Hi Cyndi! So we’re going to talk about how you did, $45,000 in three days – It’s mind blowing you guys! Please tell us the story about your store, Cyndi, where it’s located and all the fun stuff!
I’m located in Massachusetts, in Franklin, it’s a suburb of Boston. I have been doing this for 17 years now. Prior to this, I worked for a consulting firm, so I had quite a bit of experience in the business arena. And when I retired from there, if you will, I was 43, I just wanted to do something different. So I decided to parlay my business skills into something that I love, which was quilting.
And so now I have a sewing machine and quilting store. We sell a lot of fabric and offer classes and have fun all around. We just moved last year from a 3,800 square foot building to a brand new 5500 square foot space in a shopping center, which has been phenomenal for us!
What a difference, in my old location, you forget what you don’t have because you don’t have a choice, you don’t realize the impact it has by not having it. So not great parking, you know, not great accessibility for handicap etc. As a quilt store we tend to cater to a little older demographic. So handicap accessibility is a big thing.
We do a lot of programming, we’re always doing clubs and blocks of the month and first Saturday programs etc.
How do you feel it impacted your abilities as a retailer to have had that business background?
In most ways, I’m really grateful for that. Because it taught me how to think about numbers differently. It taught me how to be more professional. But it also, in some ways, as you know, it restricts me somewhat because I have this thing that everything has to be done professionally and perfectly. And so sometimes that gets in the way of getting things done.
I think I certainly have found that to be really true in all the years. I’ve known you. I think that it really does help because you get people who come into this just because they’re passionate about something and they’re super creative, but passion doesn’t pay the bills.
Exactly. For me. It was always my business, never my hobby, and it was my livelihood. So I treated it as well. And I think that having that business background really helped position me for that kind of mentality.
I always say that that’s one thing that all the online businesses like Amazon did for retail is that they really forced the hobbyists to get out of business. Because they couldn’t do it anymore. Whereas you’ve been able to stay and thrive. It’s really exciting. What are you able to do with the extra space?
My space is more handicap accessible, I have a lot of space so it’s easier to get around, there’s wide aisles for people to get around in a wheelchair. We’re a busy store, so there’s a lot of space for people to move around and feel comfortable.
I wanted really, really high ceilings so I could hang things up on the wall. It’s almost like an art gallery with full samples on the wall. I read a long time ago that when people are in spaces that have high ceilings, it generates more creativity in people. It makes them feel like they’re more creative. And so that’s one of my reasons for doing high ceilings, and people absolutely feel that way, like the sky’s the limit really.
I have two classrooms now, I have a repair center for my soy machine repairs, and I have a longarm business. I’ve always had that, but now I have two longarms going, you know, in a big room.
I have a full, built out kitchen in the middle of my store because that’s who I am. This is my home for the most part, and I want you to feel welcome to my home! People sit down and we have a cup of tea, we always have some kind of treat, I make soup a lot. It just conveys exactly that sentiment, that welcome, and people absolutely love it.
I also know that that welcoming, feeling that you inspire and that you share has contributed to not only the success of your store, but also to the success of your retreat!
So tell everybody, how did you do $45,000 in three days?
This is my 16th year of doing this. I knew that I wanted to have a retreat that really was special and treated people like it was a special event for them and they felt pampered.
It’s kind of like the Club Med of retreats where you go in and everything is taken care of. From the minute you check in! It starts on a Saturday at noon and it finishes up on a Tuesday afternoon. All of your meals are taken care of, we have great, great, great space. I bring an onsite store for them to buy from if they forget something. I do activities, we do a class, a workshop, a trunk show, a mystery quilt and I make a great gift bag for when they come to welcome them.
I even make homemade jam for everybody as part of my retreat package for them. It just, again, adds that touch of welcome.
And one of the things that I’m really, really excited about and have really tried to promote, I’m sure you guys have all been to events where they get kind of clicky, there’s little groups of people and they’re not always the most welcoming. And I’ve just been able to foster a sense of inclusivity with this group.
I have 72 people who come to this, people who’ve been there many, many years. They are all ambassadors practically, they welcome new people. They make them feel part of the group and they’ve all made friends over the years.
They tell all their friends about it, I’ve got people that come from all over just because they hear such great things about it.
I get $45,000 worth of business for that weekend, and that doesn’t include all the other extra stuff that they buy from the store.
Where is the location? Where does it happen? Is it far away from the store?
It’s about an hour and a half, but what’s really key for my industry is lighting and power. You have to plug your machine and iron and lights in. It takes a lot of power and a lot of good lighting and most hotels can’t accommodate that.
So this is a conference center with a hotel, that’s why I can do so much for them and provide such an experience. Oh, I also do chair massages! They can’t get an experience like that anywhere else.
If I’m going to go away on a retreat, I don’t want to have to bring my linens or go out three times a day to get food because I’d spend too much time doing that which doesn’t give me enough time to do what I want to do, which is connecting with my friends.
That’s what I provide for people.
