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Home Grown: Llamas and Llambs

What do you do and how long have you been doing it?

Nancy:

We own and operate a retail business in Jacksonville that primarily sells fibers, yarns, hand-knitted and hand-woven products and Amish-made quilts. The quilts are made in Lancaster County, Pa., which is where I was born and raised and lived until 1990. The majority of all other products are made in the Pacific Northwest, and most are made locally.

Not only do we sell these things but we offer many services. If you see a quilt you like and you want to try it in your home, we can do that. If you want a quilt designed to fit your decor or you need help knitting a pair of socks, we can do that, too. And once a month during Jacksonville's Art Amble, we demonstrate things such as spinning, weaving and basket-making. And we'll be offering sock-knitting classes in the fall.

I operated the business with one part-time person for the first five years. In 1999, my sister, Mary, moved here from Florida to join the business. She is a very talented quilter, spinner and weaver.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley?

My husband, Tom, and I purchased 160 acres in the Applegate Valley in 1990 and moved here in 1991, primarily to raise llamas.

What inspired you to go into this line of work?

Shortly after that we purchased the Plymale Cottage in Jacksonville, which is on the historic registry and at that time was in a state of much-needed repair. We spent six months renovating the building with a retail business in mind.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again?

After 15-plus years in financial management, I needed a change. I have had a life-long passion for high-quality, handmade things and grew up with a lot of sewing, quilting, knitting and the like all around me. Once involved with llamas, I had an idea that a mix of llama, alpaca, sheep and other raw fibers, along with finished products ' those being hand-knitted or hand-woven ' would make a nice product line. With so many spinners, knitters and weavers in the valley, it didn't take long to develop the inventory.

What's the toughest business decision you've made?

The toughest decision was to purchase the building and to work out a business plan capable of supporting the investment. The next toughest decision was, and remains, to stick to American-made products as much as possible. To carry imported items gives a much higher profit margin, but our major objective is to provide an outlet for local fiber artists, spinners and weavers, to sell their products.

Who are your competitors?

There are retail businesses in the valley that sell similar items, those being yarn shops and quilt shops, but they don't carry the locally made items that we do and to the best of my knowledge, no one carries Amish-made quilts from Lancaster County.

How do you define success for your business?

All small businesses have ups and downs, and many do not survive. In Jacksonville, we depend on tourism to boost our year-end results, and since 9/11, things have not been easy. The forest fires two years ago didn't help much, and this year, our town has been torn up for months by the Oregon Department of Transportation for road construction.

But after 10 years, with the building very close to being paid off by operating this shop ' plus no other loans or debt ' that for me spells success.

What are your goals?

There are no plans for expansion at this location, and we will probably move toward retirement over the next couple of years. We've been open seven days a week for 10 years, except for January and February, and will modify our hours in the coming year to allow more time for family and travel.

What training or education did you need?

My financial management background has been vital in operating this business, and my sister's talent in the area of quilting, spinning and weaving has made a valuable contribution to the boutique.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Define what it is you want to do, develop a business plan, and within that plan, be sure you have adequate working capital to get through the first few years of start-up. Decide at what point in time you expect a return from your investment, and if that doesn't happen as scheduled, take another look at the business and seek professional advice as to whether or not to continue.

To suggest an idea for this column, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

Llamas and Llambs Boutique

Owners

Nancy O'Connell and Mary GraceffaAges

57 and 52Address

The Plymale Cottage, 180 N. Oregon St., JacksonvillePhone number

541-899-9141Number of employees

2Web address

llamasandllambs.comE-mail

info2@llamasandllambs.com

Sisters Nancy O?Connell, left, and Mary Graceffa, owners of Llamas and Llambs Boutique in Jacksonville, have found that their individual skills complement each other for a successful business. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli