Small Business

PROFILE: Stitches & Scones: Entrepreneur sews together her enterprises Yarn-store owner finds ways to keep doing what she loves

December 10, 2007

Stitches & Scones Entrepreneur sews together her enterprises Yarn-store owner finds ways to keep doing what she loves

Mollianne Cameron took a page from the book of successful businesses with her current business, Stitches & Scones, and two planned ones: Crafty Capers and The Amish & Antique Quilt Store. Each retail venture marries business to Cameron's passion for knitting, crocheting and hand stitchery.

The lesson: Do what you love and the money will follow.

Growing her own customers was another lesson taken, and Cameron took it a step further and grew her own employees. She hires teen-agers to work in Stitches & Scones, an almost-unheard-of practice at other yarn stores. Cameron said such shops often overlook youth. Young people "are not only interested [in knitting], but are some of the most rewarding customers you can have," she said.

To capitalize on that market, she plans to open Crafty Capers-which could be the first fiber-arts store in the nation targeting college-age and younger customers-and The Amish & Antique Quilt Store next door by the end of the year.

"Her employees would take a bullet for her," said Bob Parran, a Chicago-area-based manufacturers' representative who has been selling yarn for 37 years, servicing about 80 stores in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. "Her store stands out among most of my other stores. I don't know if her management is part of her experience or an innate quality, but she has very good skills."

Stitches & Scones specializes in mid- to high-end products, which attract experienced knitters. The store also targets beginners because they need a lot of hands-on support, and the personal assistance gives the store an edge over the Internet, its greatest competitor in yarn sales.

"I was working with a woman several years ago who knitted sweaters. I noticed the yarn she used was much more interesting and better than what I had used years before," said Cameron, 43, who was a child when she learned to knit from her grandmother.

When she found out there was no fiberart store in Hamilton County, "with my background in small business and desire to own a business, I knew this was a good opportunity."

She had worked for others, buying and selling Amish quilts, and owning her own business fit her schedule as mother of two toddlers and a wife.

So she and her husband bought an 1850s house in downtown Westfield, renovated it, added bathrooms, paved a parking lot in the rear, and built a wheelchair ramp. They just closed on two other buildings nearby, which will house Crafty Capers and the quilt shop.

The couple have bank-financed the buildings, and Cameron personally financed the inventory and startup costs.

Armed with a degree in marketing from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, she's grown her venture through word of mouth, with the assistance of bloggers who've helped her draw an international customer base online.

She said the biggest mistake she made was "keeping negative employees too long. The lesson was that no matter how much you think your business will suffer ... it may actually improve without them."

That kind of attention to detail has impressed Britney Rose Walker, branch manager at National City Bank in Westfield and Cameron's business banker.

"She's driven and she knows what she wants," Walker said. "She has been successful in growing this niche business in a small town."

Customers are impressed, too, having nominated and voted Stitches & Scones number one on WRTV-Channel 6's 2007 AList in the Arts & Crafts category.

Cameron said small-business owners need to learn to trust their "gut feeling about staff, inventory and what is good for your business."

And baking scones for customers every morning doesn't hurt, either.
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