Families in business – the Bernina Sewing Centre success story

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Robyn Curd and Glenda Moore have pulled off a feat that would have many of us running for the hills – going into business with your sister.

The two women bought the family business from their mother Bev Hayman in 2005, and, 12 years later, they’re still best friends. In fact, their long-established Bernina Sewing Centre on Cameron Rd – the destination store for every sewer, patchwork lover and crafter in the Bay – has continued to expand, diversify and draw in more customers, making it the friendly, bustling and successful business it is today.

It’s no small feat even to remain good friends after sharing a room for the first 17 years of their lives, let alone successful business partners to boot. But Robyn and Glenda, who are 18 months apart, say they were always good mates and their sibling experience simply gave them a deeper appreciation and understanding of each other. They know how the other likes to work, and their personalities and skills complement each other.

“We both love what we do every day and others are jealous of that, but why have a business you don’t love. You have to get out there and try things. So many women think they can’t do something – I’ve seen it in my sewing classes – but you can do anything if you set your mind to it.”

Shared responsibilities

Robyn, who started working in the family business when she left school, has continued her focus on selling the Bernina machines and running the range of sewing and patchwork classes, while Glenda runs front-of-shop, organises the staff and does the ordering. Buying, decision-making and planning are done together but when it’s a busy, on-your-toes sort of day – they’ll often greet 100 customers through the doors daily – there will barely be time for a ‘hello’ to each other.

“We do see a lot of each other but we’ve got our own responsibilities in the business, and away from work we have different interests,” says Glenda, who loves cooking and gardening. Robyn is often out fishing with her husband at weekends, and both like to spend time with their children and grandchildren.

Sewing on-trend

When Ken and Bev Hayman bought the store in 1970, knitting was all the rage, and Tauranga Sewing Centre, as it was then called, sold knitting machines galore. When the fad ended, the store diversified into haberdashery and patchwork and the wool was cleared out to make way for a sewing classroom. The sewing side of the business grew and today Bernina Sewing Centre is the largest Bernina dealer in New Zealand, with every Bernina model on display. A machine repair service is also offered on-site.

Robyn and Glenda say home sewing is booming. During the recession, for instance, machine sales increased when people decided to make their own garments and mend at home, and the trend has not stopped. The store’s wide range of sewing classes – now into their 28th year – gives added incentive for newbies contemplating buying their first machine with little idea of how to use it. Robyn now teaches up to 200 people each month through ‘learn to sew’, garment making and patchwork classes, as well as their flagship Bernina Club which demonstrates features of the Bernina machines for Bernina owners. Many beginner class participants are young teenagers and some are as young as eight.

“We’ve had students make hoodies and other garments in our school holiday classes and they love learning new skills and making something for themselves. They are the new generation of sewers,” says Robyn.

Diversification and community involvement

For Robyn, who has adored the teaching ever since she took her first class at 18, it’s about giving back and looking after their customers. Their store has never charged any customer to come and learn how to use their machines, and Robyn also runs a free patchwork class.

Bernina Sewing Centre is also a major sponsor of Pin’d, the high-profile fashion design competition for Bay of Plenty intermediate and secondary textile students, where Robyn judges the best sewn garment and, with the help of Bernina New Zealand, gives away a brand new Bernina and a Bernette sewing machine to category winners.

Always looking ahead for new trends, the women say diversifying is the secret. In recent years they have introduced a wider variety of dress fabrics and patterns, and more recently have reintroduced baby wools. A relationship with a designer fabric wholesaler has led to the eagerly awaited delivery of designer fabrics ‘ends’ two or three times a year, which are snapped up by bargain-hunting customers. Robyn also started uploading sewing videos to YouTube three years ago and has built a loyal audience in Australia and other countries.

“We ask people what they want and what works for them,” says Robyn. “Our next plan is to run a mobile van service to take fabrics and haberdashery to smaller towns in the region. It’s so important because these towns are losing their stores.

Words Millie Freeman | Image Supplied