Exposing your Vulnerability as a Strength rather than a Weakness
Alan Doan, Episode #78/79
Co-Founder at Missouri Star Quilt Co.
When our family (the Doan family) moved from California to Missouri about 20 years ago we never imagined that we'd be running a successful business here. Like many small towns in the Midwest and across America, employment was (and is) scarce. Towns that once upon a time thrived with local enterprise are now left with abandoned buildings and crumbling infrastructure. Many local residents had to travel long distances to work, or were compelled to leave the area altogether to find employment. Our Dad, Ron Doan, commuted an hour and a half to work each way as a mechanic at the Kansas City Star newspaper. He worked long hours and many night shifts to support Mom (Jenny) and us seven children. In 2008, when he lost a hefty portion of his retirement savings in the market crash and at a time when the newspaper industry, a sinking ship, was laying off people every month, my brother Alan and I had the idea to start a business that could help our parents towards retirement.
In November of 2008, on a shoestring budget, we bought a building in Hamilton (two minutes away from mom and dad's house) and started the Missouri Star Quilt Company, selling a few quilting supplies and primarily offering machine quilting services. It soon became apparent that in a town of 1500 people it would be difficult to produce enough revenue to employ our parents and also make a decent profit. This was the impetus behind growing our business online. Alan approached his best friend and former LDS mission companion, David Mifsud, to get involved in the business. They had served together for eight months in the Kyiv, Ukraine mission and had always dreamed of going into business together. With Alan's technical background (having run several tech start-ups out west), David's financial and marketing background and my expertise in the quilting industry, we had the ingredients to start a successful online business. I ran the physical shop and the day to day operations of the company while Alan and David focused their efforts online. As owners, our variety of talents and ability to work harmoniously together would help propel the company forward.
Spending very little on advertising in the first few years, our company relied entirely on its creativity to grow. We started a YouTube channel with my mom, Jenny (aka "Momma Doan"), as our instructor, teaching quilting techniques and ideas to beginner and advanced quilters alike. Mom, who had a background in theatre and in being the natural center of attention in any room, had always wanted to be a star. It wasn't long before Missouri Star became the biggest quilting YouTube channel and mom became a quilting celebrity. She has also taken part in a series of professional tutorials from another company and is now working with Fons & Porter Magazine to be a feature with them. Another factor in the company's rapid success was the Quilter's Daily Deal. It is an extreme quilting deal (30%-100%) every single day of the year. In the beginning, word-of-mouth news about the deal brought thousands of customers to the website. This and our $5 flat rate shipping would be well received by quilters. We decided to make pre-cut fabrics, which revolutionized the quilting industry, our core product. Pre-cut fabrics are bundles of fabric, cut in various shapes and sizes, featuring an array of coordinating prints from a designer fabric line. In less than four years, Missouri Star has grown to offer the largest selection of pre-cut fabrics in the world, pretty cool for a tiny company in rural Caldwell County, Missouri.
The company now ships thousands of packages every single day to customers all over the globe. Due to our popularity on YouTube, the brick and mortar shop has become a quilting destination attracting quilters from all over America and around the world to the small town of Hamilton, Missouri. Not long ago, we even had a bus tour of women from Australia roll into the shop! The company now employs more than 150 people, which is the largest employer in Caldwell County, including single and retired mothers, students, and others. What started off as a family business has now grown to include an entire community, and even though not everyone who works for Missouri Star is related, we sure feel like family.
- Sarah Galbraith