Siblings from a rural northwest Missouri town have been named nation’s top small business persons of the year.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has honored a brother and sister from Hamilton for a quilting business that ships up to 5,000 orders a day to customers around the world. Alan Doan and Sarah Galbraith started Missouri Star Quilt Company, a retail store with a thriving ecommerce business that employs 184 people. Last year, the SBA loaned the company money for a 42,500-square-foot warehouse to maintain its shipping operations.
Galbraith and her brother were invited to Washington D.C. by the SBA after the company was nominated for the award.
“It took me kind of by surprise at how emotional that was and it felt really good to be honored in that way and to be among people that really understood what it takes to get there,” said Galbraith.
“It was cool to hear Hamilton, Missouri mentioned in the circle of big winners and stuff, I’m from a farming town in northwest Missouri, you just don’t expect that to happen,” said Doan.
The brother-sister duo opened the business after the 2008 market crash cost their parents most of their retirement savings and threatened to take their house. Doan said the idea for the company came when his mother took up quilting and she was willing to wait up to a year for a long arm quilter to finish one of her quilts. Doan called his sister and they decided to take out a loan to buy the quilting machine and small building to house it in.
“I called my sister Sarah and said let’s just do this, everybody talks about starting a business, they all think about it, like I feel like we’re pretty smart people, we can figure this out, let’s just do this, let’s just do this business,” said Doan.
“We didn’t have a lot of money to put into it, everything that we put into it was our own, we didn’t want to get a big loan cause we didn’t really know how far we were going to go with it,” said Galbraith.
Doan said the brick-and-mortar business in Hamilton was the end of their foresight, but sales began to explode when their mom started to put instructional videos about quilting on YouTube.
“It’s no great idea I had or Sarah had, it was the fact that mom ended up being really good at teaching these tutorials,” said Doan. “People just love her, they love learning from her, they love watching her screw something up and fix it, mom is just the most real teacher you’ll ever get.”
Jenny Doan’s how-to quilting videos have drawn millions of views. Galbraith said online sales make up 90 to 95 percent of the business, but quilters from throughout the country come to visit the store.
“Because they have that relationship with us online, they know mom there, they trust her there because she’s their teacher, they’re wanting to come and see us, there not just ordering from warehouse, they’re ordering from us,” said Galbraith.
“In my view, we’re a technology company, I see a lot of the advantages that we have as oppose to maybe other shops out there as our technical advantage in terms of what we’re able to build and offer on the website,” said Doan.
The siblings’ parents now travel so that Jenny may speak and teach at quilting events around the world.
“They go to Australia and Alaska, the big cities in Chicago and New York, it’s fun to watch them as this older couple just finally living their dream,” said Doan.
Galbraith said her parents’ quality of life has improved, but her siblings handle most the pressures that come with running a business.
“She gets to do what she loves and what she loves to do is sew and talk,” said Galbraith. “Dad, he works hard, he’s pretty much mom’s right hand man.”