Spencer Wright and Pam Kauppila discuss how she turned her second act career into a thriving quilting and sewing business. After a career in insurance Pam knew she had the knowledge and desire to continue to run a business that helps add joy to her time and her customers interests.
They talk about how she grew what started as a simple long arm business to a destination quilt shop that is always looking for new ways to delight customers.
- Find an aspect of the business you love and build on it.
- Your customer will ask you for what you need.
- Be Flexible and ready to adapt.
- Create a system for maintaining contact with your audience.
- Make your website active and alive.
- You have to be able to adapt with the times and the changes.
- We are loading new product in that’s making our website active and alive.
- I come into the store and say, okay, gals, what should we highlight for today?
- We’re just normal human beings. We’re not afraid to stub our toes. We’re not trying to be perfect, and I think if you just kind of expose the vulnerability that , that one has. Yes. People will be gentle.
- When we sell a sewing machine, we’re selling an elixir to the fountain of youth.
Pam Kauppila, her husband, and a small staff of enthusiastic quilters have built a successful quilting shop and sewing machine dealership in the Michigan upper peninsula. They provide quality materials and products for your heirloom creations.
[00:00:21] Spencer Wright: Hello and welcome to the Quilt Shop podcast. We’ve got Pam Kauppila in the upper peninsula in Michigan with us. How are you doing today?
[00:00:32] Pam Kauppila: Oh, I’m awesome. How are you, Spencer?
[00:00:35] Spencer: Yeah, I’m doing so well. It is really snowy here in Utah for us. It’s been a really cold winter for us so far. You know, but the holidays are coming and I think that kind of soothes the pain of the freezing cold.
[00:00:47] But yeah, I don’t know. How about you guys? Is it cold up by you?
[00:00:51] Pam: Yeah we experience winter. It’s not uncommon for us to have well over 200 inches of snow during the winter season. We had our first snowstorm in October, the middle of October.
[00:01:03] Spencer: Are you serious?
[00:01:04] Pam: Yeah. We had probably a couple of feet, but then it melted. It was 70 degrees after that. So.
[00:01:11] Spencer: Wow. Okay. Yikes. Yeah. Well, I will not complain then in that case. No, but it has been, you know, very cold for us here, so we’re both enduring it. But, you know, Merry Christmas and, you know, Merry Christmas to our listeners out there. It’s such a fun holiday season, so, alright Pam, well I would love to get in and talk a little bit about just the background of your store, the Time Flies Quilt Shop, and, you know, I would say the first thing, tell us a little bit about how you knew you wanted to open up a quilt shop and maybe just when did this happen? Is this recent you know, tell us about that.
[00:01:46] Pam: Yeah, I am a recent shop, basically, but it was a dream from long ago in my twenties. I had a business at home that was called Back 40 Creations when I was in my twenties and had little babies at home. But I retired from my professional insurance career in 2015, took a couple of years off and exercised, and did my first cross-country ski marathon and once I checked a few things off of my list, then I started sewing again. I’ve always been a sewist, sewed my own wedding dress almost 40 years ago.
[00:02:24] Spencer: Wow.
[00:02:25] Pam: And um, so yeah, always enjoyed the art of sewing and being particular, and so I started by getting a long arm in 2017 and thought, well, my husband’s still working. I need something to do. I can’t be fully retired, so let’s start a sewing business. Let’s long arm, let’s just do a few quilts, so instead of being at home, I decided to look for a commercial place for me to have a real business and then I started looking at my husband’s industrial park and there was an extra building that really could have better use. It used to be the school bus garage for our kids when they were little and there were boats and campers that were stored in it during the winter months, but there was an office part in the front and I thought, I could just bring my long arm in there. All we have to do is put a front door on that building and make it look welcoming and.
[00:03:33] Pam: Next thing you knew, I was in there and as customers started to discover me, they would say, “Hey, is this a new quilt shop?” and “I’d say, well, I’m long arming for people. I do have batting. Sure. And I have some wide backs.” And three months later I signed on with Bernina and I thought, yeah, this would be a fun thing to do. So that was my next chapter.
[00:03:59] Spencer: Wow. First of all, congratulations and it’s kind of an incredible journey to go through to, you know, like finish up your kind of professional career and then, you know, have the, I guess like desire to go and become an entrepreneur, right? That’s a tall task. Something, you know, it’s kind of funny, I hear pretty often the, “oh, you know, I’m just doing some long arming” and then I’m just doing some long arming, always turns into doing much more than just long arming, right? Like just long arming is like the, you know, worst excuse for I’m going to, you know, really dig in, in the quilt industry. So, you know, kudos to you and, and congratulations for, you know, kind of the environment and store that you’ve created.
[00:04:44] Pam: It started out with the long arm and then as people came in, they’d say, “oh, are you gonna add fabric?” And I’d say, yeah “I could.” And then they’d say, “are you going to teach sewing lessons? Are you gonna sell sewing machines?” And I’d answer, “I could.” So it was kind of the customers asking for it. And I thought, yeah, I’ve got the environment here. And fortunately we had the building and mainly the support of my husband.
[00:05:13] Pam: So one step at a time, and before you knew it, we occupy probably close to 4,000, maybe a little bit more, square feet and the balance is about a thousand square feet of cold storage for basically inventory. So we do occupy the whole building now, which is kind of cool. It’s a dream come true, really.
[00:05:37] Spencer: Wow. That’s amazing. So, okay, Pam, well tell us you know, I’d love to hear more about what sets Time Flies Quilt and Sew apart from, I guess the competition and maybe competition isn’t really the right word there, but what’s drawing people that come to your store?
[00:05:56] Pam: Well, I would say it’s the fact that we are a Bernina dealership and we do have the full line of Bernina’s. Everybody knows that Bernina’s a great sewing machine. And we do have a value line for Bernina that’s called Bernette. So, we started with that and with that, Bernina requires us to have a certified technician. And so I said, oh, I have just the guy, my husband’s an engineer. And he owns his own engineering firm and of course he wouldn’t say no to his wife. Happy wife, happy life. So, yeah, he goes for five or six weeks of training outside of, you know, down to Aurora, Illinois and he is another asset to our company. He not only knows Bernina’s, he’s fixed hundreds, if not even a thousand, already, sewing machines that have come in. Every night he works on sewing machines. He’s kept busy and he doesn’t mind. He does enjoy tinkering and problem solving with that. So with the fact that we have the Berninas and then we’ve added Arrow sewing tables and cabinets and chairs in the last year, and that’s been a nice fit, so we can not only sell the sewing machines, but help people get set up so they can sew and comfort, sew longer. And we have thousands of bolts of fabric too. So we really are a destination and a one-stop shop for all the people that come here.
[00:07:39] Spencer: Interesting. Okay. Yeah, I’m so glad that you’re on here. Thanks for your thoughtful response there. I’m glad that we get to have a machine dealer on here because, you know, we have, certainly, listeners who are machine dealers, and I would assume listeners who are considering becoming machine dealers. And you know, I understand there are some restrictions you know, of who can be a dealer of what machine. I actually grew up with my mom using a Bernina. So the machine that I was the most familiar with before I really got into the kind of quilt and sewing space.
[00:08:11] Spencer: But yeah, tell us a little bit about your decision making, you know, your thought process of why you wanted to become a machine dealer.
[00:08:20] Pam: Well, I’ve sewn my whole life. I started sewing like many of my customers when I was young, middle school, high school. That’s what we did when we were young. And so it’s something where you get to be so creative. I think it’s the whole creativity that is what is so compelling of having a quilt shop, and I feel like a kid in a candy store because I now have a passport to go to Bernina University and interface with people like Kaffe Fasett, Tula Pink, all the different big names that I never thought I would be in the same room with.
[00:09:04] Pam: And also all of the educators for Bernina have been so impressive. Some of them have been with their sewing careers for the last 30, 40 years. So I think, oh man, this is just my dream world. I mean, I loved insurance because I was helping people and I never knew who was going to come into my agency on any given day, and it’s sort of the same thing here at the quilt shop. I never know who’s gonna come in, what needs they might have. I’m still helping, educating, so it’s very fulfilling for me and, nobody ever came into my insurance agency and said, “wow, this is incredible,” but they do here. So it’s been really fun to have this business. It’s been a real fun chapter in our lives.
[00:09:57] Spencer: I love that. Okay, so, you know, on the podcast so far we’ve had some mother-daughter teams and some kind of solo teams, but I’m really curious, being a husband and wife team, you know, tell us about how you’re finding success working. I presume you didn’t do insurance with your husband, is that correct?
