Shop Floor on the

on the
Dave Bluff, owner of Sew-In tells us how he came
to open his first craft shop and has since gone on
to build a six-strong chain of stores
Can you tell me a bit about your
background and how the shop
was started?
The original Sew-In business was
started in Buxton some 40 years ago,
and it slowly grew into a six-shop
group spread across the south of
Manchester, north east Cheshire and
north west Derbyshire. After a degree
and a 15-year career in construction
management, I was in need of a
complete change; fortunately the
Maple branch was for sale and the
rest is history really.
My first foray into retail was the
Marple store, which I bought in
1995. Already a skilled cross-stitcher,
I was initially keen to build up the
needlecraft side of the business,
before going on to extend the range
of knitting yarn stock. Next came my
shop in Didsbury in 1997, and with it
came the opportunity to extend the
range further by introducing the
Rowan brand to an expectant local
community of experienced knitters,
who were happy to pay for these
premium knitting yarns. Then, in
Do you run workshops?
We don’t run workshops as such,
preferring to help customers with
particular issues either on the shop
floor or at our weekly ‘knit and
natter’ groups. We strongly believe
that we are better helping customers
out when they need assistance on the
shop floor, rather than expecting
them to book their place at an event.
What have you learnt so far?
One: To listen to every customer’s
needs but gain a general consensus
from everyone before committing to
anything new. That customer may in
reality be the only one for a want for
that product.
Two: Do things properly; it’s no
good expecting your customers to
accept a half-hearted attempt at a
new range or brand.
and needlework have broken out of
their historic boundaries in the last
few years and now appeal to all ages
and both sexes. We see a lot of
young mums wanting to knit for their
“Knitting continues to be the ‘in’
craft at the moment”
2006 I bought the Buxton shop and
gradually increased the ranges
stocked there to coincide with those
held in Marple and Didsbury. All
three shops have been able to benefit
from the upsurge in the popularity of
knitting and we are currently
enjoying the trend in specialist stylish
scarf yarns.
Who are your main customer
Our customer base is not constrained
by either age or sex. Both knitting
new family; equally the retired
generation wishing to continue or
come back to a craft that they
mastered several decades ago.
Obviously a large percentage of
customers at our Buxton branch are
visitors to the Peak District, with
many returning on a regular basis.
Both Marple and Didsbury have a
more localised customer base, but
also see customers travelling from
throughout Greater Manchester for
the breadth and depth of stock that
we carry.
each shop is effectively stand alone.
As each season progresses, we are
able to move and re-balance stock to
ensure that we can still fulfil customer
requirements at all three shops.
The greatest challenge to the
business itself is the fragile state of
the UK economy, and in particular
the delicate state of the average high
street at the moment. It is really not
helped by the continuing growth of
out-of-town retail parks and the
boost in internet shopping.
We continually strive to be the
best at what we do, to ensure that
each customer wants to both revisit
us and sing our praises to their peers.
To that end our staff range in age
from 16 to 69; three are graduates,
all of who knit, most do cross-stitch
and one has had a knitting project
book published. In short, all are
passionate about needlecraft.
customers’ needs, while at the same
time developing the web-shop that
we launched earlier this year. Thus
enabling infrequent visitors to our
bricks and mortar branches to shop
with us any time in our virtual store.
What are your bestsellers?
Knitting continues to be the ‘in’ craft
at the moment and that side of the
business outpaces needlework and
haberdashery put together. It would
be nearly impossible to give a single
bestseller from our yarn ranges; we
currently stock some 180 qualities
from 16 major brands. Our best
selling yarn brand is Sirdar, the
business has always been a premier
Sirdar stockist and is currently
probably the largest independent
Sirdar stockist in the north west.
What challenges do you face
and how do you overcome
The greatest season-on-season
challenge is to read market trends,
buy and then hold sufficient stocks of
this season’s ‘must-have’ yarns and
colours. At each branch of the store,
particularly at the beginning of a
season, stock levels are very high and
What are your future plans?
I will continue to grow the high street
branches to fully satisfy our
David Abbott, managing director, says...
1. Higher volume purchasing for bigger discounts
Buying in bulk allows you to get more value from your purchases but
requires a healthy cash flow. Knowing your customers and their demand
for your products will allow you to make confident bulk purchases to
secure better supplier discounts.
2. Avoid supplier credit
By paying cash on delivery you can avoid expensive credit terms and
negotiate further discounts; removing credit risk from your suppliers’
books is something that is worth money to them, and therefore you.
3. Re-branding, refurbishing and re-marketing
To keep your product offering fresh in your customers’ minds and to
attract new business, it is important to present a well-developed and
delivered brand and product.