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Starting A Quilt Shop with Sandy Labby of Sew Much Class

by | Apr 12, 2024

Episode Summary

Spencer Wright and Sandy Labby discuss how Sandy combined a career in education with a love for sewing. When a previous owner of the quilt shop she worked with decided to retire, Sandy was called to pick up the sewing education portion of the business by her community.

Sandy tells how helpful the local small business development center was in showing her how to compliment her skills with small business experts to get started. From business plans to software to naming her business, she leaned on experts and friends to get the expertise she needed.

Key Insights

  • Seize an opportunity when it comes to you.
  • There are experts and resources to help you get your business started.
  • Everyone has fears about starting a business.
  • There are ways to find substantial savings when starting a business.
  • Learn how to help enable word-of-mouth and social media interactions to market your business.

Episode Highlights

  • Where are we going to go hang out? How are we going to have classes? You’re a phenomenal teacher. We need you. What are we gonna do?
  • There was an announcement that they were having an entrepreneurial workshop locally. And so it’s like, oh my goodness, this is just perfect. 
  • I think that you need that little bit of fear factor to get into the actual heart of who you are as far as, am I going to want this and to become successful.
  • Don’t go out and buy brand new furniture. He said Furniture is a huge expense. There are many businesses that have downsized or gone out of business, and there are other companies that have that inventory of furniture, office furniture.
  • As I have been teaching classes and people have completed a project, they’re posting it online, and that in and of itself starts to speak volumes.

Guest Bio

Sandy Labby has been an avid quilter for over 40 years. She started Sew Much Class in College Station, Texas to support everyone’s journey to their creative happy place.


[00:00:00] Spencer: All right. Hello and welcome to the Quilt Shop podcast. I have Sandy Labby with Sew Much Class in College Station, Texas with me. Sandy, how are you doing today? 

[00:00:33] Sandy: Hi. I am doing very, very well. Thank you for asking. 

[00:00:37] Spencer: Good. We are so excited to have you on here. One of the main reasons that I’ve asked Sandy to be on the podcast with me today is Sandy just barely opened up a quilt shop and we’ll kind of get into it. It’s, you know, a little more than a quilt shop, you know, really centered around classes. But I hear from people all the time, you know, we know there are a lot of quilt shops opening up around the US and I just thought it would be really interesting to hear the story of someone who’s in the middle of it. Someone who’s kind of, a few months in and growing their business. And I think Sandy is a really prime example of someone who’s doing a phenomenal job. And so that is why I really wanted to have her on here. 

So, with that being said, Sandy, give us a brief history or, kind of the motivation behind you deciding to open up a shop, you know, here in 2023. 

[00:01:25] Sandy: The motivation for opening up a shop at this time came from where I used to work. The shop owner had decided that she was going to retire and therefore I was a little disappointed, a little stunned, a little bit everything, as you can well imagine, because we had an awesome community and an awesome group of customers and folks that we worked with. But the day after the announcement went public, my phone blew up. And it was along the lines of, “oh my gosh, Sandy, what are we gonna do? Where are we gonna go hang out? How are we going to have classes? You’re a phenomenal teacher. We need you. What are we gonna do?” 

And so, I had just come off of rotator cuff surgery, so I knew that, you know, whatever I was planning on doing was going to have to look a little bit different. And so, I decided that, well, I’ll look around and figure life out and so I came up with a business plan, worked with our small business development center here in the area, and the director of the small business development center met with me and the rest is history, so to say, and so I think the timing of everything, you know, it’s, one of those things that’s uh, you know, you wonder how things and why things happen in a timing they do. But there was an announcement that they were having an entrepreneurial workshop locally. And so it’s like, oh my goodness, this is just perfect. So I created my business plan and I went to that, learned a lot about developing a business, what some of the risks were, how to go about the financing side of things, and then about cybersecurity. So the timing couldn’t have been better. 

