Rural Sedalia woman builds career out of baskets

Monday, September 18, 2006

SEDALIA, Mo. -- A rural Sedalia mother has turned business guru by converting her pole barn into a basket-making bonanza.

Debbie Spencer has launched Country Road Baskets, her own line of hand-crafted baskets sold through home parties and several retail locations.

The business carries more than 70 basket designs -- including wine caddies, laundry baskets, casserole carriers, tissue covers, toilet paper holders, trash cans and pie carriers.

"It's so much fun because I get so many ideas from so many different people," she said. "Everybody has a different use for the baskets."

Spencer recently made a sale of 400 baskets to the Hermannhof Winery in Hermann. Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport will also purchase Country Road Baskets.

The path to Country Road Baskets was smooth and quickly traveled. Spencer, 51, knew she wanted to start her own business when her youngest of four sons became a senior in high school this year. She thought a business would keep her occupied.

"I just knew when the right thing came along it would just all fall into place," she said.

And did it.

A couple from southern Missouri made baskets that Spencer sold for them a couple years ago. She called to place an order for a friend and learned they no longer made the baskets. Spencer asked to buy their equipment and start her own business.

The couple agreed and spent two weeks training Spencer, who said she made some improvements to the baskets and since has designed about eight more of her own.

Last summer, she converted an old pole barn behind her home near Smithton into a woodworking and weaving room. She added a mini-warehouse onto the building.

A part-time and three full-time employees make the baskets.

All baskets start from raw materials. The wooden basket bottoms are cut from patterns, the ribbon made from sheets of wood. Ribs are attached to the bottom, and employees weave the baskets using a natural or whitewash finish. Some baskets come with a liner, which the buyer can choose from 18 patterns. A rusty star, the company's signature is attached to each finished basket.

"I felt there was a market for good, quality baskets that are reasonably priced," Spencer said.

She stands behind -- or on top of -- the quality of the baskets. A 450-pound man was able to stand on an upside down basket without breaking it, she said.

The baskets range in price from $7.95 for a small candle basket to $89.95 for a large hamper. A person could pay more than double for the same type of hamper from another company, Spencer said.

"Not everybody has 50 bucks to spend on a basket," she said. "I really feel like we are filling a market with a price point that is affordable to the average person."

"They just sell themselves," said Deb Galey, who has sold them at some parties. "It's a lot of girlfriends getting together and buying baskets."

Galey said most customers find the price reasonable and like picking the basket finish and liner.

"There's just a lot of options there, and they're affordable," she said.

Lana Kirkman, 63, of Barnett, bought two baskets at her first party. One is a pet bed that the largest of her six cats has claimed.

"They're indestructible with six cats," Kirkman said. "You can stand on them and drop them. They're just plain nice."

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