Business makes shift during pandemic, is seeing big results

Published 12:24 pm Sunday, October 2, 2022

Granny’s Legacy doubled in size in last year, already looking to expand again

The day Katie Hebblewhite and her mom, Kim Zenk, heard rumors there might be a shutdown because of COVID-19, they had a decision to make.

Their company, Granny’s Legacy, specializes in creating fresh and original wool applique patterns, hand dyed woolens and wool kits, and at that time relied heavily on quilt shops. 

“We knew if we were going to survive, it wasn’t going to be selling to the quilt shops,” Zenk said. 

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So they shifted their business model, started doing some virtual teaching and selling more of their products online for people to buy.  

And the business took off. 

Granny’s Legacy has gone from utilizing 3,000 square feet of combined space at Skyline Plaza to 7,500 square feet in the Albert Lea Business Development Center off of Y.H. Hanson Avenue — and they’re already looking for more space. 

“It’s just such a huge blessing,” Hebblewhite said. “If you would have told me eight years ago that we’d be where we were, I would have laughed.”

“It was a struggle because we almost gave up when COVID hit,” Zenk added. “We almost gave up. We thought this is never going to be able to survive.”

Though it’s still one of their primary goals to support quilt shops — the mother-daughter duo said 30% to 50% of quilt shop owners either retired or closed during the pandemic — their business has transformed with their designs featured in some of the industry’s leading print magazines. 


An interest in everything creative

Hebblewhite and Zenk have always had an interest in creating — whether sewing, quilting, hand stitching or anything in-between. They both also taught extensively at the Calico Hutch in Hayward for several years. 

Zenk went to school for horticulture and previously worked at a flower shop and as a stay-at-home mom and grandma, while Hebblewhite previously had a background in insurance and investing with her father through Thrivent. Zenk also worked with other quilt pattern designers, checking that their patterns were right and helping them figure out the right amounts of fabric and supplies needed.

“The industry by no means was new to us,” Hebblewhite said. 

After a while, they found themselves changing the patterns they purchased from other people and wanting to make their own designs. 

“It started as a hobby and just got bigger and bigger,” Hebblewhite said. 

Zenk said they challenged themselves to get something into an international quilt show, and one of the pieces Hebblewhite made and Zenk quilted was juried in. 

After that, they decided their longtime hobby could become a full-time business. 

They have gone from creating one or two new patterns a month to releasing at least one a week, and as of early September had 423 designs. 

They said initially the business just designed patterns for quilt shops, and then a couple shops asked if they had wool for them, too. At that time, they were buying their wool from wool buyers.

They have since shifted to where Zenk’s son, Tim Zenk, and his wife, Katrina, of Woolly Mammoth, hand dye all of the wool for the business. 

Hebblewhite said they presently dye 320 colors of wool, and those colors can go on eight different textures. They estimated they dye 100 yards a week. 

Hebblewhite said their primary philosophy is customer service and promising reliability to customers. 


‘A gift from God’

Now, in addition to releasing one new design a week, they have found success in a block of the month, in which people get all the pieces to make one block a month and then at the end of the year they can put all the blocks together to create a quilt. 

They also recently finished a stitching school with over 1,000 people that they know of who participated over a six-week period. 

The videos, Hebblewhite said, are free and of great value. She estimated if people were to take a class of that caliber from an instructor like her or her mom, they would easily spend $200. 

While they don’t charge for the video, they offer kits for sale with everything someone would need to make it in the videos. 

“The value in it for us is people falling in love with us,” she said. 

While many people locally may not know they exist, they said their reach is not only national but international, with the business shipping to several other countries, including Australia, South Korea, the Netherlands, Mexico, Canada and even South Africa. 

They have grown to have six full-time employees and 12 part-time employees, depending on the time of year. It is also a family business, and many family members get involved. 

Hebblewhite said they moved into their current location in August 2021 and have been working with Noelle Hagen of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency on expanding. Their space, at 2610 Y.H. Hanson Ave., also includes a retail store. 

“It’s all a gift from God,” Hebblewhite said. 

The Granny’s Legacy boutique store is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and can be reached at 377-0771.