[00:10:16] Pam: That is correct.
[00:10:20] Spencer: So this is new.
[00:10:21] Pam: This is new. Fortunately he still makes me laugh. We have an excellent relationship. I can say I still love him after all these years, but the last eight years in my insurance business, I lived in a different state, even from my husband.
[00:10:40] Spencer: Oh wow.
[00:10:41] Pam: And that just shows his support for my dreams. I raised our kids. We’ve been married for many years already, and once the kids moved out of the house and went to college, were successful, productive children that we had hoped that we could raise, then I had some opportunities to take with my company that led me to live further away. So my husband and I were together every single weekend and thankfully technology was changing so we could talk, we’d have our Bluetooths in our ear at night, and just kind of go over our days. So now to be in the same building, all day long with him. I mean, he does work his day job during the day, but he and I are both together every night. It’s been really fun and it’s kind of neat how we have adapted over the years of being together and supporting one another.
[00:11:44] Pam: But I certainly couldn’t do this without him or my team members either. I have to give credit where credit is due. And this is not just a solo, one person business. I do have right now four people that are part-time employees. I’ve had five, but one is now taking care of her mother and some other family needs. So you have to be able to adapt with the times and the changes, and I think we’ve been able to do that so far.
[00:12:16] Spencer: Yeah. I love that. I think it’s incredible that you have that kind of relationship with your husband where you’re able to, well, I mean, you said he still makes me laugh right after so long and now you work together, right. To be able to find that synergy.
[00:12:28] Spencer: So, okay. Let’s kind of shift gears here. So I was doing some kind of looking around on your Facebook page and your website and one thing that I noticed is that you guys are really, really good at, I mean, marketing is probably the big term, but really connecting with your audience, right? That’s kind of the deeper what I noticed. And you know, I think there’s probably multiple reasons why that is. But I want to hear you know, what are you guys doing to connect with your audience? You know, how are you connecting with your audience you know, from far away, right? If people who aren’t coming into the store, how are you connecting with them?
[00:13:04] Pam: Well, yeah, everybody, nowadays it’s social media, social media. Yeah, whether it’s newsletters, I have a Facebook page. I have a Friends of Time Flies Quilt and Sew Page
[00:13:18] Spencer: You do a newsletter?
[00:13:19] Pam: Yes, I do a newsletter.
[00:13:21] Spencer: Tell us about the cadence of that and how you’re just cuz I, I know there, like, there are a lot of shops that are, you know, thinking of, you know, there are people who listen to this who are thinking about opening a quilt shop or just have done this. So, you know, the more, like tactical, like really what’s the cadence of when you should be sending out a newsletter? How’s your audience receiving it?
[00:13:38] Pam: Yeah. well I’ll tell you what I do and I’m the person, the driver behind all of the marketing. I don’t hand anything off. What I’ve done with the website with Like Sew has been primarily me setting it up and trying to figure out how I want that to be set. And of course, Like Sew has been wonderful when I’ve called them and said, here’s what I’d like to do. I look at a lot of different shop’s websites to see ones that are set up the way that I would like and speaking of the newsletter, I love the fact that I can have a tab that is for my newsletter. I do use Constant Contact and I’m able to archive my newsletters. To the website. So if they run their email like I do where I don’t delete anything and I have thousands of emails, I search for them. If you can’t find my newsletter in your email, you can always go to my website and click on the newsletter tab.
[00:14:44] Spencer: I love that.
[00:14:44] Pam: Yeah. And see the latest one there. So that, that I feel really good about. But yeah, Facebook, although I think algorithms are changing all the time and with the most recent change it’s really hard to tell if I’m reaching people or not, but you just have to dive in and figure out what makes them tick.
[00:15:06] Pam: And then I do have my Instagram page. I do stories on both Facebook and Instagram. I have the two connect. But I don’t always post the same thing on each social media, and I do have a YouTube channel and I have visions of what that could be. I can’t say that I’m an expert or that I have very professional YouTube videos, but hey, we try. We’re there. Yeah, we have a presence.
