04-20 Keepsake Quilting

Keepsake Quilting, which has a store in Center Harbor and a headquarters in Moultonborough, has been purchased by Steelcity LLC, a company owned by the Kimelman family. Shown here are Rick (at left) and Dave Kimelman, who posed with long-time Keepsake employees. In the back row, left to right, are: Rosemary Mack, who was hired by Keepsake 32 years ago; copywriter Bonnie Knott, a 26-year employee; Cheryl Millett, 21 years, vice president of merchandising; Sara Potenza. 24 years, call center manager. Seated are Becky Person, 19 years, customer service representative, and; Patty Larrabee, 27 years, call center team leader. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

MOULTONBOROUGH — Rick Kimelman, part of the family that purchased Keepsake Quilting earlier this week, said the goal of the new ownership will be simple: restore the business to the status described in its own slogan as “America’s Favorite Quilt Shop.”

Keepsake Quilting, which operates a retail shop in Center Harbor and has its operations headquarters three-quarters of a mile away in Moultonborough, was founded in 1986 by Russ and Judy Sabanek, who grew the business into a leading catalogue-order quilting supply company and established their retail storefront as a destination for quilters around New England.

But the company has suffered in recent years under the ownership of a series of three investment firms, most recently, F+W Media, which failed to understand the nature of the business, according to Kimelman.

Kimelan, along with his wife, Dot, and son, Dave, operate Steelcity LLC, an Archdale, North Carolina-based textile business in its fourth generation of family ownership. Steelcity had been a supplier of Keepsake Quilting and has retail experience through its company Pineapple Fabrics.

Under the new ownership, Keepsake Quilting is going to reverse some of the business changes which occurred under previous management. Firstly, the store, which stocks more than 12,000 bolts of fabric, will again be open every day of the week, every season of the year.

F+W had closed the store for three days of the week this winter, which Kimelman counted among the previous ownership’s failings. Even while he has been in town to finalize the deal, he has seen several carloads of disappointed shoppers, some of whom drove for hours, arrive at the store only to find that it was closed.

Reducing the store hours was part of an ill-conceived effort to move the business to the world of digital transactions.

“That was a huge mistake,” Kimelman said. “This is a tactile experience.”

“Customer service is going back to number one, that is something that has been lacking,” he said.

Quality has been another sore spot in recent years, he said, ever since the decision was made to outsource the quilting kits advertised in the company’s catalogues. Steelcity will now have oversight of kit production, as it will use its facilities in North Carolina to supply Keepsake.

“We’re going to take full control of that back and manufacture them again in-house,” he said.

Significant changes are planned for the storefront in Center Harbor. F+W had operated a yarn store, Patternworks, which will be closing. Keepsake’s retail store will grow into that space.

Kimelman said that the store will again offer gifts as well as fabrics. For years, it was known as a place to go for one-of-a-kind novelty items, such as socks, scarves, and locally made sundries, and those items will again be on display. Keepsake’s store will also make a point of stocking more of the most current quilting kits.

To further cement the store as a destination, Keepsake will increase opportunities for interaction: classes, bus trips, guild visits and guest speakers. Most of the company’s sales are from customers who select kits from the catalog, then place their order online. But, said Kimelman, it would be a mistake to undervalue the in-person, hands-on experience only possible at the store.

“An important thing for Keepsake and the brand is to come to the store, see the fabrics,” he said. “We want to make it a quilter’s destination again.”

Droves of quilters will seek out Keepsake Quilting for its yearly summer sale, originally scheduled for June 1 and 2 of this year. Kimelman said the sale will be expanded to three days under the new management, and will be run May 31-June 2. Additional sales will be added throughout the year, he added.

The company will hire a few more workers for the store, which will bring the total number of employees up to around 40. Keepsake ships 50,000 kits each year, to customers around the world.

Kimelman declined to release financial details of the purchase.

Painful transitions

Many Keepsake employees have stuck with the company for more than a decade, despite the difficulty of having the company transferred from one absentee owner to another.

Rosemary Mack, merchandiser and retail store manager,  was the first employee hired by the Sabaneks 32 years ago. She was hired to do “everything,” she said.

“It was a time when quilting as a craft was getting really popular,” Mack said. Keepsake offered exactly what quilters wanted, and just when they wanted it. “It was a perfect time to create a catalogue and reach out to them.”

After the original owners sold, Mack said it was frustrating to work under leadership that didn’t understand quilting.

“It’s been painful. They were investment companies, they didn’t know much about mail order, the merchandise or the customer… They were numbers people. They weren’t in touch with the merchandise or the business.”

Mack finally had enough two years ago, and left Keepsake to help the Kimelmans launch Pineapple Fabrics. With the acquisition of Keepsake, Mack is making her return to Center Harbor.

The new owners will be very “hands-on,” said Kimelman. He said that his family’s experience as a supplier for Keepsake, as well as their retail experience, made the acquisition a “no-brainer.”

“We feel that we will and we can get Keepsake Quilting back to America’s favorite quilt shop,” said Kimelman.

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