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Meet the Reps: Kelly, Jane, and Sarah

Meet the Reps: Kelly, Jane, and Sarah

Written by: 
Linzee McCray

It’s time once again to meet more Moda fabric reps, the folks who brave wind and rain and snow and heat to share Moda's newest fabrics and notions with quilt shop owners. This week you’ll learn about the reps who cover Moda’s home state of Texas (as well as some neighboring states) and hear stories about a four-legged fabric mascot, an unexpected career, and a 300+-pound stove. 

First up is Kelly Neilson, who is starting her 12th year as a Moda rep. Her territory includes Central Texas and parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas. (Kelly's birthday always falls during spring Quilt Market, and here Amy and Kathy decorated her table and showed her some birthday love.)

What do you enjoy about being a Moda rep?

Kelly: I enjoy the fabric world for many reasons but what comes to mind the most is how much talent I am surrounded by each day, from pattern designers to fabric artists to the exceptionally talented quilters all over the world. My mom is a pattern designer who taught me to appreciate sewing from an early age and I was lucky to grow up in a household where my creativity was encouraged. My dad is a fabulous artist/ designer who helped me to appreciate art in all forms, and that taught me that going back to the drawing board helps you to tap further into your potential. (Below is a photo of Kelly with Mark Dunn, Moda's president, at a Moda Customer Appreciation party.)

How do you pass the time on the road? 

Kelly: To help me with the driving I enjoy being my very own DJ—haha! I am an avid music fanatic, to put it mildly and I enjoy singing! The miles help me to research, enjoy, and perform in my own space. I like to eat cheese, nuts, and fruit in the car. It can be a challenge to choose healthier foods but it’s crucial with all the sitting we do. I love Yetis not only for hot but cold beverages, but that they help keep the spillage to a minimum.

What do you find rewarding about your work?

Kelly: I think it’s important to express my gratitude to all the people that have contributed and helped shape my life; as individuals we are the sum of all of our parts and I have many people to thank for all that have played a part in my life. It is these people and experiences that inspire me and help me to enjoy this path I’m on. [Below, Kelly and the owners of Happiness is Quilting enjoy the Moda Customer Appreciation party.]

As reps we see lots of varied account holders, which helps me hone my sales skills because every different personality and situation we encounter is different, we must be quick learners and have the ability to adapt to a myriad of scenarios.

I love all of my rep friends and tutors in our sales force that I have met along the way, whether they’ve offered a kind ear, a shoulder to lean on, or an example of how I’d like to be. Below is a picture taken on a rep retreat to Snowbird, Utah. (Kim Polson, Kelly, Kathy Bauer, Kathy Skomp, and Tom Methany.) It was a blast and one of my most memorable trips, the Mountain View’s over Salt Lake City were incredible and we enjoyed a few days bonding!

We are very fortunate to work with some of the very best people in the industry, from customer service heroes to the quality warehouse employees that ensure what we sell makes it to the doors of thousands of customers in an efficient and timely manner. Our company atmosphere inspires me to work hard, educate myself on our products, and help where I am needed.

I have amazing parents who have imparted a wealth of knowledge to me—the tutelage of a mother and father is a gift that pays me every day.

And the love of my four-legged friend, my 12-year-old dog Ollie, has taught me to have an open heart and love unconditionally. She often goes on the road with me and I lovingly call her my Moda mascot—she has her very own fan club! Here we are meeting with the owners of Mesquite Bean Fabrics in San Antonio. Ollie loves to go on appointments and many shops enjoy having her come along and ask where she is if I don't bring her.

All of these experiences and factors play a major role in why I love my job and strive to be better—may I pay it forward in kind!

Next is Jane Stewart, who’s been a Moda rep since 2007, when her husband Gene gave her part of his territory. Once he retired, her territory expanded and she now covers a “decent portion” of North Texas and Southern Oklahoma. Jane is on the road every day, traveling in and out of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, unless she’s spending a week away from home in Oklahoma territory. Here's a photo of Jane demo-ing wool pressing mats, seam rippers, lighting, rulers, marking pens and lots more notions at Moda's ReStore event for shop owners.

How did you come to be a Moda rep?

Jane: I am a former designer and patternmaker for a women's wear clothing manufacturer in Dallas—that's how I met my husband Gene. In 1998 he had an appointment and came to show Moda fabric to me. So it progressed from there: In a nutshell, we got married, the apparel industry was eroding, and he said he could use some help in his territory. I had never been in sales before, and even though few know it, I am (was?) rather shy. I am not naturally gifted at sales, like my husband was. He knew the business very well, and I am very blessed to have had him and people like Jim Salinas as mentors in the early days.

Tell us about your day.

Jane: My time to leave home can vary, depending on where I’m going and how far and how long it takes me to get there. In the Metroplex, you calculate minutes, not miles, because going 30 miles can take an hour or more. I try to see at least two shops in a day, but if I have time I will work in more. My diet has to be gluten-free, so fast food is pretty much verboten. I usually stop at a grocery store and grab a salad and eat it on the road—no dressing--it drips! Snacks in the car consist of jerky, nuts, GF cookies, and my new drink is Topo Chico water. 

In the evenings, I spend time organizing my samples for my appointments the next day and answering emails that I might not have had a chance to answer during the day.  This is on top of taking care of my pets, and regular household chores.   

How do you pass your drive time?

Jane: I usually drive in silence.  When navigating in and out of Dallas, there is ever-changing construction and lots of crazy drivers, and it's best I keep all my senses in tune with what's going on in traffic. Even when I get out on open stretches of highway, silence gives me the chance to reflect on the past, give thanks for the day, plan for the future, and say prayers for those in need. 

