How do you start your own business? Well some people just fall into it, like Laura Macek, owner of Sewing Arts Studio, located Pineville, North Carolina. Her business was in operation from July 2005 to July 2008.
Laura and her husband had an opportunity come their way that they just couldn’t pass up. The couple was approached about becoming a dealer (kind of like franchise) for a Japanese company that manufactured and sold a line of home sergers and sewing machines. Looking for an “escape from corporate America”, the couple decided to open their doors as Sewing Arts Studio. The two felt the business would be a vehicle that would get them out of the boardroom and into Main Street. Laura’s over 20 years in the accounting industry complemented her husband’s career in the Marketing field, providing a great foundation for starting their own business.
In developing their business plan, Laura and her husband sought the expertise of a counselor at their local SCORE office (Service Corps of Retired Executives). Their local website can be found at www.charlottescore.org and the national site is located at www.score.org. Laura is a huge proponent of SCORE and recommends it without hesitation. “We had a great experience with SCORE and their services are completely free,” she says. They were assigned a mentor/counselor that helped them through the opening process. Their counselor spoke with them at length about getting started and after reviewing their business plan he presented some recommendations. Once the store opened, their counselor came for a site visit bringing with him an expert from the retail industry. The two made additional recommendations to the existing setup of the store, which the Macek’s willingly implemented.
From the outset, they hired a CPA, an attorney, and a payroll service that filed the taxes and cut payroll checks, etc. One of the biggest challenges for Sewing Arts Studio (in its initial phases) was staffing. It was challenging to find the right fit. Macek says, “The value of a good staff is immeasurable.” Eventually their staffing challenges leveled out and they found people that shared the values and mission of their company. Those employees ended up working for the Macek’s until the shop closed.
Theirs was a business catered to a niche market. They had a young demographic of mostly stay-at home moms, who often had never sewn before. The sales focus of the store was on selling the high-end sewing machines but they also sold contemporary fabrics. The fabric sales were not an original part of their business plan, but ended up being an unexpected revenue generator. Macek says, “It ended up paying the rent.” Something not planned for ended up being something for which they were known. In addition to their retail space, they also provided introductory sewing classes for those with no sewing experience. These classes helped to drive the sales for the main revenue generator, the sewing machines, which retailed generally for anywhere from $199 to $5,000. Being an authorized retailer also meant they would be required to service the equipment which provided yet another revenue stream.
The Macek’s marketed their business in a variety of ways. They had a website, they did direct mailings, they provided a sponsorship on a popular PBS sewing show called “Sewing with Nancy”, to name a few things. They also had a booth at the Southern Women’s show, where a drawing for a free sewing machine doubled their client database! They only bought one direct mail list. The rest of the names they gathered through in-store promotions or events like the Southern Women’s show.
Laura says the best part of being in business were the customers and relationships she built. She said, “Being at the store, was like spending the afternoon with your girlfriends.” One of her favorite things was when new customers would walk into the store and exclaim, “Oh, how fun!!!”
When asked why she closed the business, Macek replied, “Our sales were plummeting after gas prices went up. Our lease was coming up for renewal and our customer’s disposable spending went away.” The writing seemed to be on the wall. Without having yet suffered major financial losses, the two were in a good financial position to make an exit. They cleared their inventory and sold everything off.
The final question proposed to Laura was what had she wished someone had told her before going into business for herself. The reply, “You live and breathe the business and you can’t turn it off, even when you aren’t there…good, bad or indifferent.”
This is certainly advice to take into consideration for anyone thinking about starting their own business.
My wholehearted thanks to Laura Macek for allowing me the privilege of speaking with her.