[00:03:19] Spencer: Wow. Okay. This is so fun. I love hearing about this story and I love hearing about, you know, developing a business plan and getting involved in your community, taking, you know, classes for entrepreneurs, working with your local business development center. You know, all these things. I feel like I often hear of these kind of resources and I wonder how often they get used and then I hear stories like this and I’m like, that is amazing. That is the exact kind of reason that these resources exist is for people like you who identified a need in the market, because of you know, a store closure in your case, and which isn’t always the case when people open shops, but I think, you know, there was a need and there was a person to fill that need, and that is kind of how this started. Right. And I agree. I think, you know, you’re kind of talking about, everything happens for a reason and just the how, the timing you know of everything. Right. The store closure, and then you’re like, okay, maybe I can do this. Maybe this is something that I want, you know, for myself to kind of take and run with and just how amazing that is. So, I mean, kudos to you and, you know, we wanna say huge congratulations on opening up your shop. 

[00:04:32] Sandy: Thank you. Yeah it’s been an entertaining adventure to say the least, you know, um, from looking around the local community for a place to actually put the business. Initially it was, well, I have a sewing machine, will travel. And then that didn’t seem to be very realistic because in looking at some of the venues you know, like, let’s just take a church if they’re having a wedding, the weekend that I’m planning on having a class I get booted out of the church because, you know, there’s a wedding there and I will say that, you know, COVID really impacted us and this industry dramatically. And so I looked at hotels locally and many of our hotels had closed their conference rooms. And so those weren’t available and they didn’t have the infrastructure within a room for the power that was needed for you know, 10, 20 sewing machines and little mini irons and those kind of things.

So it went from having the thoughts of doing something mobile to then actually finding a brick and mortar. 

[00:05:46] Spencer: Interesting. 

[00:05:47] Sandy: Yeah. 

[00:05:49] Spencer: Okay. Yeah and I think that’s right. I mean, we’ve seen quote shops move online. Some of them, you know, maintain kind of an in-store and an online presence, obviously, Like Sew is kind of a you know, a facilitator of that.

I think, you know, as we look and, you know, you’re talking about how Covid affected things and, you know, just different workspaces, I’d like to maybe step back and look from a macro standpoint. We’re seeing quilt shops close and we’re seeing a lot of quilt shops open.

You know, a lot of turnover in the quilting industry right now. That’s from my perspective. And I’m curious were you at all afraid of, the fear of starting a business and starting a business that is seeing some turnover right now. Tell us about your emotions that you were feeling as you decided to open up a shop.

[00:06:33] Sandy: Oh yeah. This was, it was a scary adventure. But I think that you need that little bit of fear factor to get into the actual heart of who you are as far as, am I going to want this and to become successful. There has to be an inner motivation and an inner drive alongside that fear. I had recently retired from education and so the education side of things and teaching classes and all that’s already in my blood. But the business side of things was the scary side for me. Because I know about finances from managing my own home and all of that, but I’ve been, didn’t know a lot about it from managing the business side of it. I had zero knowledge of building out a website.

And so yeah, that was a little scary. You know, and then connecting with vendors and, looking at, I mean, I had a basic knowledge of what customer, a wishlist was, but then to turn around then and build it out and, you know, and make it happen. I think those were some of the scary things.

I think the other thing that was scary too was just knowing there were issues with cybersecurity. That was one of the big things that I had found out when I went to the workshop that I went to and, you know, you hear about, you know, all the different hacks and things like that, and I certainly did not want that to happen to my business.

And so, yes, there was a fear factor that sat there. Sure, the emotional side of it, frustration set in at several points. We had started out with a different website company and then I went to the Dallas quilt show and ran into Rhonda from Corner Square Quilts and she introduced me to Like Sew, and she spent an hour just showing me what she had and then my level of concern dropped because now I had an infrastructure that I could actually embrace and feel comfortable with and that was doing the things that I wanted it to do as far as developing a business because I had no idea how to do this part of it. And so for me, I went from excited to scared, to frustrated, to then energized to probably the education side of it with Like Sew, and my training group, the onboarding group. I became more comfortable. I had no qualms about asking questions and so, I think that if you wanna know something, you gotta ask that question and so then it became comfortable. So I’ve gone through a gamut of emotions. Started with y’all in March, opened my doors in April, and here I am about, Two and a half, three months in. So, yeah. Wow. It’s been a good trip. 

[00:10:08] Spencer: Yeah. And it seems like, you know, a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster, right? 

[00:10:12] Sandy: Yes, it has! 

