Chris Thurgood never expected to get into quilting.
“I always loved the opportunity to be creative in other ways, but she never sewed,” Thurgood said, adding that she and her twin sister, Kim, got involved in other crafts.
Thurgood — CEO and “insight” at Utah-based My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe — said she had a “so awful” sewing experience in middle and high school that she thought she’d never touch a sewing machine again.
She said shortly after Thurgood’s marriage, she became acquainted with the seamstress again. She was visiting a neighbor and saw a quilt on the wall. “There were snowmen around her, I’ll never forget,” she said.
Thurgood asked her friend where she bought the quilt and was surprised to learn that it was handmade. Her friend said Thurgood could make something like this, too. Soon they started a small group of friends to meet every now and then.
“I didn’t even have a sewing machine, they just let me borrow theirs,” Thurgood said. “They invited me into their circle, we started sewing, and we just got off there. I fell in love with it.”
That same sense of camaraderie would come in handy in 2011, she said, when Thurgood found an unoccupied retail space she liked in Logan, and thought someone needed to open a quilt shop there.
“I didn’t think I’d be,” she said, laughing. “I was trying to convince one of my friends to do it.”
Thurgood remembers Logan’s area was 1,800 square feet. “It was an absolute family business from the start,” she said.
Thurgood emailed her husband, Mike, who at the time was an international sales manager who traveled for work. Mike was in China when Chris asked him if he would consider opening a quilt shop together. Chris said Mike’s initial response was that they would talk when he got home.
Mike Thurgood eventually quit his job to help Chris start her dream store. (His job titles now are COO and CFO.)
“We decided we were going to jump with both feet, and there was no plan,” she said. “We’ll make it work, no matter what.”
Six core values
Now, My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe has locations in Logan and Sandy, and a third in Orem is due to open in late October. The company has 78 employees in all three shops.
Chris Thurgood said they all follow the six core values she picked up when she started quilting: a team player, a solution-minded, adaptable, trustworthy, dependable, and a positive mindset. Together, they are known internally as the “Friendly Way”.
Thurgood said the store’s purpose, cause and passion is to “empower one to make an impact on the many,” adding that the company hires employees based on these principles.
“It’s a very relationship-based business that we’re into, if you so choose,” Thurgood said. “That is everything to me from day one. When you open a shop, it had to be more than just a place where you could cut the cloth. It would be a gathering place for women, in particular, and men as well.”
Obviously, through Thurgood’s interactions with its customers, stores are a gathering place. She said they treat her like their best friends — writing emails about their lives, their children, their grandchildren, even their health problems and struggles.
“When we help someone feel successful in what they’re doing, they feel empowered and then become a better wife, mother, and grandmother, because they feel like they’ve accomplished something special,” she said.
These interactions, Thurgood said, reflect the essence of quilting: the idea that it brings people together, even across generations.
She said quilting is a way for people to express themselves emotionally. “Pain of joy, all these feelings [expressed] by quilting into something tangible using fabric, thread, and sewing.”
Surviving the epidemic
Thurgood said the outpouring of emotion was particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic — when she initially thought stores might close for good.
When the pandemic started, she said, she remembered thinking, “I don’t know how we can keep the lights on. How do we keep employees employed if we don’t have people walking through our doors?”
“It was a pivotal moment for me to say ‘we’re not going down without a fight,'” she said.
They have moved their lessons in the online store, to Zoom. They taught their main demographic – women, 50 and older – how to use the software. She said classes that once saw dozens of students in store now attract 300 people, most of them from outside Utah.
Thurgood said the business has grown exponentially, as the pandemic has left people stuck at home and looking for new hobbies. “The lesson from all of that when these kinds of things happen with our economy and our world, to stay active as a business, we have to find a way to focus,” she said.
The cheerful part of this hub is something called “Three Things at 3:00,” a clip from a talk show posted on the Store’s YouTube channel. “We needed to find a way to make people happy because so many were sad during this time,” Thurgood said.
The three things in each episode are: a smile (like a funny story or an anecdote), a quilting tutorial, a daily deal, and usually a discount on something in the store.
When the store was able to reopen, in May 2020, Thurgood announced a plan to discontinue the program. She said the response from her fans across the country, urging her to continue with the show, was incredible. “You are our only relationship to the world,” Thurgood said, in short. “You may be open in Utah, but I’m in Nebraska or Connecticut or Alabama — anywhere.”
Nearly three years later, the store is still producing and publishing the show every day of the week.
“I keep thinking ‘when are people ever going to get tired of it?'” Thurgood said. “They just don’t. It was unbelievable.”
Thurgood said her ultimate hope is that people feel successful about themselves when they work with her shop, and that some of what she learned from her first sewing experience helps enhance her customers’ experience.
She said she’s less dealing and more connected — because relationships are the absolute key to the success of her small business.
“Everywhere, we have sofas and chairs. It’s a place people come to. Sometimes at the end of the workday, they come and sit,” Thurgood says. “They’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, Chris, I’m not buying anything today. I just need to sit back and relax,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m so glad you’re here.'”
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