We have all become familiar with the huge corporate fabric conglomerate that for now shall remain un-named.
Those of us who have been sewing for several decades watched as that corporation pretty much took over hundreds of smaller, high quality fabric and sewing machine dealers and over time systematically destroyed the personality of the store, instituted a policy of cookie cutter one size fits all fabric and craft shopping and pretty much decimated customer loyalty.
It got so bad that one day I walked into one of these stores and asked for snap tape – a very simple item that has been around for as long as I can remember. To my dismay, nobody knew what in the world I was talking about.
We also know that it is still possible to get good service and quality fabrics from the large number of independent dealers who have managed to remain standing against the onslaught of corporate attack.
Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum is one such store… two in fact. If you never thought it was possible to have more than one sewing machine and fabric store and still provide excellent customer service, you simply must make a trip to Florida to see how it’s done.
Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum has two locations – one in Palm Beach Gardens, and another one just a few miles north on I-95 in Port St. Lucie. I have had the pleasure of visiting both stores and I must admit that every time I make the trip, I simply don’t want to leave.
Laura, her husband and business partner, Dave, and the sales staff are quite possibly the most open and friendly people I have ever encountered in a sewing machine and fabric store.
Laura, who was raised in a family that owned a sewing and vacuum business, opened the first store in Palm Beach Gardens in 2005. Her husband, Dave was a silent partner and worked for UPS until they decided to open the Palm Beach Gardens store in 2011.
With the opening of the second store, Dave left UPS and immersed himself in learning the ins and outs of the sewing machine business in order to help make the second store a success. He also learned sewing machine maintenance and repair and now handles all of the maintenance and repair work that comes into both stores.
Both the Palm Beach Gardens and Port St. Lucie stores are arranged pretty much the same way – narrow but very comfortably arranged… machines in the front, notions and supplies along the walls, cone threads and embroidery supplies on carousels and wall mounted wracks, fabric cutting area, long tables where people gather for classes and just to socialize, bolts of fabric along walls and a work area for sewing machine repair and maintenance near the rear.
Both stores specialize in selling machines made by Brother. That includes not only sewing machines and sergers bearing the Brother brand name, but Baby Lock and Simplicity sewing machines and sergers as well.
In case you weren’t aware, all three brands are made in the same factory. There are definite differences, however. During a conversation with Dave, I was able to verify a few facts that I already suspected were true.
First of all, Brother is an excellent sewing machine brand. Baby Lock, however, has a little more under the hood. To put it in automotive terms, compare the brands offered by General Motors … Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet.
Cadillac is the premiere brand, bringing you every possible luxury, bell and whistle you can imagine. Buick is the middle of the road brand, a great car, but with fewer perks.
Chevrolet is the general consumption brand, excellent reliable transportation; looks good; works great, but perhaps not as much power and made with slightly lighter weight materials.
Now transfer that same analogy to the sewing machines manufactured by Brother. The Baby Lock brand can be synonymous with Cadillac, Brother on the same level as the Buick and Simplicity on par with the Chevrolet.
When it comes to fabric, Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum offers a very good selection of quilting fabrics and a respectable collection of fashion fabrics, but they readily admit their focus is on selling sewing machines.
Although the name says sewing and vacuum, I saw very little in the way of vacuum cleaners with the exception of a few vacuum supplies – bags, replacement hoses, and the like.
With the popularity of programs like Project Runway and other television shows that focus on clothing design and construction, the sewing machine industry is experiencing a boom that it has not had since the middle of the last century.
Young people are exhibiting more and more interest in creating their own clothing and accessories. That, coupled with a growing number of people who are retiring and picking their sewing skills back up after raising families and careers has resulted in an unprecedented number of people who are purchasing sewing machines and taking sewing lessons.
In addition to sewing machine sales, Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum specializes in providing their customers with the very best service possible. That includes sewing and quilting classes.
The classes offered at Laura’s include workshops and seminars organized and offered by Brother as well as sewing celebrities. They sponsor quilt and embroidery exhibitions and trunk shows as well as classes offered by independent contractors who bring their own sewing, embroidery and quilting specialties to share with Laura’s clients.
Laura’s has a unique Block of the Month club. People who are members are given six to 12 month projects that involve homework assignments and monthly gatherings at the stores.
Each month members are given a specific project to work on. As their work progresses, they come together at the stores to evaluate their work, to get tips and pointers and to discuss their ways to improve their techniques in a friendly, open setting.
But it doesn’t stop there. Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum is quite possibly the only store still in existence where people literally just come by to visit.
Of course, during these visits, many of them make purchases, but not on every visit. During my own visits to these stores, I have personally witnessed people come in with their lunch, sit down and just make themselves comfortable.
The conversation is warm, friendly and you can tell you are in a very special place – a place where if you are at all knowledgeable about sewing machines or interested in learning about them, you are welcomed with open arms.
Of course, there are the regulars, and those who drop in once in a while… almost like a friendly neighborhood pub or café… except we’re talking about a store that sells sewing machines, notions and fabric.
Anyone who purchases a machine from Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum has access to unlimited lessons for as long as they own the machine. This is especially valuable for their customers who spend only part of the year in Florida and spend their summers in another part of the country.
Often when you are away from a particular machine for several months at a time, it is possible to forget how to use a specific feature and a refresher is necessary.
In addition, if you decide to purchase a machine from Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum but are not sure if you should get a machine that is of higher value, you have 90 days in which to upgrade and get full credit for the first purchase on your trade-in.
Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum offers discounts to anyone who is a member of the American Sewing Guild or any other organized sewing, quilting or embroidery group. All you have to do to get the discount is to show your valid membership card. This discount applies to anything and everything you purchase.
On a visit to the Port St. Lucie store, Laura was out preparing for her son’s high school graduation. I watched as Dave and the staff greeted each individual who came in as if they were the most important person in the world, and if you come in with a question or are in search of a particular item, you get the royal treatment.
They make you feel as though you are the most important person in the world. I noticed the very same outpouring of genuine warmth and friendliness at the Palm Beach Gardens store.
One day in Port St. Lucie, however, there was something else. One of the regulars had passed away a few days earlier.
As each regular came into the store, Dave and Sandy – the sales associate – shared the news and informed them of the status of funeral arrangements. The level of caring and compassion was tremendous. You simply don’t see that anymore.
Laura and Dave go all out for their customers, whether they are brand new or have been shopping with them since they opened the doors of the Palm Beach Gardens store back in 2005.
The store in Port St. Lucie didn’t open until 2011. You could never tell that these stores have not been around for at least 20-25 years. The charm, the ambiance is not normally found in stores that are not long established.
No doubt, this is the single most trait that will keep Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum going long after many other independent sewing machine dealers succumb to the pressures of corporate takeover.
There is little wonder that Laura’s Sewing and Vacuum does not have much of an advertising budget. Who needs to advertise when you have such a wonderful reputation in the community?
Word of mouth is their most valuable asset – and their primary form of advertising. As long as they continue to treat people the way they do and continue to offer the best possible customer service, they have nothing at all to be concerned about.
My only regret is that I live a little too far away to visit their stores as often as I would like. Depending upon the time of day, it takes me anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes to get from my home to the Palm Beach Gardens store and an additional 30 minutes to drive to the store in Port St. Lucie.
Can you imagine how much gasoline I would burn if I attempted to make that trip every week? I understand that their first family store was just a short distance from where I live now. I wonder what it would take for me to convince them to open a third store in that old location … or at least someplace in the vicinity.