Siblings named nation's top small business persons for rural Missouri quilting business

Associated Press

Alan Doan's entrepreneurial dreams were to start the next Facebook or Google.

Instead, the 32-year-old laid off software worker started a quilting business with his sister, Sarah Galbraith, 35, in rural Missouri after the 2008 economic crash to help their parents recover their retirement savings. The business has exceeded all expectations and gained a worldwide following. The U.S. Small Business Administration honored the siblings as this year's Small Business Persons of the Year.

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Fueled by the popularity of the folksy online tutorials that their mother, Jenny Doan, churned out, Missouri Star Quilt Company in Hamilton now employs 184 people and ships up to 5,000 orders a day to customers around the world, including to 50 countries in April.

"It's not what me and my business buddies all thought I would be working on some day," said Alan Doan during a phone interview from Estonia, where he was mentoring small business people. "But honestly it's the nicest customers I've ever seen in my life. If the website goes down, they'll send me a note saying, 'Hey sweetie, I'm hanging onto my order until you can get it fixed. Good luck. We're rooting for you.' In my tech world you don't get that."

The initial goals were modest: they wanted the business to generate $1,000 or $2,000 a month for Jenny Doan, a 57-year-old former costume theater designer who learned quilting at a vocational class. The two siblings and a third co-founder, friend Dave Mifsud, got a bank loan for a quilting machine and a small building to house it in Hamilton, a farming town of 1,800 that is located about 60 miles northeast of Kansas City. Their niche is precut quilt pieces, which many of customers prefer to buying fabric by the yard.

"It was never to be a full-on company," Alan Doan said. "We never imagined there was enough room in quilting to do that. We did not expect to stand out beyond the crowd much, but then mom ended up being so good on video."

Each week, there are half a million views of the mother of seven talking people through how to make projects that include the "Dudes Quilt." With demand exploding, three other siblings started helping out with the business. Last year, the SBA loaned the company money for a 42,500-square-foot warehouse that holds its shipping operations because it had outgrown the old one.

Alan Doan, meanwhile, finds himself a full-fledged quilter after his mother chided him into making his first one in August.

"She was calling me a poser; I had to come clean," he joked.

He said the business has since started pushing its employees to at least make a quilt block within the first six weeks of starting, even the burly warehouse workers. "Everyone needs to know what this company is about."