What do you enjoy about being a Moda rep?

Jane: I love fabric!  I love notions!  I love this company and its great team of talented professionals!  I love my customers!  What's not to love? When I wake up in the morning, my first thoughts are my customers—who I am going to see that day--and that makes me happy. My customers so enrich my life and have taught me much. I love working with THE BEST fabric, and getting new samples about every 6-8 weeks is like having Christmas seven times a year! 

What do you do for fun when you’re not on the road?

Jane: I still design, make patterns, and sew clothing. I also have three cats and three chickens that keep me entertained. When I have time, I also like to play 42 (a Texas-based domino game) with family and friends, or in competitive tournaments.

I also love to cook, and have an early 1950's O'Keefe & Merritt gas range. It came with an adorable 1930s cottage I bought in 1991 as my first home. It came with me when Gene and I bought the present house where I live. We spent about eight months remodeling it, which gave me time to send my O’Keefe & Merritt to California to be refurbished. The kitchen in the current house was gutted to the studs and I redesigned it to accommodate the white beast, which weights over 300 pounds and is not a standard-sized range. I have people wanting me to will that stove to them when I'm gone. Get in line—that beast is way cool, and cooks and bakes like a dream! ‘

What something you wish people knew about Moda reps (or you)?

Jane: That we Moda reps really do care about our customers, and we want to do our best to help them with their businesses—not just sell them a bunch of stuff and leave. I spend quite a bit of time on organizing, sewing samples like Stacy Iest Hsu's doll panels to show to my customers, and educating myself on new notions.

I also try to have fun suitcases in various prints (usually flamingos) for my samples. My husband and I loved tropical vacations, and those bags remind me of him. He is the reason I am a Moda rep, and those bags are my connection to him on sales calls.

Finally, it’s time to meet Moda’s newest rep, Sarah Sumbera. Sarah joined the Moda team in April 2019 and her territory covers east Texas and the Texas Gulf Coast. Though she’ll have a handful of overnight trips when visiting shops to share new fabric lines, she likes getting home most evenings so she can spend time with her pets, which include a dog and horses. Although she’s new to Moda, Sarah has quilting in her genes: her grandmother is the owner of GRS Fabrics in Old Town Spring, Texas, and Sarah’s mom manages the shop. Read on to learn more about Sarah. (Below is Sarah in NYC, where she saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway—Sarah loves to travel!)

Tell us about your typical day.

Sarah: My day usually starts around 5:30 a.m., when I wake up to brew my first cup of coffee (thank goodness for Keurigs!). I check my emails and handle any necessary business before hitting the road, which most days means leaving the house by around 7AM. Typically I see two shops each day and, if schedules line up just right, some days it is three. Having healthy snacks on the road is a must for me, or that McDonalds’ or Taco Bell drive-thru lane is just way too tempting! I like to have fruit and veggies, protein bars, and nuts in my cooler. The exception to my "limit my fast food" rule is a sweet latte or iced tea. Caffeine is a good friend of mine! 

How do you pass your time on the road?

Sarah:In the mornings, I call my best gal pal on the way to my first appointment of the day. During the day, I am a podcast fiend! My favorite podcasts are Stitched (a quilting podcast), Stuff You Missed in History Class, RISE from Rachel Hollis, and any true crime podcasts I can find. When I've had my fill of stories, which takes quite a while, I'll turn on a Spotify playlist and sing along until I arrive at my next appointment. Then on the way home, I typically talk to my family and listen to one or two more podcast episodes.

Did you imagine you’d be a Moda rep when you finished school?

Sarah: I went to Texas A&M and graduated in 2016 with a Bachelors of Animal Science. We have horses and cattle at my mom and dad's house and that is my first passion! I had sewn off and on since high school, but I completed my first quilt the summer of 2017. From there, I caught the quilting bug, took long-arming classes, and completely dove right in! I worked at and managed GRS Fabrics, alongside my mom, before coming to Moda. (That's Sarah and her Mom at Quilt Market, above.) Funny how you think your career will go in a certain direction, but the path you take can lead somewhere completely different! 

What do you enjoy about being a Moda rep?

Sarah: here are so many incredible aspects to this job! The most rewarding one is knowing the fabrics chosen by a particular store will be crafted into beautiful creations, some being gifted to friends and loved ones, and cherished for many years to come. This is such a creative, inspiring industry and I'm constantly amazed by the artistry that I see at quilt stores. I am also thankful that traveling to so many new cities enables me to try hidden restaurants. I'm a self-proclaimed "foodie" and I am always looking to Yelp for a must-try restaurant when I visit somewhere new! (Below is Sarah visiting Lake Tahoe.)

What do you do for fun when you’re not on the road?

Sarah: My favorite My pastime is taking my dog Paisley, a three-year-old Australian Shepherd, on walks through our neighborhood. It is nice to get out and move after so much time in a car each week!

My horses are at my parents’ property, about 20 minutes from where I live—it’s been too hot to ride this summer, but I’m hoping to get back in the saddle, soon. I also enjoy honing my photography skills, working on my garden, kayaking on the local lake, and quilting every now and then too. I love traveling to new places with my friends and I try to go on one trip to somewhere new each year. This year it is going to be Sedona, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon! 

Once again, three great reps with three great stories! 

Some readers have asked when reps from your part of the country will be featured. We’ve still got a number of reps still to come, so keep checking back for their stories, too. 

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