FitNice Blog – by Marilyn Morgan
I recently had the opportunity to speak with two sewing machine/fabric store owners: Dondi Squires – who recently celebrated her shop’s 1st year in business, and Linda Huston – who is retiring after 37 years in business.
Dondi operates “Beyond the Stitches” in Crystal River, Florida, with exquisite sewing instruction classes given by Jan Squires, Dondi’s mom. Linda, together with her husband Dave, operate Linda’s Sew n So in Celina, Ohio. I was very excited to be able to talk with these successful entrepreneurs about their business philosophies. If you remember, I love everything about behind the scenes. Not surprisingly – I found their business practices are very similar.
Dondi comes into retail after retiring from the corporate world of insurance. She brought those honed skills into her sewing business. She relocated to Florida to be closer to her mom Jan. She wanted to invest in something to do, but never dreaming she’d wind up becoming an authorized Baby Lock Dealer combined with offering quality fabrics and classes for all kinds of sewing interests. She put her staff together using the “team” method that had worked well for her in the corporate world. She and her staff focus on you, the customer. She knew that if she was able to excel in customer service, she would have won half the battle of being a successful small business owner.
Linda voiced the same theme of the customer being their top priority. She focuses on one on one sewing machine instruction, having 37 years of experience in all things sewing and embroidery. She and Dave are authorized Janome and Brother Dealers, offering some fabrics and but more quilting and embroidery supplies. Linda talked about having a fabric only store in the beginning, until Wal-Mart and JoAnn’s came to town and undersold them right out of the fabric business. She said Dave had a hard time seeing the fabric go as he loved helping women coordinating fabrics for their quilts. Linda says he has a real eye for color! They were selling Janome machines by that time and were surprised to find that by not selling fabric, they had more time to focus on the machines. They enjoyed learning more about what the machines could do and then passing that information along to their customers. Linda was lucky to be in at the birth of the home embroidery machine. We all remember the beginning days of the 4 x 4 hoop and the machine’s tiny black & white viewing screen; thinking this was IT. My, my, my how things have advanced.
Both women talked about the demands that a small business places on their families. You have to be willing to work long hours, put your earnings back into the business until the store is off the ground. Linda raised her two girls at the store – even putting one baby in the store window in her baby carrier.
Women would pass the store front, marvel at seeing a baby in the window, wander inside just to tweak the baby’s cheek and wind up becoming a customer. She said when the girls were a little older; they used the upstairs storage area for a roller skating rink. At one point, a building Linda and Dave rented suffered an electrical fire, destroying the building and damaging all its contents. Thankfully, they were able to have a friend take pictures of the damages, making it easier for their insurance adjuster to authorize replacing everything. There have been ups and downs in their business, but they wouldn’t have changed it for the world. However, at the end of December, Linda and Dave are closing the store and will start enjoying retirement. They discovered kayaking while vacationing in Florida and are now big fans on both Ohio and Florida waterways.
Dondi, on the other hand, is very proactive finding events and classes to offer her customers. She is fortunate in that she is the only fabric shop in her town. It allows her to offer quality fabrics as well as quality machines. Baby Lock gave her the “Rookie of the Year” award at this year’s dealer convention. Her mom, Jan received the “Educator of the Year” award. Not bad for newbies. If you look at her website: www.beyondthestitches.com you will see the calendar filled with hands on classes, industry leader speakers as well as her well trained staff giving classes in everything from quilting to craft sewing to garments. Judy was just there in November!
I so enjoyed talking with both women and could fill a book with their stories and observations; but I think the message here is – If you love what you are doing and are fortunate to be making a living doing so; if you’re passionate about it – that passion will transfer to the customer and everyone will enjoy the ride together.