AUBURN — Up until now, Stephanie McCall — owner of Quilts By Commission, LLC of Auburn — has created custom quilts as a one-woman show. However, COVID shutdowns made her re-imagine her customers’ experience.
While the part of McCall’s business that required in-person consultations suffered early in the pandemic, she was able to adapt by changing her procedures. She reorganized her processes and notified her customers so that they would be aware that she was doing the best she could to keep their product(s) safe. Sometimes that meant reaching out, one-by-one, to customers so that they knew that it was personal, and not just a paycheck for her.
“Acting like I’m not post-COVID helps me to keep clients’ projects safe and organized. I’m still wearing masks in my business, and letting my customers take the lead with how their project is handled. If that means a little (or a lot) of extra time, I’m making sure that as I move forward, I’m being conscious of others and how they interact with me in my business,” McCall explains.
While McCall was doing that, on top of her regular workday, she started giving back to her community. She used her skills to help local essential workers by creating 40 CDC-compliant medical masks a day for three days. Stephanie also organized an event where she and 15 volunteers created a twin-sized quilt as a welcoming gift for the eventual owner of a Cayuga County Habitat for Humanity house. While she took philanthropic action to be charitable for charity’s sake, she could not deny the good PR that came with her altruistic acts. “I didn’t seek out the reporters, they came to me. I just kept doing what I was doing and doing it the best I could.” McCall explains.
In 2020, Quilts By Commission flourished — generating a 220 percent increase in revenue.
“It was all about being in the right niche at the right time. It was important that I had a solid client base, a simple-to-use website, and consistent social-media posts,” McCall says in attributing her results. “My business works with people in my industry and everyone else. I make the process to gain my products easy, with exceptional customer service, and attention to personal details for each client.”
McCall says she found that the trust she had in her Small Business Development Center (SBDC) advisor, who I was fortunate to be, was instrumental in expanding her business. “In the artisan field, I’m protective of my work and my ideas. I try to be unique with my approach to selling and marketing,” McCall says. “I was confident that the relationship with Keyona was protected and that I could bounce ideas and future plans off her without worry that it would show up locally in other businesses. I also appreciated the market research that was available through the SBDC. I was able to understand the local and national market better, which helped me focus on the areas that were trending.”
Even during the worst of the shutdowns, McCall found creative ways to continue to network. Stephanie began to make contacts via Zoom, as we all quickly learned how to navigate business in a virtual world.
“When we were all hibernating in our homes, I Zoomed with other local business owners in my industry and we made a focus group that lifted us up,” Stephanie says. “We bounced ideas off each other for our specific niches and we didn’t feel so alone. I wouldn’t have learned the value of brainstorming if it weren’t for Keyona. This Zoom group still exists and is a lifeline for me when I have questions or concerns about something in our industry.”
Quilts By Commission has seen so much growth over the four-plus years of McCall working with her advisor at the SBDC at Onondaga Community College, that it is easy to forget that she started out as a home-based business.
“I started with less than $200 in tools and grew my business into a full-time position (and then some). I made slow and smart decisions early on, I gathered people around me that uplifted and supported me, and I ignored the naysayers,” says McCall. “If you own a business and feel like you’re alone, then gather a team of friends or colleagues, buy them coffee or dinner, and beg them to listen to your ideas. The culture surrounding your business is where you want to start to gather your customers, think big, and think about what they need. Everyone loves someone who can help. If you make or do a thing that lots of people need then you are poised for success.”
Quilts By Commission has moved out of McCall’s converted garage and into a 1,341-square-foot space at 53 Genesee St. that is three times bigger. The business held a grand-opening event on Sept. 18. McCall has added many new services and products, as well as a gallery of finished work to purchase that she has curated from local professionals and advanced crafters.
Tired of being a one-woman show Stephanie is contracting others in her field and working with semi-professionals to help with orders. “I’m personally booking projects into May 2022, so it is definitely time to bring more hands to the table. After six years, I finally found funding for a machine that will almost double my output — this is my first hire. But I plan to be hiring an assistant before the holidays so that I can continue to scale the business,” she said.
With 97 Shops in New York state that are in her industry, it can be hard to stand out. McCall uses creative techniques, that she is constantly adding to, to pique the interest of potential customers. But the core of her business is solid workmanship, a tried-and-true process, personalized customer service, and creativity in everything she does.
Check out the Quilts By Commission website at: www.stephaniemccallquilts.com.
Advisor’s Business Tip: You may have a vision of what you want your business to be eventually, but there are a lot of factors to consider. Sometimes it is best to work within your means to get started and build your vision gradually.
Keyona Kelly is a certified business advisor at the SBDC, located at OCC. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org