[00:16:32] Spencer: So, Pam, real quick, my quick thoughts on you archiving your newsletters on your website. So we were at Quilt Market a couple months ago and we did a training on SEO, you know, search engine optimization, which is basically, you know, trying to get your business to rank for certain key terms and categories, things like that and one of the big things that we talked about is that SEO is less, you know, when we say “Black Hat SEO”, which is like, there’s not really secrets or tricks to SEO anymore, right? That value is what really matters. And so there were questions asked in this presentation about SEO. A lot of people wanna know, well, what do I do to provide value on my website? How do I do that? And putting your newsletter on your website is the absolute perfect way to do that because it’s organic and it’s probably talking about all of the things that you wanna rank for anyway, right? When Google crawls your website trying to say, yes, this person is an expert, or has products that are relevant to a certain search, the more organic the content, the better they’re going to rank you. And so anyways, I just wanted to kind of go on that tangent real quick and say, anyone who’s listening to this, that is a great example of how to improve the SEO on your website, is to archive your newsletters on there.
[00:17:54] Pam: Yeah. And the other thing that I would know just from my past experience with my other career is changing up your website often. So when we are loading new product in, that’s making our website active and alive. So those crawlers do know that we are not sleeping at the switch, that this is a real store and so that’s a good thing too. I am changing pictures. I added, also, a destination tab to my website and because of our location, where I’m located in the upper peninsula of Michigan, I don’t have anybody that I can sell to north of me. It’s water. Literally. Lake Superior is north of us, and it’s huge, it’s the largest freshwater lake in the world. So, okay, my point is we are a destination. So I have to figure, how do I get people to come here?
[00:18:54] Pam: So another thing that I recently did, of course it was late in the fall that I finally got it active, is I am a harvest host. Have you heard of a Harvest host?
[00:19:04] Spencer: I haven’t, but I am super intrigued. So tell us about being a Harvest host.
[00:19:09] Pam: A Harvest host is for RVers. Now, I’m not an RVer. But I know there are quilters that have RVs.
[00:19:18] Spencer: Oh, absolutely.
[00:19:20] Pam: And RVing has really taken off over the last year so, as a harvest host, we are in a location where we do have semis that can come into our parking lot, easy enough, turn around and get out. We’re set far enough back from the main Highway 41 that goes across the upper peninsula of Michigan. What a great location to be a Harvest host! So people can camp out here overnight in their RV for free.
[00:19:50] Spencer: Really? In your parking lot?
[00:19:52] Pam: In our parking lot.
[00:19:55] Spencer: How fun is that?
[00:19:56] Pam: Yeah. Yeah. So if we have a class in the summer and a person wants to come, if they have an RV, they can stay the night in our parking lot.
[00:20:07] Spencer: Okay. That is such a good idea. See…
[00:20:10] Pam: I thought so.
[00:20:11] Spencer: Your, so like, your marketing mind is so, so brilliant and like, I just, I love that. That’s so fun. And I mean, you know, just think about it, okay, they can stay in your parking lot for free if they’re a quilter. You know, imagine their aptitude to probably, you know, pop in and get some of their favorite fabrics, right? I mean, you know, like, I think if you’re there 24/7 or, you know, for a couple of days at least, I think, oh yeah, what a great business move.
[00:20:39] Pam: Yeah. I thought that would be fun. I mean, I did have Teresa Coates from Shannon Fabric. She’s the national educator. She came in her RV with Hawk, her partner, and we held an event here, not this past year, but last year, so that would’ve been in 2021 in July, and so they were with their motor home and they said, “do you mind if we park outside of your store?” And I said, “not at all.”
[00:21:09] Pam: And so when people were calling about the event, I had somebody from downstate that was about six to eight hours away from me, and they said, “Boy, I’d love to come.” And I said, “if you have an RV, you could park in the parking lot with the educators.” And then I started thinking, gee, how do I reach out to people with campers? I wouldn’t mind if they came, and I’m sure they would be open to the idea too. So that’s when it first kind of hit me. But after going to Bernina University where we were doing some idea sharing just over the coffee table and visiting with folks that’s where I had heard about Harvest Host, and it just took me a while to get in touch with them. But yeah, if you go to Harvest Host or Google it, then you’ll find us on the list. And of course we’re not gonna get too many people camping in the wintertime, but I was surprised how many people this fall already had signed up and Wow. So yeah. And so now I’m thinking, okay, we’ve gotta do something in the summer for all the RVers. Maybe have a whole week of special events. We’ll see. We’ll see what I come up with.