[00:10:12] Spencer: Since the start, you know, since the, kind of the inception and you know, all these emotions that you’ve kind of described it. And I think that emotional rollercoaster is probably, You know, anyone who’s listening, that’s you know, a current quote shop owner that opened a shop. I bet they felt a lot of similar emotions, right? That you kind of have that ride. You know, one of those emotions I want to talk about, I would say, what’s one thing that you were most surprised about in the process of opening up your shop? 

[00:10:38] Sandy: From the get go, I think finding a good space because I knew from the start that I didn’t want to sell fabric. I wanted to be a teacher. because that’s what I do. I wanted a studio. I wanted a place where people could come and, I don’t wanna say hang out, but gather and have friends and develop a community, kind of the community that we lost with the closing of the quilt store that was here. And so I think for me that was the most emotional part. But the surprising part for me was now that I have customers coming in the door and embracing my vision, I think for me, That becomes very emotional and it is truly just on the inside of me, it tickles me, but it warms me. But I wanna just have those tears of joy because it’s, I know that probably sounds a little cliche, but when you see it honestly happening, that’s the best part of the whole thing. You know when you have a room and there’s six to eight to 10 people in it, and they’re having fun because of my vision, that’s pretty awesome. 

[00:11:57] Spencer: Yeah. Oh, I mean, I have chills, like just thinking about kind of, I mean, like I can feel the emotion coming, you know, obviously I am not in College Station with Sandy, but I can feel kind of the passion and the emotion and the gratification that you get from being able to create that community. It makes me think, you know, one of the first episodes that I did was with Susan from Hyder Hangout. And you know, then kind of the name of her shop, you know, with “Hangout” at the end of it. Very similar to what you’re describing in that your shop or your classroom, is in a lot of ways a community center for people and to be able to provide that and facilitate that, from my understanding, is one of the most fulfilling things that you can do as a business owner, right? 

[00:12:48] Sandy: Yes, yes. 

[00:12:48] Spencer: And of course, there’s a financial piece of this that makes it complicated sometimes, right? 

[00:12:53] Sandy: Yeah. 

[00:12:54] Spencer: That in a lot of ways, my guess is your motivation is probably more around the gratification that you get from building community and less around the financial piece of your business.

But that still has to function. That still has to work, right? And so as a shop owner, You have to weigh this. Okay, how do I make the right decision for my shop financially but also build and promote community in the way that I was motivated to when I opened my shop. Do you think that I’m on the right track with that?

[00:13:24] Sandy: Oh yeah. Yeah. You know, I’ve, that was one of the things when I met with the director of the small business development center, you know, how do you go about putting your budget together? One of the things that he had told me, he said, well, Sandy, don’t go out and buy brand new furniture. He said Furniture is a huge expense. There are many businesses that have downsized or gone out of business, and there are other companies that have that inventory of furniture, office furniture. And so I have an awesome son who spent time online looking around, finding different companies, looking at different product lines, all of those kinds of things, and so that financial side, the burden was a little bit lessened because I wasn’t buying new. But I was still buying excellent quality. 

[00:14:28] Spencer: That’s a great tip by the way. I just wanna highlight that’s a really cool tip, I think for, you know, even if you’re not opening a shop, you’re expanding or you’re looking to redo your furniture. Yeah. This is a really interesting point. So, Please continue. I just wanna say that’s really interesting. 

[00:14:41] Sandy: No, so I ended up finding my tables for the studio to be able, for people to be able to, you know, put their sewing machines and cutting mats and that type of thing. Have found this desk that I’m on, you know, very sturdy products, chairs, you know, things like that. I mean, there are things that of course are new, like a new iron and things like that. But basically it really functioned well. I think another thing was learning how to forecast and look at that financial bottom line and try to figure out, okay, so if I offer these classes and do this, what could potentially be my income from that? And then how does that resonate each month? Of course I’ve got bills to pay. But, you know, how is that going to translate into paying the bills? And you’re right, you know, building a community, that’s the focus. But at the end of the day, you still have to make some money to be able to afford it all.

[00:15:48] Spencer: Yeah. I agree and you know, talking about forecasting is, you know, I think a really beneficial thing for shop owners to do is to look at what you’re going to offer, like a class or a fabric line or whatever and kind of look at what the bottom line could potentially be.