I find that that’s the biggest mistake that people make, we’ve had a lot of clients that have done retreats and not all of them have had the same degree of success as you have had for sure. And the most common mistake that we see at first is that people try to do it too small. They’re worried about charging too much. So how did you get over that originally? Is it all just from the background that you had?
I knew right from the get go what I wanted to do, what I wanted to provide and I stuck to that. And I knew that I’m not going to chase the lowest dollar, that’s not the event that I want to put on. People who appreciate that and want to do something like that, they’ll find me and they’ll do it.
My very first one, I had 42 people. I was thrilled with that! Amazing. And then we had about the same the second year. Then the third year I went down to about 27. I think that was right around 2008. So I told the people who had been coming every year that I can’t do this for this amount of people. So if you want to have the next retreat, you’ve got to get your friends involved. And the next year I had 60 something and I’ve not gone below that.
For the last several years I’ve been selling out at 72 and I’m trying to get another room so that I can go to 96. The great thing that came out of the pandemic is that I’ve always wanted to do a second retreat because my customers have asked me to do it. My annual retreat has always been in March, but they wanted something in November, and because of the pandemic a space opened up. And so I took it!
I was a little nervous about it because, but I got 38 people! So now I’m doing it twice a year. So if I can sell out both times, that’s going to be $90,000 in additional revenue. The potential is huge!
It’s a tonne of work. Don’t get me wrong. But I’ve also done it for so many years now that I reuse a lot. Rinse and repeat thing as you always tell us.
How much do you charge for it?
For a single it’s $679 and for a double it’s $579.
What I love is your boldness about your vision. I want everyone listening to get that that’s really what drove the whole thing. There are people who have nothing in their stores that expensive. And so they couldn’t imagine charging that much. And I know for you, that’s not true because you also sell machines, but I love this idea from a service standpoint.
You provide such amazing service to these people and they feel so loved and welcome, and that’s why they’re happy to pay the money. I mean, not everybody for sure, there are people who can’t afford to do it and that’s fine, but you’ve set yourself up to be able to provide this incomparable experience for them. It’s just so beautiful. I really love that.
I love all the different things you add. I think there were 11 different things that you’re doing during each retreat, have you been doing that many all along?
Yes, the whole time! It’s funny though, people might question the high price, but if you do the math, it’s three nights and all of your meals, that’s a good price plus all your activities. I mean, it, it really is. Now whether you think you’re worth that, you have to decide that for yourself.
When you described it as the Club Med, that’s exactly it! And knowing how great you are with branding and everything. Tell me how you – similar to a club med – how you walk in and you’re just surrounded by the branding everywhere. How do you continue your branding through the gift bag that you give them?
I add things printed with our name and logo like rulers for example, my jam even has custom labels, everything I send out or give them or handouts, I put my name on everything! One year I did LL bean bags and I had my logo printed on it. Someone last year suggested that I do T-shirts printed with “What happens at retreat stays at retreat” or something like that, and then my logo on it!
What advice would you give someone who was starting out to do this and who was nervous about it?
I would say start with the end in mind.
Think about what you, as a participant, would like to see and have and what would be important to you, and then figure out a way to make that happen for your customer. And don’t be afraid to set a higher price. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who put importance on having an experience, they will pay for it. So figure out what you want to offer and then find a way to deliver that, spot on every single time.
You will build your reputation and people will come and they’ll return. I have probably 75% of my people return year after year. That’s guaranteed money in my pocket! And then you’ll generate FOMO when you start selling out! I now have a waiting list.
I love how you also encourage them to bring their friends and how that caused your participation to more than double the next year. That was a beautiful thing too. And I think that’s something that you don’t normally think of doing as a store owner because you don’t want to bug people or seem too pushy. But because you own the fact that this is a service and that people love going, it makes you so comfortable to ask them to encourage their friends. Right?
Tell us where the name of your store came from!
Emma is my daughter and while working at another quilt shop the owner suggested I’d name my store Emma’s Quilt Cupboard – in front of my daughter, who was thrilled of course so I couldn’t say no (laughing)! Now she’s 28 and you’d think she owns the place, she’s so proud. So it’s really sweet.
That’s a beautiful story. Last but not least tell me, what do you wish you could tell yourself on day one of your retail journey that you know now?
I think the number one thing was that I felt like I needed to know how to do everything myself, And looking back on that, I think that that was a huge waste of my time because I can’t possibly do everything and know everything. So I think that I probably held my store back.
I read somewhere that the most successful entrepreneurs and leaders are those that are the most self-aware, the most aware of what your weaknesses and your strengths are, and that jump into their strengths with both hands. You stay in that lane. And then you don’t waste time trying to strengthen your weaknesses.
And I can absolutely agree with you that I too wasted so much time trying to strengthen my own weaknesses and feeling like I had to do it as opposed to delegating it. And then you feel like you don’t have money to delegate some of this stuff, but then you end up making more money because you’re doing what you’re best at anyway.
Well, gosh, thank you so very much, Cyndi, for sharing your story, we really appreciate it. And if you want more information about Cyndi’s store, check out the links below!.
Cyndi, Emma’s Quilt Shop & Sewing Center