Tales of Triumph winner Watergirl Quilt Co. is an online and brick-and-mortar quilting and education supply store that works to make quilting more accessible to a diverse group of people. Here’s their story.
How this small business got started
As a career woman with a typical five-day work week, Michelle Peters always struggled to access the quilting supplies and workshops she desired. The avid quilter found that the shops generally catered to retired women over 60. This meant that the retailers were often closed on Sundays and Saturday afternoons, and that they weren’t open after work. Attending classes was an issue because they were mostly held during the day over the work week.
So, when Peters launched Watergirl Quilt Co. – just as COVID-19 was starting to turn the retail world upside-down – she sought to transform the typical business model into something that could reach more customers like her. She concentrated on recreating the community experience quilters were famous for online.
I really wanted to focus on offering an online experience that feels like you walked through the door of the tiny little shop next door, because that’s what I never got to participate in.
An ecommerce success story
Selling quilting fabric online came with significant challenges. Quilters tend to be tactile, and they want to see and feel the fabric before they buy it. To overcome that hurdle, Peters started a complimentary program where customers could request swatches of fabrics from the company. She also offered video call appointments. “My staff love doing FaceTime or Skype calls and helping customers choose their fabrics from our shelves in the store,” she says. Another challenge? Quilters want to get together in person. To meet that need, Peters decided to introduce the quilting community to Zoom – which was no easy task.
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Teaching customers to be tech-savvy
The main marketing channel for quilt shops has traditionally been the local quilting guilds, which are like membership clubs for quilters. During the pandemic, Peters reached out to these groups and offered to help them get set up on Zoom. The guilds, however, were hesitant that members wouldn’t take to the online environment. But Peters persisted.
I offered to help, just for free. I helped guilds set up Zoom accounts. I did tutorials and talked them through it. I did this with customers during the times when we could have in-store shopping. I had customers come in and bring their iPads and say, "Will you show me how to use 'The Zoom?'"
As her online presence flourished, Peters began doing weekly presentations to Canadian guilds and their members, making sure to always include an exclusive, limited time offer to the participants, such as a 15 per cent discount. The sessions typically drew 75 to 150 attendees, from which she attracted new customers and grew her newsletter subscriber list.
Peters endeared herself to the community who were drawn to her enthusiasm for quilting and her ability to make them feel welcome in an online environment, especially during the lockdowns.
“Many, many people said to me, ‘You were the reason I got out of bed some mornings during those lockdowns,’ which is because I’m on Live at 9:00 a.m.,” says Peters.
Her brand awareness grew. In January 2021, Watergirl was the second runner up out of 1,340 quilt shops in an international competition that designates the top quilt shops in the world. Peters was nominated by two of her customers who wanted to show the world how proud they were to be part of the Watergirl Quilt Co. community.
Peters plans to focus on the VIP destination experience. She’s launched what she calls a “dual track system” in which she offers in-person classes at their 1,000 square foot education centre, which she opened last July. It will be further developed to include a recording studio so that she can offer customers the option to do every workshop either as an in-person session or via Zoom. She will also be looking into securing a warehouse and has recently become a BERNINA Canada sewing machine dealership.
I want to be able to just segment and focus on the fabric-only sales to keep the Canadian money in Canada – because when they can't find it here, they order it from the U.S. We do not have a Canadian shop that has a handle on the North American market, and I want to be it.
As she continues to grow and market her business, Peters will continue to focus strongly on online education, and building her community of engaged quilters.
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