Store Owner Series: Material Obsession

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When Kathy Doughty was a podcast guest, we naturally talked about her shop, Material Obsession. I was (and still am) fascinated how an Australian fabric store might be different than a store in the United States. Since my only fabric store experiences have been in Japan and Paris, I wanted to add an international voice to the Store Owner Series.  Kathy gives us a glimpse of her work in the store, writing books and designing fabric.
When did you open your shop?

The first location was in 2003!  We moved after 4 years and then again to our latest location which is now 5 years…

What experience do you want your customers to have while in your store?

It is always our goal that our customers feel comfortable and welcome in the shop so they can get busy being creative.  Everyone is happy to help with borders, backings or binding math and in selecting fabrics.  We try to have lots of tools and resources as well as an exciting range of feature fabrics.

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What do you feel are the keys to your success?  

Service, creativity on tap and fantastic staff.

How does owning a store contribute to your fabric design process?

If I worked alone in my studio, I’d never get the massive amount of input that I get living vicariously through my customers and teachers.Being in the shop amps up the amount of exposure I get to creative outcomes.  Every customer brings a different style or outlook to projects.  All the talented teachers add levels of design.  In addition, the shop demands lots of projects so there is never a shortage of things to do.  If a new range comes in, we all jump at the chance to use it and the same with new tools or techniques.  The variety is the spice of life so it NEVER gets boring.

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How do you choose employees to work in the store?

The most important thing is that they are able to leave their ego at the door.  Being creative means you need to feel safe and secure with those around you.  It also means that emotions are often near the surface so we have to be appreciative of how others are feeling.  We often share our projects and critiques are for the betterment of the project.  In that I mean we don’t just say things to be nice. If we can’t be honest, we can’t get the best outcome.  So trust is really important.

As a shop owner, I have never lost the feeling of not knowing how to do things so being able to provide helpful advice and good service is important.  One bad experience with a customer is a bad thing.

Do you feel the store is a part of the larger quilting community? 

ABSOLUTELY. We as a team work together in the shop but we also hold positions in our local groups and the Quilt NSW committee.  This is important as it helps us stay in touch with what the movements are in quilting, it allows us to contribute the growth of quilting and in addition we learn of areas where we can promote our brand…all great things.  We build relationships with other people committed to quilting and are engaged leaders in the community.  Quilting is such a beneficial activity as it gives us space to exercise our creativity and while doing that we are able to build relationships on an individual and group level.

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Having traveled and taught around the world, do you feel Australian shops are different than shops in other countries?

Yes.  There is no doubt that it is a bit different here.  The influences created by being so far away from the hub mean that things filter and get interpreted differently.  Its like playing telephone!  Also, the cost of doing business is so great that we have to make choices more carefully.  Fabric is expensive, shipping and postage is expensive and rent is through the roof so all that means we have to work hard…not that all shop owners don’t have to work hard!  Working hard is the only way to survive in this industry.

I also think that being “isolated” in the world has created a break the rules mentality here.  There is a strong English heritage which makes appliqué and hexagons very popular.  In addition, because we often get goods later or incomplete we have had to learn to make do with what we get.  The flavour or resourcefulness runs deep.  It means that we study how to make suitable substitutes and that leads to a slightly different look.
I admire the way the American shops merchandise the lines.  It looks wonderful to go to big shops that have space to create vignettes and displays with quilts, kits and patterns but we just don’t have the space for that.  I am really jealous of shops with space!!!!

What percentage of your sales are in person versus online?

Our on line business is growing very fast.  I think it is about 60% as it includes our block of the month programs which go around the world.


What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

I am releasing a new line called Celebrate this market in Houston.  I am also starting a new book but really, the last one is still so new it really needs more exercise!!  I am in the process of creating new workshop plans working with shapes and fabric mixtures….and I am also going to take a big break over the holidays so you’ll get some quiet time thoughts!!!

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Kathy is a gem! I have a feeling I would walk into her store and not want to leave.

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