[00:16:03] Sandy: Right. 

[00:16:03] Spencer: And weigh out the risk, you know, of the cost versus the potential return. 

[00:16:08] Sandy: Right. 

[00:16:08] Spencer: And I think, you know, when I think about quote shops, If we took a survey of all the people who have opened quilt shops in the last 20 years, I would imagine not very many of them opened it because they wanted to make a ton of money. Right? And yeah, not that can’t happen and I think it can be a very lucrative business. However, I don’t know that’s the primary motivation in such a hobby driven business. And so then what I think is so cool is we’ll have these shop owners and they open up a shop because they’re passionate about quilting or they’re passionate about building community, and then they either come in with great, you know, kind of savvy business expertise or they learn and they grow. And I see that all across the board and it is just one of my favorite things to watch and to hear about people’s experience of how they’re effectively running their business from a, you know, kind of a profit and loss standpoint. But then maintaining that kind of the spirit of the hobby. Because that’s what it is, right? And so I don’t know. I just, I kind of felt that as you were talking about it, and I just wanna say like, you know, huge kudos to you. Thanks. And kudos to, you know, all the shop owners who are, you know, always weighing you know, kind of the passion and the, you know, financial side of things. 

[00:17:24] Sandy: Right. I know for me also, I really listen to my customer base and. Look at what they’re asking me to do, and trying to accommodate that while still being true to myself and who I am in what I quilt. You know, I’ve been sewing for over 60 years. Quilting for, oh, let’s see, probably about. 45 years. I started back in 1980 ish. And so for a good long time. Yeah. Fabric. 

[00:18:01] Spencer: Yeah. A bit. 

[00:18:02] Sandy: Seen a lot of fabric come across under my sewing machine. 

[00:18:06] Spencer: I believe that. 

[00:18:07] Sandy: And you know, the fabric, what’s out there has certainly changed from your more traditional fabrics to a very modern vibe. Yeah. And so, I try to, in my class offerings, appeal to a wide variety of tastes. And so having had a lot of experience in sewing and in quilting, I don’t think that there’s much that I haven’t seen as far as styles and types and of sewing and quilts and looking at what’s available. So I’m one of these that I like to play with fabric, and so if it’s a new pattern, if it’s a new technique, I’m out there playing with it, and then I can turn around and offer that to my customer base. 

[00:19:04] Spencer: I think that’s really fascinating to hear kind of, you know, trying to listen to your customers and at the same time, you know, change with the trends. Do your customers change with the trends and follow those? Cuz sometimes they’re not on a parallel path. And that’s, you know, certainly as a new business owner, it’s something you really have to decide as you’re building up stock, whether you know, that’s fabric Or otherwise. Okay. So I really want to get into talking about how Sandy got the name of her business out there as a new quilt shop. But before we do that, we’re gonna go to a quick break and we’ll be right back. 

[00:19:37] Sandy: Okay. Thank you.

[00:20:40] Okay, and we’re back. I’m still here with Sandy and just having an absolute ball talking about opening a quilt shop, which is just like… I am just filled… I don’t know if you could… probably, a lot of you are listening to this and you can’t see the screen, but I just am so, so happy to be talking to someone who’s opening a quilt shop.

So I want to talk about how Sandy got the name of her quilt shop out there, right? That’s always something that is probably pretty scary, is that people don’t know about your business when you start it, for the most part. Unless something’s gone really well, or you got lucky for some reason, you have to find a way to get your name out there.

So Sandy, tell me what you have been doing. 

[00:21:13] Sandy: Okay. This one’s a good story. So I have been a classroom teacher. I taught math and science and you know, pre-K through 12 and then went on and became a principal, then went on and became a college professor. So, for me, the teaching side of things is, as I said before, is very intuitive. And knowing that I was going to be wanting to open up a business, my son and I had gone to the Houston Quilt show and we had been sitting in his vehicle and he is like, “well, mom, if you’re gonna have your own business, Then you need to have a cool name.” And he said, “there’s a lot that has to be said in the name.” He says, “you wanna have something that’s gonna be memorable but it’s gonna be like totally you.” And so we started just brainstorming and then all of a sudden, Sew Much Class just came out. Because having been that teacher, you know, that was where I was coming from because that was the side of this industry that I really wanted to promote because there are a lot of people that, they know how to sew, but they need refinement. They want to be pushed into the next level of sewing. 

