As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Real Deal Road Trip No. 18: Sewing & Vacuum Center


How many stores will back up a product you bought over 20 years ago, no questions asked?  I had that experience, just this week, when I went to the store pictured below.


I was in DIY “crisis” mode. Over the holidays I had greatly anticipated the quiet days of January when I would sink my teeth into a juicy project. Having found some really wonderful antique fabric scraps to showcase, I conceptualized a large wall hanging. After a few weeks of sourcing and assembling the needed project components, I finally sat down to start stitching.

And that’s when I discovered that the power cord and foot pedal of my Viking sewing machine had gone missing in our recent move. They were nowhere to be found. My trusty machine had just morphed into a giant block of, well, mechanical uselessness. So much for that Sunday’s project.

The next day I went back to the original dealer where I had bought the machine–way back in the 1990’s! The shop pretty much still looked the same. But having recently had an underwhelming experience buying supplies at and also at A.C. Moore, I had fresh appreciation for the variety of sewing tools this small specialty shop carries.


As I enjoyed my trip in the way-back machine, I watched as a hipster guy discussed a refurb project of an old Singer machine. After he finished negotiating the repairs I asked him what he was working on. He told me he was into vintage clothing and needed the machine to make alterations. (This was a conversation that would NEVER have occurred even ten years ago: i.e. a 25-year-old guy buying vintage and doing his own alterations. Cue the trumpets as a banner unfurls, revealing a Maker Movement infographic please.)


But when it was my turn, I approached the store employee with dread.  I was anticipating the bad news that my sewing machine was too old to source new parts.


I explained my loss and one of the owners, Russ Gormley (above), quickly retrieved a Viking 230 power cord from his back room. But then he told me, after a great deal of searching for the right foot pedal, that I would have to order a new one. OK that was not the worst outcome–I could deal.  But then Russ totally surprised and delighted me by agreeing to sell me the exact needed Viking foot pedal from an old refurbished machine that he had right on the floor–the same model as my own!  I was back in business in less than 24  hours after the problem surfaced.  (And for about 50% less than those exact same parts cost online, I later discovered.)


I asked Russ if the sewing business had seen an uptick with the surge of DIY activity among millennials.  He said a slow and hesitating “yeeesss,” and agreed that the hipster guy would never have been a customer not that long ago. But he also lamented the shop’s continued assault from online sites and the big chains like JoAnn Fabrics and WalMart. Russ said it is really hard to compete with outlets that don’t offer the warranties, services and classes that a shop like his does, and that new customers don’t realize how much they are giving up when they go to these large retailers. (Like the chance to come back 20 years later and quickly get your machine back in business.)

Russ’ family have had this shop since 1963. I’d like it to still be there in the 2063. So this is my PSA for this gem of a sewing machine dealer, and all the local specialty dealers of humble but indispensable products like vacuums, and luggage, and typewriters (OK not indispensable but still worthy), and stationery, and odd antiques, and printing.

We might take them for granted in our quest for the lowest prices or online efficiency, but these are extremely costly tradeoffs in the long run.

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