Talking shop with Mary Ann Sample, owner of Crystal Cowgirl

Monday, November 22, 2010
Mary Ann Sample is the owner of Imagine That at West Park Mall in Cape Girardeau. (Kristin Eberts)

Mary Ann Sample started her business in a kiosk at West Park Mall in 2003, and through the years it has grown into a wholesale company she calls Crystal Cowgirl. She was motivated to start her own business as a way to earn extra money to pay for therapies and hearing aids for her two children, who both suffer hearing loss as Ludwig van Beethoven. Earlier this year she opened a retail store, Imagine That, at the mall featuring her crystal designs on boots, hats, mirrors and more.

Question: How has your business developed through the years?

Answer: The first thing I did was purses. I researched all kinds of purses from A to Z. Newspaper purses to record purses to dog purses to cat purses. Then I came up with an idea for cowgirl boots. I called a friend and told her about my idea, and she said to me, don't do it, it will never work. I was in Gatlinburg, Tenn., wearing my boots when one of the biggest manufacturers of apparel in the Dallas market stopped me and asked me where I got my boots. I told her I made them. She said I'll make you a deal. If you come to the Dallas market I'll put you on the runways with my clothing for free. She held my hand and helped me through that and I've never looked back. It just took off like a rocket.

Q: Where do you sell your products now?

A: Now I do about five different wholesale markets each year. I sell the boots nationwide, and I have a line of hats also. I recently made a hat for Gene Simmons of Kiss. I have his photo with the hat in the store. I sell to a lot of specialty boutiques, everywhere from the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas to the East Coast. I've sold about 12,000 pairs of cowgirl boots and more than 10,000 hats. We used to leave to go to market every three weeks, but the girls that work with me talked me into opening a store.

Q: Another celebrity who has taken notice of your products is Taylor Swift. How did she discover your boots?

A: A friend of mine was at the CMA awards and she was wearing my boots and Taylor Swift stopped her and asked her where she got her boots. She's requested a pair. I've sold out and I couldn't get her a pair. I'm coming out with a new style this December with crosses and angel wings that Taylor will be getting.

Q: What's been the secret to your success?

A: Good employees are the key to any business. It's like school, you have to study and know your stuff. You've really got to research it and know it inside and out.

Q: What do you think make your designs appeal to customers?

A: My goal is to offer something nobody has. Anything to me if you add crystals to it you bring it to life. Times are tough. Instead of throwing your money away on junk, why not get something you can't find anywhere else. I go to market and set up, and a lot of people come in and try to copy [it]. I always think, "They can take my ideas, but they can never take my imagination." It's the uniqueness. My broached mirrors are probably my most prized possessions because there are no two alike.

Q: Why is it important to you to use American-made materials and American workers to create your products?

A: I try to support people that make stuff in the U.S. versus people that make stuff in China. The poor souls in China need to be taken care of, but by golly we've got a lot of poor souls here. We need to take care of them first. Everything is [embellished by hand] in the United States.

Q: What did you do before you started your own business?

A: I worked for a gastroenterologist for 13 years and loved every second of it. I earned an associates degree to become a medical technician.

Q: What will your next project be?

A: I do a lot of thinking at night, not a lot of sleeping. I have an idea with jewelry and purses right now, and I'll be meeting manufacturers soon.


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