But then there’s, and having been that classroom teacher, knowing that they’re the focus in public education has changed considerably and that home economics and, you know, home management, sewing, cooking, all of those things have been removed from schools. And our children today and our young adults don’t have the opportunity to participate in those kind of things. It really bothered me. So the name Sew Much Class came from the fact that it could mean anything; any textile type of artistry that you really wanna do. And so, like I was telling Spencer a bit ago, it’s when you are a classroom teacher in public schools, you open the doors and kids come, you know, because that’s what they do. But when you open a business such as this, I think some of what you have to have is a good name that’s going to be a motivation and an inspiration and a reason for people to want to come and visit you and take classes from you. So the name, Sew Much Class was actually born at the 2022 International Quilt Festival in a parking lot trying to decide what my name was going to be. So it was pretty cool. 

[00:24:02] Spencer: Yeah, I love that. I love thinking about, you know, sitting at a parking lot at a quilt festival. You know, and you know, coming up with this name and how this name would play into, you know, the kind of the backbone to your business, right? And that that would be a part of that.

 So I want to hear more about, you know, you decided on the name, but then how did people start to find out, like, from what I understand your shop is growing, you know, people are taking classes and, you know, things are going well. How did this come to be? Like, are you advertising you know, On social, are you taking ads in the newspaper, or do you have billboards, you know, commercials, you know, it could be none of those things.

I’m curious how, you know, how do you get your name out there? If I’m starting a quilt shop, I’m probably overwhelmed with just the prospect of getting people to hear about me for the first time. 

[00:24:53] Sandy: Yeah, you’re right. I think the marketing side of things is probably my greatest learning curve. You know, I mean, yeah, the financial side comes along with it, but you know, that’s because, you know, you’ve been running a household for a good number of years. 

But the marketing side, you don’t market your house, you know? Yeah. You gotta market the business. And so with that being said a lot of it has been very organic, word of mouth. I had a really good reputation; still do as a classroom teacher and teaching sewing classes and quilting classes and so that just kind of started. I initially started with Facebook and so that’s where Sew Much Class is and it has been since I had begun. Eventually I will be adding, probably, Instagram to it.

 Google Business is another place that I’m on, you know, so when people go and they’re looking for a quilt shop, you know, my name pops up. And so that’s a good thing. And some of this side of the marketing, actually, the small Business Development Center has helped me with because knowing that that’s not in my wheelhouse or hadn’t been in my wheelhouse, that’s where I knew that I needed help in that direction. And so, other things that I have done, the building that I am in, there’s a gentleman that had stopped by and there’s a magazine that’s for our area and it promotes businesses. And so, I’m featured in that magazine. I took out an ad in that magazine. It is a pretty cool ad and it has a little spotlight as to a narrative. And that goes out to, I think they have like, 250,000 copies of that and it goes into the hotels. 

[00:26:45] Spencer: Oh, wow! 

[00:26:45] Sandy: It goes into other businesses where, you know, people that are visiting here can pick it up and You know, look at it and my son is looking for the ad. It’s on page 1 10, not like, I don’t know the page of this. 

[00:27:02] Spencer: I love that you know what page you’re on. I think that’s, I just, I don’t know what it is about that, that I love so much. 

[00:27:10] Sandy: So let me just, this is my ad and so it’s a two page spread and so it is. 

[00:27:16] Spencer: Oh, I love it. 

[00:27:17] Sandy: It’s pretty cool. You know, there are…. 

[00:27:20] Spencer: Sandy, let me just like give a, you know, voice narration here. So we’re looking at the magazine and she’s got kind of on the same page. You know, one is, you know, the photo of her with a quilt in the background. And then on the other side is presumably some text. I don’t know if you wanna describe that a little bit for people. 

[00:27:36] Sandy: Yeah, it’s the narrative. It’s a spotlight where I was asked some questions like, what inspired you to start your business? What are some things that set your business apart from others? And then what would you like to highlight for our readers in 2023? And so I responded to those questions in this book.

