AllBrands founders got their start in fabric store

The Advocate - Business

Friday, August 08, 2003

John and Annette Douthat had varied business careers before finding their way to the Internet model that would grow their local Allbrands company.

In the early years of their marriage during the 1970s, the couple spent two years overseas, opening animal feed plants in Thailand and Korea for John's employer, Ralston Purina.

After returning to the United States, the Douthats settled in Fort Wayne, Ind. There, John, who holds an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., changed jobs and went to work for a farm equipment company.

His wife, a home economics graduate from LSU, went to work for a Stretch-N-Sew fabric store.

To get closer to home (her family is in Plaquemine and his is in Florida), the couple decided to open a Stretch-N-Sew franchise in Baton Rouge in 1976.

John Douthat was planning to sell farm equipment here, but when he realized that what sold in Indiana didn't sell here, he joined his wife in the fabric business.

With a mostly female clientele, John Douthat said that he at first had a "crisis of identity."

He took classes and learned to repair the sewing machines that the store also sold.

The couple's store was in the top 10 Stretch-N-Sew franchises within a few years, he said. The chain had about 120 stores in the country.

Eventually, the couple decided to get out of the franchise to be able to expand their fabric offerings.

They opened Fashion Fabrics in 1983 on Florida Boulevard, across from the Broadmoor Theater.

The couple changed the store name to Allbrands in 1996 as they made the transition out of fabric to sewing machines and other appliances and got into Intenet sales.

"Fabric is a mature industry. There are not too many independent fabric stores left," said John Douthat. "Fabric takes up 90 percent of the space in stores, (but it makes) only 10 percent of profit."

The Douthats had 10 Allbrands stores at one time, with eight in Louisiana and two in Mississippi.

In some instances, their stores were located within fabric shops.

Today, there are four Allbrands stores. In addition to the local store, there are locations in Lafayette, Slidell and New Orleans. The couple kept the stores closest to Baton Rouge, making delivery and other operations easier, John Douthat said.