Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Hen House: Small Business Report

The Hen House (517-543-6454) is a shop that specializes in fabric arts with a special focus on "primitive" quilts.  It is located at 211 South Cochran in downtown Charlotte, Michigan.   The business is thirty years old but it changed hands last year.  Nancy sold the business to Carolyn Rosier.  It was a chance for Nancy to retire and a chance for Carolyn to fulfill her life time goal of owning a retail business.

The Hen House has over 1000 bolts of cloth in stock.  They carry 100% cotton and 100% wool cloth.
They also have the expected assortment of scissors, needles, measuring tapes and such.


Growing the business

One of the challenges of owning a shop with such a high degree of focus is the necessity of growing the customer base.

Southern Belle modeling a blouse.  The matching culotte on left side of photo.  Matching patterned accents are from repurposed "T" shirts.
Fortunately there are many fabric projects that offer a spectrum of increasing complexity.  These projects produce objects that are both useful and inexpensive.  It is my impression that Carolyn really enjoys talking with customers and helping them find projects that are within their budget and capability, projects that will help them grow more confident.

The backside of a "snowflake" from a Grandma's Garden pattern showing the stitching.

The snowflakes go together like this

And another

And two more....
If there is one kind of customer Carolyn would love to see more of it is young mothers.  Perhaps she is a young mother who is a bit intimidated by sewing.  Or maybe she is the mother of a young child who is not quite ready to give up their blanket or a beloved teddy bear.  There are many projects where those items can be sewn into panels on a pillow case or onto the cover of a backpack.   It is a way for their child to have the reassurance of their blanket or teddy while venturing another step into the world.

A crowded shop

There is a whole bunch of stuff in the shop.  More than can be covered in a blog essay.

One of the highlights are the sewing machines.  Carolyn has a couple of hand-turned sewing machines for sale.  I just had to take a short video clip (30 seconds) to capture the sound and movement of these fine instruments.

Quilting is a safe place to muddle your way through life's problems.

I asked Carolyn what she liked best about quilts and quilting.  She mentioned the colors and the tactile qualities of the materials.  She mentioned the fellowship.  She also mentioned the fact that a well made quilt can last a hundred years if gently washed and used with care.

I asked her if she had any one hundred year old quilts.  This is what she showed me.

Carolyn believes that this quilt is from the 1920s or early 1930s.
Each of these three quilts are believed to be ninety-to-one hundred years old.
While she was showing us the old quilts she also showed us a quilt with an African motif that she had recently completed.  I struggled to capture how the light interacted with the fabric.  Carolyn observed that modern fabrics have better color-fastness and better UV stability than the fabric dyed with older chemistry.

A close-up of one panel on the quilt.  As always, you can click on the picture to embiggen.


Three pieces of advice

I asked Carolyn what three pieces of advice she would give a young person who wanted to start or buy a business.

  1. Be prepared to have your life change.  You will have to give up some of the spontaneity that you currently enjoy.  Your priorities will have to change.
  2. Have a trusted person available to review "the numbers".  A business that has no possibility of being self-sustaining is not a business, it is a very expensive hobby.
  3. Ask a lot of questions.  Our landlord was willing to put a door through a partition wall and lease us the space north of the original shop (effectively doubling the size of the shop) for just a little bit more rent.  I think he was relieved to be able to rent the space.  I don't think that would have happened if we (my husband and I) had not asked.


The Hen House will gladly mail products, fabrics and patterns to customers.  She has even shipped to Europe and Canada.  Carolyn can be contacted by phone (517-543-6454), email: or Facebook

Index of Small Business Reports

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