on the ShopFloor 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 base? Our customer base is not constrained by either age or sex. Both knitting 8 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 them? 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 TOP TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY David Abbott, managing director, BoostCapital.co.uk 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. 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