in 2003) I didn’t want to quit my day job, so this seemed like a good way to test the waters of retail.
In 2006 we had the opportunity to open a brick and mortar shop in Riverhead and I decided to “jump off the cliff” and get right into it. We opened in a location that had been a quilt shop of sorts in downtown Riverhead for 23 years. We expanded the space by 800 sq feet for a total of 2000 sq ft and off we went, equipping a fabric shop from bare walls. After one year we decided to expand again by another 500 square feet and have a glorious classroom.
In 2008 we had the opportunity to open another shop because a BERNINA dealer was going out of business. So I re-wrote my business plan and you guessed it – the bank was willing to give me a loan. OMG, now I had to follow through. It was not a great time in 2008 to expand the business, but I did it, and I’m glad I did. We opened a second shop in East Northport in March of 2009.
Then when Super Storm Sandy hit us in Riverhead we pretty much lost the whole store with 24 inches of water inside and no electric for a week. Lucky for us, we found a great space in Calverton where we are located today.
Q. How did you find your way to becoming a quilt shop owner?
I have had a long and winding career path, having done so many things. I’ve been an art teacher in a school for troubled boys, a houseparent in a group home, a direct mail marketing manager, bookkeeper, business manager, executive assistant and fundraiser. I’ve enjoyed all of it. But at some point I really wanted to be responsible for my own work and decided it would be great to have my own business. But what business would it be? I had always sewn and quilted and I thought I could bring all I knew from my former jobs to make a retail shop successful.
I set to writing a business plan which is essential for any would be entrepreneur. I sought advice from the Small Business Administration and from SCORE (An organization of retired executives) and with their blessing I decided to take the plunge.
I also attended Quilt Market, which is the place where retail quilt shops buy their goods and services and (more importantly) take classes on running a quilt shop business. I also did a lot of networking and learned from more seasoned owners.
Q. Tell us the one thing you love most about owning a fabric store.
This may sound crazy, but being the owner of two shops does not allow me to do much quilting and sewing. So the thing I love most is helping customers choose patterns and fabrics to express THEIR creativity. I get a lot of vicarious pleasure from that.
Q. What have you found to be the most difficult aspect of owning a LQS? How has it surprised you?
Truly the most difficult aspect of owning a shop is juggling so many balls in the air. Who would believe that there is so much to do in a tiny little retail store!?! I have a wonderful staff who manages the day to day operations. My job is to supervise that and work diligently on the marketing and creative side of the business. I have a terrific bookkeeper, but again I feel the need to stay on top of the numbers and make sure that we are financially successful.
Q. I would imagine that it’s very exciting to walk into your store each day and be surrounded by all of that lovely fabric. How do you make decisions on such important things like which fabric lines the store will carry for the next season?
I faithfully attend Quilt Market twice per year. And I subscribe to two professional publications specifically for the quilt industry. So I’m on top of what’s trending. I also have a strict budget for how much I can spend on the various categories, fabric, notions, machines, etc. I’m lucky to have my sister, Mary (who is in a much younger demographic) to help me make decisions. But most importantly I need to listen to my customers so that I’m sure to purchase what THEY want.
Q. Can you describe a typical workday, if that’s even possible?
That typical workday starts around 8am and ends around 5pm. I am a ferocious list maker, so I often make a list of what MUST get done that day while I have my coffee at home and then hopefully the top priorities get done. Then I tackle the rest of the long list. I also try to delegate as much as possible.
Q. How do you feel your business background has impacted your decision-making process as a quilt shop owner? Is there a skill you wish you had known that you would need before jumping into your role as small-business owner?
I think it would be very difficult to run a quilt shop with NO business background. That being said, there are ways to learn through professional organizations, networking and listening to customers and staff.
I often joke that I wish I had some experience as a therapist! There is always a need for hand holding and generally being supportive to both staff and customers. If only I had an MSW!
Q. What advice would you give to someone that is hoping to open their own fabric store in the future?
The most important advice would be to create a business plan. There are many places on the internet to get help with this. Then I would get advice from professionals through the SBA or Quilts, Inc. And finally I would tell them to network, network, and network. I currently have a small group of quilt shop owners from all over the country and this has truly been my saving grace.
Thank you, Angela, for that lovely insight! I wonder how many of you are harboring a secret desire to own your own fabric shop one day. How has reading this impacted your dream?