Few places would be more appropriate for a store devoted to quilting than Paducah, KY. Known around the world for its decorative quilts and skilled crafts people, the city is home to the Museum of the American Quilters' Society, the only national museum dedicated to the art.
At least that's what Pat English's cousin thought in the late 1980s when Pat and her husband retired and made plans to return to their old hometown. Pat had spent many years teaching quitting and needlecraft in the Chicago suburbs, and it was clear that her knowledge and talent would be a perfect for a store dedicated to quilts.
Pat was receptive to her cousin's encouragement, but recognized that going into business required skills that she didn't have. "I knew what it takes to make a good quilt," she recalls, "but I didn't know anything about starting or running a business." After reading about SCORE in the local newspaper, Pat and her husband visited the organization's Paducah chapter and met with Clara Land.
Pat opened Quilters Alley in 1989 with a splash of low-cost publicity and a well-attended grand opening celebration. The next few months were slow, however, as the store was not in the best location. Things began to take off a year later when Pat moved the business to a more attractive site. For the next three years, Quilters Alley became well known to quilters throughout the region. Then in 1993, Pat had an opportunity to purchase a building halfway between the then-newly opened Quilting Museum and the Kentucky Convention Center. This location would not only maximize the visibility of Quilters Alley to English's fellow quilting enthusiasts, but also attract convention attendees and other visitors as well.
Pat took one of mentors, Clara, suggestions and registered Quilters Alley as part of an enterprise zone, enabling English to take advantage of several valuable tax breaks. With the help of a commercial bank loan, her store is now fulfilling its promise as a destination for visitors from across the country. "Each year, business gets better," says Pat, who chuckles when she hears friends suggest that it's time to expand once again. "That might be going a bit too far; I have plenty to say grace over right now."
Pat met with Clara Land, a retired marketing and service professional with a leading telecommunications company. Clara explained many of the key basics of getting a business started, and provided guidelines on setting up an accounting and bookkeeping system, developing a business plan, securing insurance, and marketing. They also received valuable information from the chapter's Pre-Business Seminar for aspiring entrepreneurs.
When Pat felt it was time to dissolve the business partnership with her cousin, she again she returned to SCORE where her mentor had the answers. "Clara has always been great at giving us pointers and ideas," Pat says. "If she wasn't sure how we should proceed, she'd know who to ask. And she always got the information to us right away."
Although Pat credits two business basics—timing and location—for her success, she is equally grateful for the help she's received from SCORE and Clara Land. "Clara has always been there when we needed her," she says. "She has helped us a great deal over the past 10 years."