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E-Commerce For Quilters

By Karen Booy, Ewe & Me Pattern Co.
Crafting the American Dream, and CRAFTLINK Newsletter.


E-Commerce For Quilters
By Mike Hartnett,
Creative Leisure News

We’ve reported some examples of independent, brick-and-mortar stores expanding into e-commerce. One savvy Canadian woman, Victoria White, did it the other way around. 

The Secret Workshop www.secretworkshop.com offers a very wide selection of quilting fabric, patterns, kits, notions, software, books, magazines, and more. The operation is located in Nakusp, British Columbia, population 1,800, with 3,500 in the surrounding area.

Tough to run a business from a remote location like that? There are some advantages. From the site’s home page: “U.S. customers can order up to $200 U.S. per day Duty Free! Your U.S. $ goes further here -‑ $1.00 U.S. is the same as $1.50 CDN. All fabrics are sold by the meter (about 39") or 10% more than a yard!”

Shipping to the U.S. is $3.25 for a single pattern or magazine, approximately $5.94 for everything else, no matter how large the order. Delivery takes 5-15 days, thanks to customs.

Here’s Victoria’s description of her operation: “We are a brick-and-mortar store but did not start out that way. The business was started in 1995 as a mail order company.... Everything was done on site including the catalog publishing.

“After the mail order was going we added the web site and have been selling online since 1997. We do a major overhaul on the site twice a year. The site we currently have is our fourth version. The first one we started with sure looks different [compared] to what we have today.

“The retail shop was the third part added to the company. We are in a remote location in British Columbia. The mail order and Internet section of the business allows us to have a well-stocked shop for local and visiting customers.

“We ship orders internationally, to the USA and Canada daily.  About 60% of the business comes from the USA.” 

The Secret Workshop, 208 Broadway St., P.O. Box 884, Nakusp, BC V0G 1R0, Canada. Phone 250-265-9966; fax 250-265-4402; email info@secretworkshop.com.

(Comment: This is a good example of a site that’s simple to navigate.)

Mike Hartnett publishes Creative Leisure News, a business newsletter for the arts & crafts industry. For more information, email Mike at mhartnet@ix.netcom.com.


Snail-Mail, Cyberspace, Bricks & Mortar
By Karen Booy

 As a subscriber to Mike Hartnett’s Creative Leisure News, the story above certainly grabbed my attention! I wanted to know how a company from a small town like Nakusp could receive international recognition and greenback bucks. An unusual story of business growth from mail order to Internet sales to retail location…. Here’s what I found out about The Secret Workshop.

 Victoria White and her husband Gary were living in Vancouver feeling ready for a lifestyle change, when they managed to get an opportunity to move to the West Kootenay’s. The timing was perfect; they were expecting their first child and did not wish to raise children in the city. 

After becoming frustrated with finding quality fabrics and notions for herself and her child, she decided to go into business. Victoria spent over 6 months setting things up and sold her car to raise enough money to get things going. Initially, The Secret Workshop began in 1995 as a mail-order catalogue. Victoria wanted to start a company that would allow her the freedom to work around her children's schedules and provide a service that she found lacking in general. Victoria did all the fabric swatching, page layouts and catalogue printing on site. 

In 1997, she added the Internet site, a web designer does the coding and Victoria does all the updating on the site. Her goal is to keep the site as up-to-date as possible. Every six months, the web site is evaluated and changes are made to improve how the site looks or runs. Some times the changes are small; while at other times the changes are large, depending on how things are operating.

Victoria comments, “E-commerce technology has come a long way since we first started selling over the Internet. Since 1997 the web site receives a minor face-lift every 12 to 15 months or so. After the Internet business was running well, we then added the retail shop. The Internet side of the business continues to grow.” 

Today The Secret Workshop continues to sell fabrics, sewing and quilting notions, magazines, books and patterns, pretty much anything related to sewing and quilting. The three marketing divisions, mail-order, retail and Internet, have one thing in common ¾ customer service. “Customer service has been high on my list from day one. Every order and customer is greeted as a part of our family. We try to go above and beyond the call of duty. Everyone is special. My favorite part of the business is the people. I love meeting, helping and visiting with the people both through e-mail, phone and in the shop. It is so wonderful to have "friends" all around the world. I love to hear what project they are making, assist with sewing and quilting questions and just be somewhere to drop in and say hi. People are my business;”

With three small children and virtually three businesses rolled into one, Victoria is one busy lady who finds inspiration all around her. I find it hard to get all the ideas, thoughts, and dreams done. I don't have enough hours in the day to complete everything I wish I could do. I haven't quite figured out how to go without sleeping. There are too many things I want to do and create. Finding inspiration has never been a problem, finding the time is.” 

Besides finding the time to get everything done, Victoria admits that running the office is her greatest challenge, “The paper work. Running a business is so much more than what you see as a customer. All the paper work and bookkeeping is very time consuming. This is the one area of the business I wished did not take so much time!”

In her friendly fashion, Victoria is quick to add, “Please stop by and visit our site” or if you are in the friendly Kootenay’s drop in and visit their “real” store! http://www.secretworkshop.com

TIPS:    Applauded for her web design – Victoria shares her tips:

Design - Develop a clean site that is easy to find things on. No heavy graphics that take too long to load. 

Contact Info - Always include information for people to contact you by phone, fax, e-mail or shop address.

Updates – Don't go to all the time and expense to create a website and then forget it. Keep it fresh and updated. 

Product Quality - Quality is very important especially for people shopping on-line. The Internet customer has never seen your products before. If you carry a "brand" let your customers know. Then they know what to expect when the order arrives. 

Promotion - Internet promotion can be very difficult and costly. There are many different things you can do. Decide what works best for you. Think about purchasing banner ads, e-mail ads, donations, and promotional products. Don't forget to include your email and web address on ALL printed advertising

Product Promotion - We do very few sales but offer other promotions at different times. Be creative with your promotions. Make it fun!

Pricing - We have always kept our pricing on the Internet the same as the pricing in the shop. Not every company does this. Running an Internet shop is not any less expensive than running a physical shop. You have to take into account designer fees, web storage, email accounts, special site setups, advertising, packing and phone charges. The list goes on. 

Shipping –  Find the method that works best for you. We are based in a community that has limited courier access. Shipping through courier can be expensive and we did not want to pass this expense onto the customer. We ship through Canada Post. Customers purchasing through mail-order are aware of the extra shipping fees but still they don't want to pay too much.

Returns - Be sure to set your exchange policy before you need to use it!

Karen Booy is the publisher of Craftlink, a magazine for professional crafters. She also creates craft patterns - Ewe & Me Pattern Company is known for is quick and easy “no-sew” Christmas patterns. Check out her website at www.karenbooy.com


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