Fabric store

The fabric store survives the decades seamlessly

Since its opening in the 1980s, Ryco Trimming Co. has undergone various changes.

In 1984, Pat Ryan and her husband, Donald Ryan, founded the fabric upholstery manufacturing business in Stamford, Connecticut, before moving the business to their current location, a former factory at 25 Carrington St. in Lincoln, in 1989.

When Donald Ryan retired in 1995, Pat Ryan continued to run the business and opened a retail store, Ryco’s Creative Sewing Center, in the same building.

Today, the 15,000 square foot fabric store accounts for the bulk of the business. The company still makes trimmings, but only on a small scale, and sells its products in stores as well as to Amish retailers.

The company has 12 employees, two full-time and 10 part-time, and each member of staff is responsible for a different aspect of the business, from novelty trims to cotton fabric to long arm quilting.

In an interview, Ryan talked about his experience owning a small business in Rhode Island. Here are excerpts:

How is your business different from similar businesses around you?

What makes my business unique is that it is mystical. It is magic. You come here and you feel happy. You feel happy to sew, happy with life. You enter this building and you enter a creative and exciting world. That’s probably the best thing I can say. People come into our store and they stop at the entrance and say “Wow”. And that’s what sets us apart.

How has the business evolved?

Since our opening, the world has changed. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was introduced. Then the bankruptcy laws changed, so retailers went bankrupt left and right, which meant manufacturers didn’t get paid. Then, at some point, retailers stopped having real buyers. Buyers didn’t really care about the product anymore; they just cared about the price.

My husband retired around 1995 and I continued. I opened a retail store, selling all kinds of crafts, and that made up for the hardships of the manufacturing business. As the retail trade grew, the manufacturing sector shrank. Then in 2005 we had a major flood here. We had 3 feet of water inside the building and everything was destroyed. I had to decide what I wanted to do with myself and I was too young to retire.

My dream was to be a very good fabric store, specializing in cotton. So I started all over again and now I have a fabric store. When you go into business, you have to change when the world changes. And now a new change is happening: the Internet. The internet affects brick and mortar, so brick and mortar needs to change the way customers think by incorporating the internet.

What is the turnover achieved by the company?

The answer to that question is that I’ve eaten and survived on this business for 34 years, and it’s been pretty good. But the problem with going into business is that it’s not about how much money you make. You are trying to make a difference in the world. You have a thought and you follow it, that’s why you do it. It’s your life, it’s your passion. This is the reason why you get up every day. It’s still demanding, but I like it so I don’t really see it as work.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

I think every 10 years you better reorganize your business because the world is going to change and you might find yourself without a business. The biggest challenge I faced was the flood of 2005. You can’t imagine what it’s like to have a huge, successful business and you walk in the door the next day and it’s mud. People thought we were going bankrupt. We had to start all over again. It was the biggest challenge I faced in my life. It was an astronomical thing to see millions of dollars floating in the mud.

What do you need to grow and succeed in light of challenges?

I have a saying that I developed at the time of our flood, and it’s, “You get 24 hours of self-pity, so you better figure out how to dig out the hole.” That’s really it. The first step was to clean up. We had no money; our inventory was our money, so we cleaned it up. I stayed home for a few days to make the insurance claims, which were monumental. And when I got back to the store, some of my employees had taken a few rows of fabric and installed it, because it had survived. Anything more than four feet above the ground survived. I looked at him and said, “I think that’s what I want to do.” So, I did some research and started all over again.

Did anything surprise you about being a small business owner in Rhode Island?

My husband had a philosophy when we chose to come here. He said it was better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. And it’s true: in the 30 years that I’ve been here, I’ve met a lot of people. It’s really a good thing.

What are your goals?

I want to continue to grow our business and expand the reach beyond the reach we have. What I mean by that is people travel 100 miles and don’t blink to come to my store, so now I want to grow the internet side of the business. We joined Etsy in January, so customers can buy our products there. We are just getting started. It’s tough when you’ve been a good-sized brick-and-mortar business, but that’s the kind of growth we’re looking at.