The home-sewing business is not as fragmented as it once was. Fifteen years ago, most experts say, there were perhaps 40,000 stores selling fabrics and sewing notions. Now there are about 10,000, and 43-year-old Barney Sofro, president and chief executive of House of Fabrics, says that number will probably fall further.
Department Stores Out
Only five to eight retailers are considered major players in the field. Department stores, once prominent purveyors of home-sewing fabrics, have mostly abandoned the business, which is labor- intensive and relatively low-profit. As Barney Sofro said, "The home sewing business is undergoing some real tension."
Still, there are 43 million home seamstresses 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 of 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.
But House of Fabrics has not just worked through acquisitions. In November of 1983, the company opened its first non-mall "super store," 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 super stores 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 afters that.
In any case, there are other factors that the Sofros see brightening the future of House of Fabrics. They say there is a renewed concern with quality, and home-made craftsmanship should keep home sewing popular, even if there is no growth. New, easier-to-use sewing machines are said to be on the horizon. Patterns are simpler than ever. Fabrics are easier to work with.
Barney Sofro talks of a society in which women are once again wearing dresses, and traditional skills such as sewing are appreciated. "We think the conservative mood of the country augurs well for home sewing," he said. "We're looking for a strong year."