Being one of the largest quilting distributors in the UK and Europe, Liz and Pete, founders of Pinhole Quilting needed an ecommerce platform that could grow with them and expand to new heights. With the help of EKM, their business has grown into a multi-national niche distributor, market-leading business with a 1500 square foot showroom and continue to grow despite economic challenges. Read more on their story below.
Introduce yourself and Pinhole Quilting, what was your motivation behind starting the business and what do you sell?
Pinhole Quilting was set up in January 2017. The business specialises in marketing, selling, demonstrating and installing longarm quilting machines made by Handi Quilter who are a Utah-based quilting machine manufacturer. The distribution of longarm machines was originally part of Liz’s family business which is a specialist patchwork quilting retail and mail-order business based in Birmingham.
Liz and her husband Pete knew that the business had the potential to grow as part of the expanding craft sector and to be run as a standalone enterprise. Pete had previous experience at Director level in accounting and distribution. As a specialist business, we have been able to grow it and become the largest quilting distributor in Europe with a 1500 square foot showroom where we demonstrate and teach quilting workshops on 14 longarm machines.
Tell us more about your products
Patchwork and quilting is a niche craft and longarm quilting is even more niche within that niche!
Longarm quilting machines are basically very big sewing machines designed just to do free motion quilting or machine embroidery either hand-guided or by computer. They are typically either stationary or moveable. The moveable machines are teamed up with a big quilting frame which holds the quilt layers. The frames can be up to 12’ long so they take up a large amount of space.
The machines require thread and accessories to be used to quilt the patchwork quilt tops so the products sold on our EKM stores at handiquilter.co.uk are mostly the accessory products such as the threads, needles, rulers, marking pens and pencils and other miscellaneous items.
Did you have any experience in selling online before starting your business?
Liz had worked at her family business since 1994, which had been doing mail-order since 1992 and a website presence for nearly 20 years. Prior to doing that Liz worked for a number of years as a Systems Engineer at IBM so was quite familiar with software and systems.
How did you earn your first sale?
The first sale was as a result of an email newsletter to the existing customers who needed supplies!
We have distribution rights for both the UK and Europe for Handi Quilter machines which are made in the USA. Handi Quilter is the largest longarm quilting manufacturer in the world with six out of every ten longarm machines being a Handi Quilter. However, even with a strong brand in a niche market Brexit has been a big challenge to us.
Within months of the Brexit vote, we’d seen a massive change in the pound to the dollar which significantly affected the cost of our products. As soon as Brexit was announced we saw an immediate downturn in the European side of the business in particular. The lost sales represent about 12% of the turnover of the business. We had to plan for various exit possibilities in 2019 which meant more money tied up in stock.
More recently Covid-19, as for many businesses, has had a dramatic impact. We had to cancel our 2020 Longarm Quilt Academy which meant refunding our customers as well as losing significant additional revenue. Whilst existing customers are using up their supplies because they are staying at home and quilting our main sales of machines have been affected as we cannot do demonstrations in our 1500 sq ft showroom, attend shows or do installations unless we can do social distancing.
Considering the fact that we’ve been in business for just three years we have had some major impacts to deal with!
However, we always look at ways that we can do things differently. We’re in the process of setting up some demonstrations and sales via a specialist TV channel and doing more of our teaching via videos and online.
What do you love most about running your own business?
First of all. we have the nicest customers in the world. We work with people who are creative and passionate about what they do. That makes working in the quilting industry an absolute pleasure. Both Pete and I have worked in a number of different businesses and this is the best.
Running our own business has given us the opportunity to travel throughout the UK, to the USA and Europe. Using technology has given us the flexibility to be able to work and travel while doing shows and installing our machines with customers. Having an online shopping basket working for us while we’re out of the office is brilliant.
What advice would you give to new shop owners just starting out?
- Know your customers
- Understand why they buy from you and why they should buy from you (and not someone else). It’s not just about price!
- Stick to the knitting – don’t get diverted and dilute your offering
- Do what you do exceptionally well
- Provide great after-sales service. Your customers are your best ambassadors
What are your plans for the future?
The new way of working is for training to be online rather than in person. Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to work in different ways. We also have a wedding photography business so we’ve been able to use our photography skills and morph into using videos more. As a result, we’re building up a library of videos that enable our customers to get more information from our online educational videos. In the long run, this will save us considerable time.
Why did you choose EKM?
When we started looking for an online shopping basket company I compared many different website building products in conjunction with payment processor providers.
I had experience of some website development software from my previous company but I decided to look afresh. I knew some of the downsides and one of them is when you need ongoing support, particularly in the early days. I liked that I had someone I could speak to.
It’s important to make sure that you keep an eye on your margin. Margins can quickly be eroded by payment processing, website development fees or ongoing website costs.
The initial startup and ongoing costs as we have grown the business have been extremely reasonable, particularly bearing in mind the functionality available. Additional features are available as you develop the website but you don’t need to get bogged down in a complex site at the beginning if you don’t want to.
I found the website software easy to set up and use. On the few occasions when I’ve needed support, I have found it to be efficient and helpful.
I like the fact that it is a UK based company who have a vested interest in helping their customers to grow.
I give EKM 5 Stars. I think it’s a really good company to deal with and who seem to really care about their customers.
The EKM shopping basket software has enabled us to grow our business and provide a virtual shop window for new and potential customers even when we’re busy.