Quilt Station

 As a small rural business, Quilt Station has given Margaret Mew amazing opportunities.

As a small rural business, Quilt Station has given Margaret Mew amazing opportunities.

Margaret Mew can’t remember a time when she hasn’t made ‘fine little things.’ As a teenager she made her own clothes, then she sewed and knitted for her children … as mothers often used to do. Then, in 1992, she went to a patchwork class and her world dramatically changed. Today, thanks to her incredible work captured in her stunning book, Quilts from the Colonies, Margaret and her Elphinstone based business, Quilt Station, are recognised across the world by quilters.

Why patchwork I ask? Margaret barely pauses to answer. ‘I loved that it had unlimited possibilities of pattern, of colour and prints of fabric,’ she explains. And over twenty years later it appears that she is still mesmerised. ‘Fabric to me is the motivation every day. It still excites me sewing two pieces of fabric together and see how they look.’

Like all artisans Margaret has dedicated years to learning her craft and the journey has been an interesting one. With her newfound passion fuelled by continuing patchwork classes and as a founding member of Goldfields Quilters; she started working part-time at a patchwork shop in Castlemaine. ‘Some days I just got paid in fabric,’ she admits with a wry smile. She then started taking inhouse classes at the shop which helped attract more buyers of fabric much to the owner’s delight.

After a ten-year ‘apprenticeship’ in quilting Margaret also started producing her own patterns, with an emphasis on traditional antique American styles that she particularly loves, selling them inhouse and through the shop’s website. In what can be quite a long process, she begins by making the quilt, then works out all the technical instructions and produces it as a physical pattern for other quilters to purchase. ‘In the early days I literally drew the diagrams with handwritten instructions and photocopied them,’ she explains. ‘The early ones looked pretty basic but slowly and surely I’ve gained more computer skills and now I’m using a graphic designer and producing them with a bit more of an edge.’ Her most recent pattern was printed in full colour and retails for $32.

According to Margaret things first got really exciting around 2010 when a quilting shop in the Netherlands started buying her patterns wholesale. Suddenly Margaret’s name started appearing in European quilting circles and, in 2011, she was contacted by France based magazine and book publisher Quiltmania who were visiting Australia for a Sydney event. Carol the publisher, and Guy their photographer, travelled to Elphinstone, artfully ‘threw’ quilts around Margaret’s house, and took beautiful photographs. Over the next few years Quiltmania featured Margaret in articles and published some of her patterns.

It was clearly time for Margaret to capitalise on this world-wide recognition, only enjoyed by a handful of Australian quilters. She left her part time job and purchased a long arm quilt machine business that she could operate from home. Not only did this unique piece of machinery assist her to finish her own quilts, it enabled her to take on work from hobby quilters in the region, providing a small but steady income. Her first task was to write to the previous owner’s customers introducing herself. Quilt Station in the tiny central Victorian township of Elphinstone was born!

2017 was another significant milestone when Quilt Mania published Quilts from the Colonies by Margaret Mew with text in both English and French. Margaret enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to France to attend the launch. ‘I sat and signed books for four days followed by a lovely holiday,’ she smiles. She also travelled to the United States, promoting the book and teaching even more obsessed quilters in what is reputedly a $3.7 billion annual industry according to figures published by the International Quilt Market.

Despite this incredible publicity on the world arena, it has still been up to Margaret to generate her own local marketing and publicity to keep a steady flow of income.  With a creative eye she maintains her own website. ‘I am very particular about how everything looks and am constantly changing my website,’ she admits. She is also an avid blogger and has recently embraced Instagram already enjoying a huge following. An online course has encouraged her to update her profile and better connect with potential customers. ‘I don’t think I could have built my business without social media,’ she admits. ‘All quilters are on Instagram which is so good for creatives because they are so visual.’

With experience Margaret is becoming more strategic in converting followers to customers. ‘You need to let people in, connect with them and build a relationship by offering something for free,’ Margaret explains. ‘By guiding them to my blog where I talk more in-depth, they are then on my website with access to my shopping page.

While the long arm quilting machine was a big part of her initial business, it has recently been surpassed by her more favoured activities; speaking and teaching, both of which help promote sales of her book, patterns and templates. A glance at her online calendar reveals that she is a regular guest speaker at guild events across Victoria and interstate, in addition to her own fortnightly inhouse classes. It is something that Margaret clearly enjoys and helps fund another of her passions, overseas travel!  In October 2018 she is off on another quilting adventure spanning the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom.