[00:27:58] Spencer: I love that. That’s so cool. 

[00:28:00] Sandy: So yeah, that one was really good. I’ve been asked to maybe come up with a few other ideas, maybe a radio narrative type of thing. an ad and I haven’t had an opportunity to do that yet. but I’m having fun. I’m learning a lot about Facebook. I’m gonna go back to that because when I was a principal, I did not participate in Facebook. And so for me, Facebook is relatively new, which, you know, may sound a little odd to some folks, but when I was in public school, I didn’t want my life out there online. I needed to keep it very professional and that’s what I did.

And so now that I have a business one of the major marketing tools is Facebook. So learning about “like, follow, share,” I’m learning a lot about what all of that means. And so my customer base is growing. As I have been teaching classes and people have completed a project, they’re posting it online, and that in and of itself starts to speak volumes.

I had finished a class, I actually had worked on a t-shirt class and one of the customers has just posted her pictures online and oh my goodness, she gave me credit and everything for helping her with the elements of design for the secondary pattern that came out, and so as a result of that, I’ve had numerous phone calls and people texting me, “where’s your website?” you know, type of thing. So, just the organic nature of this, I do plan to host an open house here at my studio, and then this way, that’ll also generate, you know, other people coming into the studio. 

[00:29:54] Spencer: Yeah. Wow. No, I mean, I, and one of the best things about a lot of the different things that you spoke there, you know, specifically word of mouth and how that’s kind of, you know, traveled across, you know, some social media and that’s coming to you, you know, back, people wonder where your website is that a lot of that is free. Right. And that is so, you know, fun and savvy is to kind of dig in and find more ways to market in ways that don’t cost money. Right? Yeah. Because, you know, I think a lot of times, you know, whether it’s print that you have to pay for or you know, you’re boosting your ads on social or you’re, you know, taking, you know, your, you have a billboard or whatever, I think those are all great avenues. But there is a limit to them because, you know, there is only so much budget for that. But there is literally no limit to the amount of word of mouth that you can help contribute to. Right. That. Right. That it comes to you and it goes back out and kind of this, this back and forth with your customers. Yes. It’s cyclical and it’s free and I love that so much. 

[00:30:55] Sandy: Me too. 

[00:30:56] Spencer: So thank you so much for sharing that. Yeah, I know. Yeah, you too. Sandy, so we’re kind of running up on time here. One thing you know, before we get going, I wanted to ask, what would your main piece of advice be for someone who’s considering opening up a quilt shop right now and they’re considering taking that leap? As someone who just did it, what advice do you have for them? 

[00:31:18] Sandy: Oh wow. I would say develop the business plan and articulate it and look at your strengths, your weaknesses, and other concerns that you may have. 

Be true to yourself, I think, is another one. But I think developing a strong business plan and leaving opportunities for flexibility because even though my business plan that I had written, I thought I had it all. Put together it has evolved and have that wherewithal to be accepting of change. As human beings, we are not often reticent to change because we like it done the same old way because we did it that way for a hundred years and we’re gonna do it again for another hundred years. Doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing, but you gotta be true to yourself and figure out who you are and what you really are about. And I think that the advice is to come up with a strong business plan. 

[00:32:23] Spencer: I love that. 

[00:32:23] Sandy: Yeah, and I think you just need to listen to the market, and do your homework. So it’s all about so much class doing your homework. But I think that, yeah, those are the things that I would give as advice. 

[00:32:37] Spencer: I think that’s really pertinent and I love that your piece of advice kind of ties in everything that you’ve said so far, right? Yeah. Like we’ve talked about the business plan. We’ve talked about the marketing, we’ve talked about, you know, really making sure that you listen to your customers and address their needs. And you know, ultimately that’s, you know, from my understanding, kind of your final piece of advice. 

And so, you know, I just wanted to say, Sandy, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Again, this is Sandy Labby with Sew Much Class in College Station, Texas. You know, for sure if you’re in the area make sure you check that shop out. And you know, again, thank you so much for being on with us today.

[00:33:14] Sandy: Thank you. I really appreciate it. And it was an honor to be part of your podcast series. Thanks again.