[00:22:20] Spencer: Yeah. Yeah. I’m excited, I’m excited to see what you come up with.
[00:22:24] Spencer: Okay, Pam, so let’s kind of go along these lines. You know, we’re in the holiday season and, I briefly saw your countdown to Christmas that you’re doing on your Facebook. I don’t know if that’s an in-store thing. Tell us about how that’s going a little bit about the program and yeah, just tell us about, you know, what kind of the promos that you’re running in December are.
[00:22:46] Pam: Well, I typically just fly from the seat of my pants. It’s pretty sporadic. I come into the store and say, okay, gals, what should we highlight for today? And so I promoted it as you might get something on sale, you might get a recipe, you might get a demonstration. So those are kind of my things.
[00:23:09] Spencer: So basically if we set the stage here, this is a, you follow on Facebook or Instagram, right? And then you are going to provide like countdown, like some type of content every single day. Whether that’s a discount or it’s a recipe. Is that kind of how this works?
[00:23:24] Pam: Yeah. Yeah. That is how it works. And it is a Facebook thing. I’m not doing it on Instagram.
[00:23:29] Spencer: Okay. It’s on Facebook.
[00:23:30] Pam: But I go live on Facebook and if people comment and tag a friend, then at the end of the month, I’ll do a drawing for a $10 store certificate and they can use it either online or come into the store so people can come into the store. If they happen to see my Facebook live, I don’t always necessarily tell ’em this is what we had, you know, this is on sale. We might have some things that say “countdown to Christmas” if we have some left. Some might be a one day only. Some if they don’t sell, they might still be here. And then I typically have done a newsletter every other week, is about all I can muster with my time.
[00:24:15] Spencer: Yeah, no, that’s a really good cadence.
[00:24:18] Pam: But this countdown to Christmas, what I’m doing is trying to get a newsletter out every week just to highlight, because not everybody is on Facebook, so by having a newsletter, I’m reaching the people that have an email, not necessarily a Facebook. So that lets them in on what those deals are so people can always see what there are.
[00:24:40] Pam: In fact, one time I did a video on iMovie for a recipe. And it started because my nephew was doing cookies on Snapchat and doing videos. And so he had a real dry sense of humor and was very entertaining and funny, and I actually did it on Snapchat, kind of back to him, some cookies that I was thinking just to be funny. And then I thought, oh, I can kind of merge these all together through iMovie. And so if you scroll back, you’ll see that on my Facebook. Okay.
[00:25:19] Spencer: That is so fun. Oh I love how you just, like, you know, you said you fly by your, the seat of your pants, which I think maybe promotes some of the creativity that we’re hearing about, right? That like your ability to be creative in your marketing. I think that there is certainly something to be said for planful marketing and plan for kind of business behavior but, the same time, when an idea comes, like if you just say, let’s do it, and you execute on it, I think that’s, you know, I think that’s how so many great business ideas are born, and it seems like you’re really executing on that.
[00:25:51] Pam: Well, especially if you have a sense of humor. You can’t take yourself too seriously. So yeah, we’re just normal human beings. We’re not afraid to stub our toes. We’re not trying to be perfect, and I think if you just kind of expose the vulnerability that one has, people will be gentle.
[00:26:17] Spencer: Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that’s really insightful, right? That the more vulnerable you are, the more kind and interested people will be in your life, right? And whether that’s on a personal level or it seems like on a business level in some ways, right, that they can associate this vulnerability and kind of fun, lightheartedness of you with you and with your business. And I think that has just an infinite amount of perks, I assume.
[00:26:45] Pam: Yeah. Yeah, it is. Well, and then the Saturday, Santa and Mrs. Claus are coming to the store again. Oh. This is the third year that they’ve come.
[00:26:55] Spencer: Okay. Yeah, I mean, you just, like, it just keeps coming. You just keep having more and more ideas. It’s like, you know, like you’re, it’s like you’re a whole mall or something, you know, people come from far away.
[00:27:06] Pam: We had the Santa Suit and Mrs. Claus suit, so it’s like, why not take it out and have some fun?
