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From Cottage Industry to Franchise Chain

"Gary Bardon, Vicki Lynn Bardon"

Gary & Vicki Lynn Bardon of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, created the very successful 'Suttles and Seawinds' retail and wholesale chain from a cottage industry that concentrated mainly on handmade quilts. When they expanded their line to include clothing, business really boomed. But they decided to sell even more; franchising was the answer.

Gary, a lawyer, realized that their products did not get the same attention in a regular retail outlet handling many different manufacturers.

"It was obvious that we must accumulate as much of our product on display for the benefit of the customer to make a selection. So the dedicated store became the marketing answer for us, although the wholesale business is still very important. We saw that all Suttles and Seawinds products assembled in one store make far greater impact and sales increased dramatically."

There is another important reason for franchising even though there is less profit to the owner than obtained from his own stores:

"The franchisee puts up the capital to start with, but even more important is the on-the-spot management. Nobody is more dedicated than the person who owns the business."

The Bardon's business grew from an idea that Vicki Lynn got while working in New York for the prestigious American Home Magazine. She had gone to New York after graduating from Acadia University to study at the New York School of Interior Design. So how did she switch from interior design to fashionable clothing?

"From what I saw in the market in New York, I realized that the ladies back home were very talented and I was sure that with a little help with design and marketing they could be fairly paid for the wonderful crafts they could make in their own homes."

Vicki Lynn returned to Nova Scotia and gathered together a group of craftswomen (200 showed up at one meeting) and met with the provincial government Department of Development.

"They advised us to decide if we had anything worth selling, and have a display somewhere."

And what a display it was!

"We put together our line of quilts, pillows, place mats and other small things and in a couple of months we put on a show at the Canadian Consulate in New York. Because of my contacts, I was able to draw attention through the media and representatives from Bloomingdales and Sax Fifth Avenue. We were a success even before the show."

"Soon we got an order from the trendy Abercrombie & Fitch for

$40,000 and we had to move quickly. This was still just an idea, we didn't even have a company. The provincial government was helpful.

"With their help we found investors and a lawyer to put the company together." The lawyer became her husband and partner. "And that's how we got going."

Got going is right! The company moved into the clothing business right after it was seen that hand-crafted quilt and pillows became very expensive by the time they hit the retail level.

"So we had to make other things. What happened was after about a year I would do a store promotion some place wearing a dress made from one of the prints in the quilts. And people would want to buy the dress. So, we were forced to go into clothing.

"But people liked clothing with this composite of prints, quilting, textures, applique. Now that part of the business supplies 80 percent of our trade while 20 percent comes from the quilts and the little things we started with.

"From a few lady home sewers we now have more than 85 fulltime employees working in our workshops and about 100 home sewers. In 1991 we expect our revenue to be about $4 million, which calculated to retail is about $6.6 million."

Do Vicki Lynn and Gary have advice for people who think they have a good idea and want to market it, perhaps franchise it as well?

Vicki Lynn: "The best advice I think is to believe that you can do it. Don't be deterred by all the little problems on the way. Just be persistent. A buyer at Bloomingdale's told me my middle name must be tenacious because I was so determined that I was going to sell to them that he had to give in and buy."

Gary: "If you are thinking of franchising, first define your product to see if it is something special. Something you can put together as an organized package to present to a prospective franchisee, one that is not too much like everybody else is doing in the market."

Gary and Vicki Lynn have another word of advice for the would-be franchiser.... don't go too fast too soon.

"We did that and we lost our house in order to stay in business." The Bardon's bounced back and now have a lovely home again. After 18 years in business their Suttles and Seawinds have eight stores in Canada and a burgeoning wholesale business that sells to outlets across Canada and the United States.

After what they've been through, would they do it again?


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