So, we opened our doors on 1st June 1996, a staggering 26 years ago! It’s fair to say a lot has happened since then!
Our very young children are now grown up and have families and careers of their own. Staff have come and gone and come back again! We welcome back Jayne Childs, who opened with us in 1996, and is coming back to teach classes in the autumn. Sewing machines, fashions, techniques, fabrics, and inspiration have all changed, the advance of technology in sewing machines has frankly been breathtaking.
But some things remain the same. We opened with a mission to get people sewing again! Against the backdrop of a cyclical recession, we mortgaged ourselves to the hilt to open a new kind of sewing store. One designed to inspire you to sew, with great products, inspiration, knowhow, and classes to make the experience of sewing a joy, therapeutic, and to create a community of stitchers who would want to come back for more and more.
Of course, the whole thing nearly crashed and burned. It was two months before we got any sort of revenue stream, but with plenty of money going out! I remember one day being here all day to take £2.50. The window cleaner came, and I had to pay him £3. I thought then, what have I done?! Rose was working nights to pay the bills at home and looking after our 2 boys during the day. I am not sure quite how she did it.
Anyway, we hung on and as summer turned to autumn, things started to improve. Our footfall increased and a lot of orders started to come in by phone (pre websites!). People started attending our classes, and sewing machines started arriving for service.
We managed to acquire a tie up with People’s College who used our space and machines to host classes in our premises. Lorna Keeling, who is just set to retire, started teaching with us from those days – I know that staff and customers alike are going to miss her when she goes.
Our embroidery software club took off with people coming to us from all over the country. In 1999, we managed to get onto the NEC Exhibition circuit, and gained a lot of new customers from those shows. We started getting contracts for servicing sewing machines in schools and supplying new machines too.
As things started growing, we needed more staff and our massive premises started seeming to be shrinking. Launches of new products, especially sewing machines, were well supported, and everything was going well. Of course everything changed in March 2020, thanks to Covid 19. I remember locking the door on 23rd March and wondered if we would ever open it again. We diverted the phone lines to home, tied down every cost and hoped.
What we didn’t expect was that everyone would start sewing masks, gowns, and take sewing up as a hobby while stuck at home. Not only were our wonderful customers supporting us where they could, but we also had interest from new stitchers and before we knew it, Rose and I were in every day shipping out orders.
We had so many online and phone orders that soon Catherine was able to come back to keep our mail order department running. Then came the demand for sewing machines to be repaired, so Lee returned to the workshop and in no time we were back to about 40% of where we would expect to be at. All the while, Sam was supporting us as our Finanace Manager, working hard from home until she was able to return to the office.
The lockdowns came and went, the toughest for us being Jan – April 2021, when sales fell away. Once things re-opened for good, we could bring back our other staff and people gradually started to come back in. Starting our classes again and seeing our regular customers and tutors more often, along with having Catherine, Anna, Debbie and Jackie back on the shop floor, has brought the shop back to life. We are still working at getting back to where we were in 2019 but without our loyal customers and supportive staff and tutors then we really wouldn’t still be here.
It has been a tough road, but we have pivoted. We have invested in our website, which Ellie has tried to make more user friendly and contains more of our range than ever. Anna and Rose have worked hard to make our Zoom classes just as crammed with useful information as our in-person classes and Anna’s online software classses are selling out just as quickly as ever! We want to make online learning even easier for you to take part in so we are currently setting up a learning website, which is due to launch in July.
I’m glad to say that we not only still have all our staff, but have also taken on a service and retail apprentice, so we are planning a rosy future! Our senior service engineer, Lee, has gone from joining us as an apprentice 13 years ago to sharing his expert knowledge with an apprentice of his own. George has been with us for over a year now and is learning fast. We have also been joined more recently by Oscar and Amelia, who are learning about retail and sewing from Debbie and Anna.
Hopefully, we can do an update in 26 years’ time. In the meantime, thank you for all the support over the years, it really means more to us than we can express. We wish everyone safety, health, and a bit of wealth.
Neil, Rose, and the team.