What surprises me most is that Margaret rarely sells a quilt, instead keeping them for teaching purposes. Quilts are only sold when her cupboards get too full and then, usually to friends and for only a fraction of the cost that it takes to produce them. As an accredited appraiser who volunteers at guild events to enable quilt owners to apply for insurance cover, she clearly understands their value. ‘It’s not unusual for a handmade quilt to be valued at $5,000 or even $8,000,’ she says, ‘but that doesn’t mean that someone will pay that.’

Likewise, Margaret has a large collection of old fabrics that are exceeding storage space and is next year looking at selling them through a booth in the United Kingdom. This is a strategic decision that will help gain new customers for her patterns and teaching classes, not to mention help fund another overseas trip!

One of the biggest challenges of being a home-based business, especially one that grew from a hobby, is friends not understanding that she has work to do. ‘Every day is a work day when you work for yourself,’ acknowledges Margaret who is busy producing new works for patterns and hopefully a second book.

Choosing not to analyse her personal worth and business too in-depth, Margaret is following guild and council standards when she speaks and charges fees that she is comfortable with. She also maintains the books for her husband’s business, Art Station, based in the outbuildings at their home. Although the two businesses are kept separate in an online accounting system, Margaret is grateful that they come under the one partnership requiring only one BAS to be completed for taxation purposes. She is also under no illusion.

‘As a business Quilt Station is not our main source of income,’ Margaret admits, ‘but the bottom line is that I will always make quilts because it’s what I love to do. It also gives me amazing opportunities.’

http://www.quiltstation.com.au/


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Fair Dinkum

 At the young age of 19 Elise Brown purchased Fair Dinkum Dog Coats and has adapted the business to suit her lifestyle as she's become a mother to two daughters.

At the young age of 19 Elise Brown purchased Fair Dinkum Dog Coats and has adapted the business to suit her lifestyle as she's become a mother to two daughters.

With ‘Shop Local’ campaigns becoming popular, it is important to be reminded that many online businesses also successfully operate from rural towns. Whether a shop front or online business, Elise Brown of Fair Dinkum Dog Coats in Central Victoria is just one great example of why we need to articulate the story of our business, so customers can understand who they are supporting.

Labelled a ‘social butterfly’ by her parents and teachers, Elise Brown cruised through her school years without any accolades.  However, when her family looks back on her childhood, the signs of an entrepreneur in the making were clearly evident.  Always curious, Elise asked lots of questions, and was quick to recognise an opportunity. As a teenager with a strong self-belief she proved herself more than capable of creating her own income.  She trained young and difficult horses and sold them on to good homes for a healthy profit.

Every day is an opportunity to learn according to Elise, and significantly her best learning has been outside the education system.  While her friends went on to university, she started working in the equine industry, learning on the job, and continuing to ask lots of questions of everyone she met along the way.

Aged nineteen she was supported by her family to purchase a small part time business, Fair Dinkum Dog Coats, to complement her part time work.  Within six months Elise was so busy she had to leave her paid job. A year later, she was once again supported by her family to purchase a second business, Midland Stock & Poultry Store in Castlemaine, as a local retail outlet for her dog coats.

Over a five-year period as a retailer, Elise learnt many valuable skills including employing staff and balancing stock with cash flow.  She also learnt to handle the occasional difficult customer who tried to bully a young person for their own benefit.

Life got a bit more complex when a husband entered the scene and their first child was on the way.

‘Fair Dinkum Dog Coats started off as a nice part time business supplying wholesale customers, primarily pet shops, right across Australia,’ Elise explains. ‘But no matter how hard I worked in advance I couldn’t avoid the winter rush and found myself working long hours. It wasn’t fun any more,’ she admits.  Selling the retail store helped alleviated the problem but she still had to find a way to manage the workload for manufacturing the coats.

It was at that point that Elise had a light-bulb moment demonstrating a confidence in her own problem-solving abilities.

‘Despite everyone telling me I was crazy, I wrote to my wholesale customers and told them I was no longer supplying them. I decided to take my business totally online and sell direct to customers.’

Cutting off a stable source of income, investing in website development, and learning to manage new technology was a brave move that has fortunately paid off for Elise. By constantly sharing the story of her business and products via social media she has also effectively engaged with customers and avoided costly advertising.