[00:27:11] Spencer: Sure. Good for you guys. Okay, Pam, so as we kind of wrap up here, I have just one more kind of final question. We’ve talked about really, some of the ways that your business is really thriving. I’d be curious to know, if you could pick one area that you could grow your business, what would you say that would be, if you could, like, really reach in and say, oh man, in 2023, I would love to improve in this way?
[00:27:36] Pam: I would love to improve by just doing more of what we’re doing, if that makes sense. Yeah. Selling, just keeping on selling machines to people. My husband says that when we sell a sewing machine, we’re selling an elixir to the fountain of youth.
[00:28:00] Spencer: Wow. That’s a quote.
[00:28:02] Pam: Yeah, well, when you think about it, when you’re sewing and you’re being creative, you’re using, really, the right side and the left side of your brain. So yeah, creativity, thinking and mathematical skills, and from what we have seen, the people that are sewing are just happy people.
[00:28:22] Pam: They can’t wait to wake up in the morning and start creating. Not only in the morning, if you have insomnia and you can’t sleep , you can get up and sew. I know people that have gotten through hard times and happy times just from sewing. So just selling more sewing machines, keep on learning and striving to keep up with all the technology that’s around us.
[00:28:49] Pam: I know there’s a lot that Like Sew can do to help us even further. And just keep digging in and finding newer and better ways and keeping fresh.
[00:29:02] Spencer: Yeah. Wow. No, I think that’s, I think that’s some really good insight into, you know, it seems like if your answer is we just need to continue to do what we’re doing and do more of it, right? That’s how you know that things are on the right track, you know? If you just say, if we just improve on what we’re already doing across the board, we’re gonna be in a great spot. And I think you are in a great spot.
[00:29:29] Spencer: One quick thought right before we wrap up that I was just thinking of, as you mentioned, you know, wake up, you kind of using the left and right side of your brain when you sew, you know, I, you said people do it to kind of fight against insomnia. You know, I think one thing that we really see a lot these days is that people use their phone or technology to fight against insomnia, right. I would say most people in the whole world at this point are probably scrolling on their phone late at night to fight that, right. They’re like, I can’t go to sleep. I’ll just get on my phone. But I was just thinking, how much better it must be for your brain and for your soul to be creating rather than to be you know, kind of like doom scrolling or whatever it is, and I think that’s across all ages, right? Whether you’re young or old or in between or whatever.
[00:30:19] Pam: Yeah. And what we really need to do is reach the younger people, you know, kids, teenagers, people in their twenties. But really when I think back to my youth versus the youth of today, if we use the stereotype of the phone in hand and texting, and everybody knows and hears about how teens are more depressed nowadays because of social media. Well turn your phones off or use your phones in a useful manner, like YouTube and learn how to sew. Let us help you. I would love to reach more kids and get them sewing because it uses math skills, dexterity with their hands, they’re making something, and we do kids’ classes. Our calendar is coming alive for 2023, and we have Sewing 101 classes and therefore ages eight to 99.
[00:31:19] Pam: So anybody can learn at any stage of their lives. But it’s such a useful thing to do because when you think about it, if you’re sewing clothes like I did, that’s a lot of spatial relations that you have to be able to visualize.
[00:31:35] Spencer: Oh, for sure.
[00:31:35] Pam: What does a sleeve look like? What does a pant leg look like? And then putting it together and it’s kind of like building a puzzle. But that would be an area that I would love to have a real impact on society, is getting more kids to sew.
[00:31:52] Spencer: Yeah. I think that it would be really beneficial for people to be able to listen to your thoughts there and you know, whether that’s on YouTube or in person with you.
[00:32:03] Spencer: So, okay, Pam, well thank you so much for coming on with us. I loved hearing about what you had to say. You know, last thing, just tell us you know, where we can find you, you know, where you’re located, your website and you know how we can hear more from you.
[00:32:18] Pam: Sure. Our website is timefliesquiltandsew.com, and we’re on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. So if you remember my name, Pam, and the name of my business, Time Flies Quilt And Sew, then you can formulate an email to me and my hashtag is of course, my business name, but also, be prepared to lose track of time because hashtag time flies when you’re sewing.
[00:32:52] Spencer: Okay. Very good. Well, thank you so much, Pam.
[00:32:56] Pam: Thank you very much, Spencer. I appreciate you having me.