Britta Folden owns Gray’s General Store in Hoquiam with her mom Judy and was recently elected to the Board of Directors for the Hoquiam Business Association. Needless to say, she’s passionate about local business and is helping businesses figure out how to connect more using social media.
Folden also has a job with Catholic Community Services in Aberdeen, working overnight at the youth shelter a few nights a month. She works part-time in the student programs office at Grays Harbor College, has her own quilting business on the side and recently started the Grays Harbor Canoe & Kayak Club with her friend, Nikki Gallagher. “Needless to say, I have very little free time,” she noted.
She lives in Aberdeen and graduated from Aberdeen High School in 2002. She has a business degree, with a focus on entrepreneurial studies and a minor in sociology from Western Washington University. She has also studied advertising design at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. She’s single and has no children.
What exactly is gogograysharbor.com and describe your involvement in the website? Are the contributors a bunch of old friends that have all known each other for a long time?
I moved back to Aberdeen in November of last year. I had been gone for 10 years and I quickly realized that this place is actually really interesting and full of things to do if you know where to look. I got together with some friends from high school who I knew felt the same way and proposed the idea of a blog. We would show people that there is a lot of great entertainment and local businesses right here in our community that deserve some attention. Once they were on board, I had a flash of inspiration and came up with the name Go Go Grays Harbor then stayed up all night building the blog. We’ve been around about a year now and our readership has grown and many local businesses have been very supportive of us. We’re now hoping to refine our website a bit and find more contributors so we can have a variety of voices sharing their Harbor experiences.
What advice would you give to local businesses who want to attract more customers via social media or with an online presence?
If only I could fit a good answer in this small space. Social media marketing can be complicated — especially if you are not inclined to spend some of your free time on the Internet. The basic fact is that a lot of people spend a lot of time on websites like Facebook and Twitter, so if you want to catch their attention, you better be on there too. Social media has been great for Grays General Store because we can keep our customers up to date on what’s new and respond to their questions. We do a lot of promotions that encourage people to actually come in the store and we pay attention to what kinds of posts get the most interaction. This helps me, as a buyer, to perfect our product selection according to what our customers want. I also try to find interesting content to share and always respond to those who are willing to interact with my pages. It can be a really useful tool and it might be free to use (mostly) but it certainly takes some effort to reach your audience. Each business is different, so you have to find what works for your customers and more importantly, what works for you.
My understanding is that through your quilt business, at www.myqueenbquilts.com, you’ve produced more than 100 hand-made quilts from T-shirts. Can you describe some of your favorite T-shirt projects? What makes a good T-shirt quilt work?
I’ve been making T-shirt quilts since I was in college. I thought I was pretty clever when I decided to turn my AHS T-shirts into a quilt instead of lugging around a box each time I moved in college. I made some quilts for friends and when I realized this could actually be a unique business, I made it official when I moved to Seattle. I let this business grow slowly, partly because I was also working full-time in Seattle and partly because I considered this to be more of a learning experience than a money-making machine. Six years later, I’m still making T-shirt quilts and looking at hiring help and finding new ways to grow the business. In case you’re sitting there wondering what a T-shirt quilt is, let me explain. People send me their T-shirt collections from high school, college, marathons, Harley events, concerts, etc. and I cut them up and make a quilt then return it to them. Some people think I actually make T-shirts that look like quilts — it can be confusing. I think all of the T-shirt quilts I make are great because they hold a lot of memories for the recipient. To the rest of us, they just look like a pile of old clothes. Some customers I’ve made quilts for have amazing stories including an Iron Man Athlete, the children of a Harley rider who passed away and included the shirt he was wearing in the crash in their quilt, a retirement quilt for a Nike Executive, a national competitor in barefoot waterskiing — it’s really a fascinating business to be in!
As someone who utilizes an online presence for your businesses, how do you convince someone not to click and buy products online from a big retailer and, instead, give your local business a try, instead? Why is it important to buy locally?
I don’t think too much about convincing people to NOT shop at big retailers. I like to focus more on building a business that people want to patronize because we have something to offer that is unique and desirable. A lot of my customers shop at JoAnn Fabrics in Olympia and that’s fine with me. They can offer a lot of things that I can’t, but I was taught in business school to never compete on price because, unless you’re Walmart, you’ll always lose. I compete on quality and customer service. I suppose it can seem risky in a downturned economy to work in businesses that are essentially luxury goods, but I’m a bit of a risk taker. For me, I avoid big box stores mainly because I just don’t feel good when I’m shopping there. Every corner of the store offers some deal with loud and obnoxious signage for me to buy 10 of something I don’t even need or really want. People in parking lots are mean. Warehouse lighting gives me a headache. I hate standing in lines. On the other hand, buying local is fun! I get to visit with the shop owners who have now become my friends. I typically get to park pretty close and can walk to multiple stores in one trip. I don’t feel pressured to buy things I don’t need. The bonus of shopping local is that it keeps these shop owners employed. If only people knew how little it takes to keep these businesses up and running! If each of us spent $20 at a local small retail business each month, we’d probably be doing pretty well around here.
As a local business owner, how do you stay competitive in selection quality and pricing of your merchandise?
Honestly, I just buy things that I would like to have for myself. It’s strange, but I’m actually a minimalist so I figure if it’s something that I would really want and I find useful, then there are probably a lot of other people who would also find use of it. It also makes me feel better that I’m not selling junk that people will end up throwing away. Our products are practical yet fun and worth the price because they will last. My mom/business partner and I believe in fair pricing, so we always price as the manufacturer suggests. Like I said before, I’m not interested in competing on price. I ask my customers often what they are looking for and pay attention to what sells well and bring more things in that I think local folks will like. I ask a lot of people why they do or don’t shop at other stores in town and take what they say to heart. Despite what many people think, owning a business doesn’t mean you don’t have a boss. I work for my customers.
What’s the origins of your first name, Britta? It sounds rather unique. Is there a story behind it?
It’s my great-great grandmother’s name on my dad’s side. That side of my family is very Scandinavian since my grandparents moved to the U.S. from Norway and ended up in Port Orchard. I just always tell people “like the water filter” to keep things simple.