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Greetings from Stephen

August 20, 2007

I am new to the blog concept, so please bear with me as I learn the ropes.

As you might have guessed, I am not a sewer, although I do think I have a very good eye for color and design. So I can't share my sewing tips and tricks with you.

I thought you might find it interesting to hear how we got to where we are today. It is a pretty classic American entrepreneurial story. In early 1993, I started a company called Phoenix Textiles. We were what is referred to as a "fabric jobber". We bought season-end closeouts from some of the largest clothing manufacturers in the US, brought them into our warehouse, and then tried to resell them to small apparel manufacturers around the US. For a while it was a pretty good business. We had 6-8 employess and did a couple of million in sales. By the mid-late 90s, I could see we were going to be in trouble. Most of our customers, the small apparel manufacturers were either going out of business or moving their production off-shore. Virtually all of our suppliers were moving their production off-shore. It was not a pretty picture and things started to go from bad to worse.

By 1998, I could tell that Phoenix Textiles was no longer a viable business, so I decided to go out of business. I let go all of our emplyees except for our warehouse manager, one warehouse worker and myself, all of whom would be needed to liquidate the business. The problem was, we had a big warehouse full of fabric and no customers to buy it. It became impossible to go out of business because we could not get rid of the fabric. It was a very dark and depressing time. Out of pure desparation, I came up with the idea of trying to liquidate the fabric on the internet to the public (even though we had never sold to the public before). I built a VERY rudimentary web site one Friday afternoon. I priced all of the fabric at $1.00 a yard, even though in almost all cases we had paid much more than that for it. I went home for the weekend, thinking this was a really bad idea.

When we came in on Monday, we discovered that about 50 people from all around the country had placed orders. While that was exciting at first, we quickly realized, we had no cutting tables, no shipping labels, no boxes to ship in, and we had no clue what we were doing. Nonetheless, we set out to try to fill the orders. Greg, our warehouse manager, and I cut and folded fabric all day and at the end of that day, we had successfully shipped 8 orders. I knew then that we were in trouble. I called a temp agency and the next day we had a couple of helpers, some scissors I bought at JoAnn, and some overstock boxes we found at a dealer in downtown Atlanta. The challenge was that, during the prior day and evening, another 50 or so orders were placed. I won't bore you with every painful detail, but this comedy of errors kept up for several days while we ran around trying to increase our capacity to fill orders. Don't forget, even though we were getting orders, everything was $1.00 yard, which didn't really cover the cost of the temporary labor, much less the fabric, the rent, etc. But we were committed to going out of business and this seemed like the only way we could get rid of the inventory.

We kept things going like I described for about 3-4 weeks. Then my parents came into town to visit and they were fascinated by what we were doing. I explained to them that, while it was fascinating, at $1.00 yard, there was no way to make money. My dad said, "why not try to sell some items for $1.99 and see what happens." So we did that and orders continued to roll in (now we were up to 70-80 orders a day). A few weeks later, we added some items at $2.99 yard, and still the orders kept coming. (Remember, we were still just selling our apparel fabric closeouts; no cotton prints, no home dec). This kept up for about 6 more weeks, when finally I told our staff (still mostly temps) that we were not going out of business at all, we were going into the retail fabric business on the Internet.

There is a lot more to the story, but I think I will save that for future editions. In coming chats (or maybe I should call them blogs) I will talk about:

1) hiring Laurie Hill (now Laurie Eady)

2) trying unsuccessfully to raise venture capital

3) unintentionally inventing the email broadcast approach to marketing

4) Kristl coming on board and changing the face of our entire merchandising strategy

5) Some of the funny (and not so funny) stories that have happened to us along the way

6) Some of values I have learned along the way.

That's all for now. Best regards, Stephen

 

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18 Comments

Great story!!! It is so incredibly inspiring to read about how successful business' got started - and about their trials and errors. Congrats on supplying a great fabric source!

Fascinating! It is great to know a little more about the people behind one of my favorite fabric online stores. Can't wait to hear more!

Loved your story. Also am very happy with the service dept. Laurie was great. I am an art to wear designer and your company has supplied me with great fabrics. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks so much for telling the Fabric.com story - so glad everything worked out the way it did ... and that you found the secret to being able to handle more than 8-10 orders a day! You guys are the fastest shippers around!
Jorja

It appears to me Someone didn't want you to go out of business! LOL It's a great story and I look forward to "the rest of the story"! Keep up the great work.

What a great story! Thanks for sharing it. I wish you much success. I'll be placing my order here shortly.

Hi Stephen:

Great story!!

I LOVE fabric.com. I have never been disappointed with anything I have ordered and your customer service is GREAT.

Michele

It is interesting to hear how it all came to be. I have shopped Fabric.com for years (since it was Phoenix Textiles). I feel as if I have been part of the company as it has grown. Thank you for providing a dependable on-line source for quality fabric as so many of the local stores are closing their doors.
Kathi

What a great story! very inspiring for me. I love reading business stories. And, I remember Phoenix Textiles and the rudimentary site! so funny. I was just thinking the other day how far Fabric.com has come, I had no idea of the back story, and I'm so glad I have been a customer all these years :)

it just goes to show you that life can take some interesting turns when you least expect it. thanks for sharing. i remember when the phoenix textile buzz was making it's way around the sewing lists. we all thought is was a brand new company that was trying to "hook" customers with $1 yard fabric. little did we know you weren't trying to build a business, but trying to shut down a business. i bought quite a bit of the $1 fabric. :) i've been a loyal customer ever since. price is important, but the excellent customer service is what keeps me coming back.

i can just see you guys in the early days, scratching your heads and thinking "how did this happen?" as i am sure you have figured out, word of mouth on sewing lists is powerful and people on sewing lists love to buy fabric.

teri

Thanks for sharing your story. I always wonder how these businesses get started. I'm looking forward to keeping up with your blog.

So wonderful to hear about your success - the comments already posted validate what a great Company you are. Keep up the great work and positive feed back and forward LOL

I began shopping with you when you were Phoenix Textiles, and have recommended you with enthusiasm many times.

And your story sounds like a fabric version of The Producers!

I was a Phoenix Textiles customer, and now a Fabric.com customer. A sometimes not great but mostly positive experience, and greatly improved in recent years, along with *all* online shopping. but now, o.m.g. this has to be the lamest blog ever! LOL enjoy!

I am also a customer from the early Phoenix days. Congrats on your success! Love your fabric selection and yes, Stephen, you do have a good eye.

What a great story! As a successful-corporate employee who wishes she had followed her dream instead, I love it!

I'm new to you having only placed a few orders but dang, you got it goin' on!!

I'll be back again and again.

And I am SO GLAD that you DIDN'T go out of business!! There are 2 giants in the retail brick and mortar fabric business: you know who they are. One of them you bought a pair of scissors from them to use to go out of business with. ;-) And they have put the others and the mom and pop fabric operations out of business. I know. I grew up in the Northeastern US and saw many factories and fabric stores fold up. I shop your e-store exclusively and your selection and customer service can't be beat. And who can complain about your great shipping rates? I wish you many, MANY more prosperous years in the future. You have a lifetime customer in me.

Acquiring a sexaholic just isn't great to get a person. It'll sooner or later interfere inside your romantic romance with pals and loved ones and it will have an effect on your career.

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This page contains a single entry by published on August 20, 2007 12:37 PM.

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