Only five to eight retailers are considered major players. Department stores, once prominent purveyors of fabrics, have mostly abandoned the business.
Still, there are 43 million people who sew at home in this country, according to Michael Feuer, senior vice president of House of Fabrics' biggest competitor, Cleveland-based Fabri-centers of America Inc., and they are not all old or old-fashioned. House of Fabrics, the leader with just 9% of the market, says the average age of its customers is 35.
The Sofros, who hold 11.6% of the company's stock, are counting to a great extent on acquisitions, which they hope to finance without long-term debt.
In June, 1983, House of Fabrics bought the 24-store Beaconway Corp. chain, based in Framingham, Mass. In February, 1984, the company acquired the 35-store Craft Showcase chain, based in Cleveland. Recently, House of Fabrics bought Yardage Fair Inc., a 12-store chain in Northern California with the kind of big stores--10,000 to 20,000 square feet--that the Sofros want.
In November, 1983, House of Fabrics opened its first non-mall "superstore," a 12,000-square-foot outlet in Tempe, Ariz., that dwarfs the typical 4,000-square-foot House of Fabrics or So-Fro store. (The company uses the So-Fro name for most of its stores east of the Rocky Mountains.)
It added 17 more superstores around the country during 1984 and plans 50 or 60 for this year, the Sofros say.
They also say that, although no acquisitions are likely this year, more are possible in the future.
In any case, there are other factors that the Sofros see brightening the future of House of Fabrics. They say a renewed concern with quality and homemade craftsmanship should keep home sewing popular, even if there is no growth. New, easier-to-use sewing machines are expected to be available soon. Patterns are simpler than ever and fabrics are easier to work with.
"We think the conservative mood of the country augurs well for home sewing," Barney Sofro said. "We're looking for a strong year."