Small Business Success Q&A #1: Ann Brauer, Quilter Extraordinaire

Today I’m starting a weekly series of Q&As with small business owners. Since most small businesses do not survive five years, I consider anyone who has made it past the five year point to be a success. That’s the only criterion I have set for being profiled. I hope you will find these profiles interesting and helpful. If you have been in business five years and would like to be showcased, drop me a line a jeanne@yourghostwriter.com and I’ll send you out the questions to be answered.

Ann Brauer has supported herself through quilting for nearly 30 years. I’d definitely call that a small business success story. If you go to her website, you’ll understand why she has succeeded; her quilts are absolutely gorgeous. Ann provides great advice that pertains to craftspeople like herself but also to other types of business owners as well. Enjoy!

Name: Ann Brauer

Company name: Ann Brauer

Location: Shelburne Falls, MA

Founded: 1981

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com.annbrauer

Website: http://www.annbrauer.com

No. of employees: sole proprietorship

Business description: I make and sell contemporary art quilts that use color, fabric and the traditions of quilt making to create abstract landscapes. I market  my quilts through a series of highly juried fine art craft shows, galleries, decorators and through my open studio in Shelburne Falls. In addition I have a line of smaller decorative accessories including potholders, table runners and placemats.

What have been the keys to your business success? Having grown up on a farm, I have a strong internal instinct as to the thought process needed to analyze different alternatives to marketing and survival in business as conditions change. This ability to both feel passionately about my work and separate it from myself to make good decisions has been very helpful. This also lets me know myself and my limits. For instance, when I have learned all I can from a particular item, I have learned not to make it since I will resent the time and effort required. By now I have an idea of the type of show where my work will sell and so avoid lots of shows where I would just be wasting my time.

Best business advice you’ve ever been given? The best business advice was when I was just beginning to do craft shows. I was not getting what I thought was any interest in my work—just people who wanted me to make work that I didn’t think I wanted to make or to show it in places that I didn’t think I wanted to. The gentleman next to me was constantly talking to prospective buyers. I asked him his key to success—he said that when people came to him with an idea, rather than immediately saying no he would ask them to expound further. Then once he got a sense of what they needed he could determine if there was any way he could meet their needs. In other words, I began listening and then when appropriate, selling myself to meet their needs—especially when I wanted more business. This let me try different ideas—some of which I realized were not for me and others that have proven to be successful.

Worst business advice you’ve ever been given? Frequently after I’ve won some particularly impressive award or honor, I am told that now I have it made. I have learned that I never have it made—circumstances can turn on a dime. Quilts that were once popular are no longer popular. The craft fairs that I count on getting into can get new directors. I have to remain constantly flexible and use the temporary set backs as incentive to try new markets and items, which results in keeping me fresh and interested.

What was the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do as a business owner? I had to learn that when I get rejected or don’t sell when I had planned on it that I must find other plans and use it as an opportunity. For instance, when I would come back from a bad craft show with all the same work, I learned that I needed to find places to show the work. With a studio needing new work then I would continue making quilts.

What advice would you give to someone just starting a business? Take lots of courses on small business management and thinking and then pick the brains of everyone you can until you get a feel for the possibilities of making and selling to your customers. In addition I would listen to my potential customers and figure out how to react to what they are saying. For instance, when I was making log cabin quilts, I would frequently hear that others commenting that their seams were straighter than mine. Eventually I learned that I was not a straight seam person so I began curving the seams and developed a reputation for that.

Learn what potential customers expect in your field and figure out why people may like your work. For instance, the public expects artists to have a certain lifestyle—but they also want to get their order on time.

Finally I would find a support system of other business people who will give you frank advice and then try not to be defensive when you hear it. Local business associations are great. Also find regional and national organizations in your field if that is appropriate.

Favorite all-time business book? I refer to a few books that I find inspirational about art and quilts but don’t have a favorite business book.

Favorite business book read in the past year? Lynn Basa’s The Artist’s Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions

3 comments

  1. Neroli says:

    Great Interview, informative and enough helpful information to make me want to go and put my thinking cap on. Thanks!

  2. Jean M. Judd says:

    Thanks for profiling Ann Brauer. I have known here for a number of years and she does wonderful work and is highly regarded in both the studio art quilt field as well as the general art field.

    If you have a chance to visit her open studio, it is a very worthwhile experience to see the time and expertise put into each artwork she creates.

  3. Sally Warren says:

    Really enjoyed your interview with Ann Brauer. We wandered into her studio a few years back while on vacation. It was an "a-ha" experience for me. I had been playing around with fabric and was doing a landscape in a similar manner. I had no idea anyone else was doing construction in that way. Oh, mine don't compare to her gorgeous things, but it was so exciting to see someone running a successful business doing work she is so passionate about. We really appreciated the time she spent with us and the opportunity to see her work. I keep her website bookmarked and visit frequently.

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