Goessel drapery business reaches half-century mark

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Next year will mark a half-century since Hilda Ratzlaff began a drapery business in the basement of her Goessel home.

With the blessing of husband John, who later joined her in growing her business, Hilda eventually expanded her operation. In 1970, Ratzlaff Draperies Inc. moved to a new facility at 403 W. Main, where it still operates today.

Daughter Gayle and husband James Voth purchased the business from Gayle’s parents in 1979 and continue the family tradition.

“I’m proud to be a part of this business, to be able to purchase it from Gayle’s folks and keep it going,” James said. “It’s changed drastically from when they had it.”

Fifty years later, Gayle and James operate the co-owned business at the Main Street location. James manages about 15 employees in the 10,000-square-foot facility. They rely on Lana Bichet of Hillsboro as their production manager.

“I manage everything that goes on the floor and make sure production goes smoothly, quickly and efficiently as well as handle new projects, such as the same-day embroidery service and the memory quilts and pillows,” Bichet said.

When the business was in its infancy, Hilda was busy sewing draperies for orders in the surrounding area.

“She did everything in the beginning,” James said.

“The next step was she had other homemakers sew drapes in their own homes. They’d bring them to her, and she’d put together the packages and deliver it to mobile homes.”

When Hilda’s business grew, it was in partnership with a major mobile-home manufacturing business.

“They basically had as much business as they could handle,” James said about a boom period when Ratzlaff Draperies supplied drapes to about seven mobile-home plants in surrounding towns.

One year after the Voths purchased the thriving business, the manufactured-housing industry crashed.

“They’d been up to 40 employees in the back, and we were down to five employees a year after we bought it,” Gayle said.

The couple decided the solution for a future business plan was to diversify.

“That’s when we started working in the health-care industry, like nursing homes,” James said. “And I was determined to do work for Pizza Hut. After almost a year of pounding on their door, I was able to get in there for 15 years. That helped us out a lot.”

Ratzlaff Draperies supplied curtains and were involved in Pizza Hut decor in the United States, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The Pizza Hut was one of the biggest stabilizing forces,” James said. “And then we stayed in the manufactured-home industry, and it somewhat came back. We do draperies for new-model manufactured houses.”

Today, the majority of work at Ratzlaff Draperies is outfitting the interiors of large sporting yachts-found at ports along the east coast-for sport manufacturers.

When Voths talk about yachts, they’re referring to ones measuring a minimum of 35 feet long and larger.

“The largest part of our business is out-of-state commercial business-supplying sport manufacturers,” James said.

“It’s mainly east of the Mississippi. We go through a distributor. Then, listed under that in what we supply them, would be the bedspreads, pillows, drapes, towels and sheets. So it’s a complete bedding-and-interior package.”

The commercial end of the business also includes a recreational-vehicle division and work for local commercial businesses.

“We’ve gotten out of the residential work,” James said. “It just doesn’t work well with our business.”

The retail customer doesn’t come in to order drapes or bedding, but they can order fabrics and take them to a seamstress to sew custom-made pieces.

“We have a whole line of in-stock fabric for a very reasonable price,” Gayle said. “Then, we get into the $30-to $50-per-yard fabrics. So, it’s the whole spectrum to choose from if they want fabric.”

Continuing to constantly expand and diversify their business, and just in time for the Christmas holiday shopper, the Voths are showcasing two new options for retail customers this year.

Looking for something out of the ordinary and wanting to give a special gift this year, customers will be able to order memory quilts and pillows and take advantage of one-day embroidery service.

“We call them memory quilts because they are photographs scanned on to specialized fabric papers that are then sewn in as quilt blocks,” Bichet said.

Customers’ photos-black and white or color- can be scanned and returned in original conditions. A display on the showroom floor includes swatches of a variety of different quilt fabrics so customers can custom-design lap quilts, wall hangings or pillows embellished with photos of loved ones.

“You can use heirloom photos, family photos, baby pictures, any kind of picture can be used to create a memory quilt,” Bichet said. “The memory quilts and pillows are really awesome.”

In addition to offering in-stock fabrics for memory quilts and pillows, the Voths said customers can be creative with other fabrics as well.

“If you have your own fabric, like swatches of your grandmother’s fabric left over from a dress she wore, we can work with that, too,” Gayle said.

“Or, we can incorporate individual quilt blocks using your fabric.”

Bichet said that custom-designed ideas are endless.

“I’ve seen a baby’s first-year-quilt, a wedding quilt, a graduation quilt and family trees,” she said. “That’s very unique instead of putting family photos in frames on the wall.”

Customers should allow two weeks for memory-quilt or pillow orders to be completed.

A well-appointed lobby is open for retail sales from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday though Friday, at Ratzlaff Draperies.

In addition to memory quilts and pillows, customers can walk in and choose to take advantage of one-day embroidery service any time of the year, too. If an order comes in too late for Christmas, the Voths offer gift certificates.

“My idea for (the same-day embroidery service) came from the Arts & Crafts Fair this year in Hillsboro,” Bichet said about a mobile embroiderer working at the fair.

“We’ve had the technology all this time, but it’s never really been brought forth to the public that we do this. So we decided to offer this as a new option.”

For both single orders and group orders, Ratzlaff Draperies uses a computerized four-head embroidery machine to be able to offer one-day turn around on most pieces.

Whether customers want embroidered initials, names or designs, they can choose to put them on such items as sheet sets, towels, caps, jackets, blankets, T-shirts and sweatshirts.

“I have a book on our embroidery counter with many samples of different kinds of designs to choose from,” Bichet said.

“For instance, if you’re into horses, cats or angels, we can do that in addition to embroidered letters. Then, we have different fonts for names or initials for monogramming. Prices vary depending on how many stitches go to into the embroidery work.”

Ratzlaff Draperies can supply the items to be embroidered, but the turn-around time is longer, and most people bring their own purchased items in for the customized service and one-day return.

“We want customers to stop in and see what we have,” Bichet said.

“Go through the embroidery ideas and think of something unique and personal that comes straight from the heart. And the wall quilts and pillows are an opportunity to personalize an item without having to make it yourself. You can bring in your personal things and have them turned into a beautiful gift.”

And while visiting the lobby, customers are invited to take time to meet the Voths and Bichet. The three talked about the value of being a vital part of Marion County, opening their doors to more retail customers and continuing the tradition of a family-owned business.

“Family is very important,” Bichet said.

“These memory quilts and the embroidery incorporate the family-it’s all tied in. And Marion County really strives to show how important family is. In my mind as an employee, that family attitude has made this business a success. It’s James, Gayle and their family. So it’s been handed down, and the tradition continues.”

(For more information about memory quilts and pillows and one-day embroidery services, call Ratzlaff Draperies at 620-367-2298.)

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