‘Selling direct to the public online has been the best decision I’ve made, for me and my customers,’ Elise says. ‘Instead of having to produce large orders all at once, I now have a much steadier flow of individual orders that I can make to each dog’s unique measurements instead of off-the-rack generic sizes.’

Recognising a growing number of greyhounds and whippets becoming domestic pets, she has also designed a new range to suit their unique shape and this has become a significant proportion of her sales.

Remarkably, despite working less hours and selling less coats, Elise has tripled her income with the profits coming direct to her instead of being shared with wholesalers.  And, most importantly as a young mother, Elise has also been able to dedicate herself to her two daughters aged three and five.

With the business ticking along nicely in the background, Elise is now preparing for when both girls are at school.  This year she is excited to be building a new work space ready to ramp up the business to a new level by tapping more into the international market and year-round sales.

Balancing work with family is important to Elise, as is maintaining Fair Dinkum’s brand and reputation. At the urging of industry advisers, she has explored outsourcing production and exporting options, but keeps coming back to what is important to her; supplying a quality product to her customers.

With many customers happy to share testimonials Elise says it is also important for the wider community to be educated.

‘When people talk about how bad shopping on the internet is, I’d like to remind them that many rural businesses like mine are benefiting from being online,’ Elise says. ‘Because of the internet I am able to live and work where I love.’

Elise understands the value of explaining who she is and what she stands for. Being nominated for and winning a Rural Community & Achievement Award in 2010 also gave her a platform to talk about the importance of young people being encouraged to become business owners.

Much to Elise’s amazement, she was invited to meet with Queen Elizabeth at Government House in Melbourne during her 2011 visit.  A girlfriend provided a quick makeover, but the ever practical Elise drew the line at changing her rubber soled work boots which were perfect for walking from Southern Cross Station to Government House.

By sharing Fair Dinkum stories, Elise’s customers know exactly who is making their dog coat when they place an order, and chances are that it will be posted by two small and very willing helpers who have the privilege of a rural lifestyle thanks to their enterprising mother.

http://www.fairdinkumdogs.com.au/

Elise’s top business tips:

  • Create a business that supports your family and lifestyle but understand that it’s only worth keeping if its profitable.
  • Invest in yourself to keep improving your business.
  • Utilise the power of social media to avoid costly advertising.

DISCLOSURE:  As many of you may already know, Elise is my daughter. I’m rather amazed that it has taken me this long to feature her in my 85th blog!


KERRY ANDERSON: Author ofEntrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

The Dressmaker

More than a skewed small town fable ...

BY KERRY ANDERSON

VIEWING The Dressmaker for the second time last night (on this special occasion under the stars in outback Queensland) I had the opportunity to reflect on what lessons could be learned from this now iconic Australian movie.

Earlier in the day, author, Rosalie Ham, explained to delegates at the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association meeting in Alpha how she joined a literary course at TAFE and was instructed to write a story and go through the motions of publishing it.  Drawing on her somewhat skewed childhood memories of growing up in a town of 800 people with a seamstress mother, Rosalie inserted a murder, a cross dresser, a fiercely fought football game, hate, envy, and the obligatory love story into the story line. The Dressmaker was the end result. Not only did it get published, it was made into a movie!

When I first went to see the film it was for a number of different reasons.  It was Australian and filmed in rural Victoria near where I live, plus it featured a small rural town in the story line, albeit fictional. Most of all, it was because my mother, raised on a farm in Gippsland, was trained as a dressmaker.  We went to the movie together, along with my daughter who has also inherited her grandmother’s skills.

As an advocate for rural Australia I have to say that the depiction of Dungatar as a small town and the grating idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants in The Dressmaker was hardly ideal but of course we can’t be too precious about that. We all understand the need for drama and humour to entertain.

What I clearly saw of value in the movie, however, was a young woman able to be innovative and to create her own income in a rural town as did her mother before her.

Up until we left home as young adults my mother made all of our clothes. Often I was stopped by complete strangers and asked what brand my dress was. Leaving school and starting work in an office I had the snappiest wardrobe you could ever hope to have.  I never thought anything of it at the time other than it was an obvious cost saving for a rural family struggling to raise four children, pay off a mortgage, and establish an earthmoving business.

 I felt very smart in my red pantsuit made by my very talented dressmaker mother.

I felt very smart in my red pantsuit made by my very talented dressmaker mother.

Mum’s skills as a dressmaker also enabled her to create a small income to support the family budget.  Many a fitting for a wedding dress took place in our home with mum threatening blue murder if we dared to go near the precious folds of white material.  Like Rosalie we heard all the behind the scenes dramas of the nervous brides.

While I pursued a totally different career path, my daughter demonstrated hands on skills at an early age. For her twelfth birthday we gave her a second hand sewing machine to make saddle blankets for her horses.  After completing secondary college she purchased a small business named Fair Dinkum Dog Coats and began manufacturing oilskin dog coats with industrial sewing machines in her grandmother’s sewing shed.

It really was lovely to see grandmother and grand-daughter working together on orders to go Australia wide and overseas.  Mum has since retired but it won’t be long before the next generation, my daughter’s daughters, may be able to participate.

So, the moral of this story is that, whatever your skill, it can provide you with the capacity to work and live wherever you want including in rural towns. That's what I took away from The Dressmaker.

And, as Rosalie told us in Alpha, rural kids are innovative, progressive and modern. They can do ANYTHING!


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, author, and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s businessBOOK 

Blooming Technology

BY KERRY ANDERSON

When Sarah Sammon helped reinvent her mother’s farm comprising 1,000 rose plants in 2004, no-one in the cut flower industry could have foreseen just how much this new business would change and bloom.

In what was initially perceived as a problem Sarah saw an opportunity.

Spurred on by her inability to get a job with a career focus upon returning to her home town of Swan Hill, Sarah put her science degree and entrepreneurial spirit to good use researching alternatives to a struggling cut flower industry. 

‘At this time traditional confetti started being frowned upon at wedding venues because it caused staining and was not biodegradable,’ explains Sarah. ‘We saw an opportunity and went for it.’

Simply Rose Petals was subsequently launched on an unsuspecting public by this dynamic mother daughter duo. And when I say launched, I mean it in every possible way including confetti cannons that shoot the petals up to 14 feet high and the product being featured on popular Australian television shows such as The Bachelor, X Factor, Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelorette and Big Brother!

Sarah has constantly utilised technology to keep Simply Rose Petals ahead of the many competitors that subsequently scrambled to follow in their footsteps.

Specialised technology allows their rose petals to be freeze-dried, packaged and shipped to 15 countries around the world.   Such has been the demand, that they have expanded their number of rose plants from 1,000 to 6,000.

From her rural office surrounded by roses on the banks of the mighty Murray River, Sarah literally spends thousands of hours online each year researching ideas to keep taking the business forward. Social media has played a major factor. Scholarships and awards have also been useful tools.

In 2006 she received a Churchill Fellowship to travel to eleven countries exploring effective processing, packaging and storage techniques, and the latest mechanisation trends in the flower industry. With harvesting of rose petals the most labour intensive activity, Sarah had hoped to discover a way of mechanising this process during her Fellowship. 

‘Unfortunately I was unable to discover a machine that was capable of removing the petals without damaging or bruising them,’ she admits. She was, however, able to analyse the latest in air-drying versus freeze-drying technology to help make important decisions for their business.

Her quest for more knowledge is ongoing. Through a Nuffield Scholarship in 2014 Sarah explored further uses for rose petals including edible and organic rose petals in a growing ‘foodie’ culture, spurred on by cooking shows such as MasterChef.

‘Despite food certification challenges in Australia, the Nuffield tour convinced me that rose petals can be successfully produced organically and there is plenty of scope for creating specialty foods and nutritional supplements derived from rose petals,’ says Sarah.

With an insatiable curiosity and boundless enthusiasm driving her to continuously improve the business, it is no surprise that Sarah has been recognised as a finalist through the Telstra Businesswomen’s Awards and, in 2015, received the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award for female Australian entrepreneur under 40.

Make no mistake. Constantly exploring opportunities to introduce new products, methods, and technologies, has been an integral part of this enterprising rural businesswoman’s journey.

Sarah’s top business tips:

1.   Every business requires a determination and persistence that can only be fuelled by passion and hard work. Make sure you are in it for the long haul and not the short financial gain.

2.   Innovation is achievable for everyone. It can be as simple as reinventing what's already out there or creating new packaging for your product that makes it easier for your customers to use.

3.   You can't expect your business to be healthy if you don't take care of yourself first. The health, fitness and mental wellbeing of the entrepreneur is crucial.

Simply Rose Petals Website

Churchill Trust Report   

Nuffield Report   


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, author, and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s businessBOOK