Drape Company Makes Technology Fabric Of Its Existence

At a recent conference in Shanghai, women business owners and entrepreneurs gathered to network, talk best practices, and discuss the role of technology at their companies.
At a recent conference in Shanghai, women business owners and entrepreneurs gathered to network, talk best practices, and discuss the role of technology at their companies.It was the first gathering of the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network, and the broad array of topics included emerging markets, sustainability, scaling for growth, and technology as a strategic business tool.

I took some time to talk to a few of the women who attended the conference. They shared heartening stories of success, and I'd like to share those with you in a three-part series that I'll be unveiling in the coming weeks.

First, I'd like to introduce you to Megan Duckett, founder and president of Sew What? Inc., a Rancho Dominguez, Calif.-based provider of custom-sewn drapes and fabrics for the entertainment and special -events industries.

Nobody can call Duckett a Luddite - at least not since 2001.

Almost a decade ago, the entrepreneur lost the bid for a lucrative contract because her company didn't have a website. Right then and there, Duckett decided to embrace technology, and she hasn't looked back since. In fact, the founder of Sew What? says her company has been dramatically transformed by her decision to turn it into a tech-savvy operation.

Soon after the lost contract, which Duckett describes as a "big old bucket of cold water," Sew What? had a web presence and an e-mail address. Now that the company was able to service customers nationwide, business picked up almost overnight, and the Sew What? ranks grew quickly. In 2001, the head count was 12; four years later, in 2005, that number had doubled, and so had revenue. Today she employs 40.

In 2006, Duckett got a server and started to do away with some of the manual processes that were hindering productivity. One of the first things she did was to start scanning in the company's fire certifications and storing those digitally. "These are extremely important documents for us," Duckett says. "For every job we do, our products have to be in compliance with national standards for fire retardancy. Tracking down a particular certification used to mean that somebody had to spend a lot of time -- sometimes hours -- going through a file box. Now I can go on the computer and find any certification I need in mere seconds."

Today, Duckett is focusing on two projects. For one thing, the company is developing its own custom software for quoting jobs. The application includes an extensive database of pricing information, so every salesperson at Sew What? can be assured that they're providing accurate, consistent price quotes to customers. Second, Duckett is expanding the company's reach, and she's doing it without having to hire additional staff. By deploying a high-end videoconferencing solution at several strategic locations, Duckett can communicate with anyone, anywhere. She's chosen two sites so far -- Burbank, Calif., and Nashville, Tenn. - and there may be more on the way.

"I started this business on my kitchen table, and I saw it as a real hands-on, organic manufacturing company," Duckett says. "By embracing all this technology, we're keeping the craft, but taking it out of the cottage." It's a good thing for everyone that the entrepreneur moved out of her kitchen and into the high-tech mainstream. Today, Sew What's clientele includes an impressive roster of glitterati. The company's drapes and fabric sets have been showcased at concerts (Maroon 5, Rod Stewart, Carey Underwood, and many more), operas, ballets, Broadway plays, fashion and trade shows, and conferences.

Perhaps what happened to Duckett in 2001 was the proverbial blessing in disguise. If that project hadn't slipped through her fingers, she might never have pursued technology solutions as doggedly as she has. Gives you small businesses something to think about, doesn't it? Next time you experience a setback, try viewing it as an opportunity instead. Push ahead and put it behind you. That's what Duckett did, and look where she is today.