30 June, 2006
MAHWAH , N.J. - In his nearly 40 years in the sewing machine industry, Ron Panici has seen big changes in the machines and the reasons customers have for buying them. Recently named National Sales Manager for Janome America, Inc., Ron is looking ahead to the trends that will shape the way sewing machines are sold in the future. Panici has worked for Singer, Husqvarna-Viking, and Pfaff. He has been in charge of sales and dealer development in Europe, Australia, and the U.S.
Back in the late sixties and early seventies, Panici remembers, a good mid-range machine cost around $500. Of course, you could also get a new car for $2500 and a new house for $25,000. Today you can still get a good mid-level machine for around $500, but the price of everything else has gone up -- substantially. Adjusting for inflation, that $500 machine would cost around $5000 in today's dollars. Sewing machines have seen dramatic technological advances while dropping in price.
"When I started on the sales floor," says Panici, "customers were buying sewing machines because they had to make clothes for themselves and their families."
Back then, the major department stores had large pattern departments and fabric stores were plentiful. In the past 20 years, the price of clothing has dropped so much, it's usually cheaper to buy an item of clothing at a discount store than it is to buy the fabric to make it.
"Now, folks are sewing for enjoyment and personal expression," says Panici. "Not because they have to. The types of sewing people do have also expanded. Where they used to buy machines to make their kids' clothes, now they're doing crafts, home dec, and other kinds of sewing." Panici cites as an example of this the way home embroidery machines opened up a whole new world of possibilities in creative expression.
The second major change Panici has observed is in demographics. "The average age of our customer has been steadily rising," he says. "This is partly because a generation of young people never had sewing instruction in school and is slower to pick up sewing as a hobby. The other trend has been the growing group of mature women and men who now have the time and income to seriously pursue their hobby."
One thing that hasn't changed is the central importance of the dealer. "The independent dealer is the key to the future," he says. "In the past customers had to go to a dealer to get their machine. Now, even with the Internet offering rock bottom prices, dealers are successfully competing by adding the personal value missing from an online transaction."
He explains how customers who buy on price alone aren't looking to use a machine to its full potential. But the customer who goes to the dealer is buying the chance to develop a new skill and master a new kind of expression--something worth much more than an online discount.
"Dealers who want to grow their business in the coming years must provide the resources to create a satisfying customer experience: Technical support, sewing lessons, and personal attention. Someone selling machines on the web can't offer these."
Panici says he chose to join Janome because he was impressed with the quality of the machines and the breadth of the line.
"Janome has a good reputation," he says. "And the machines are sold by very good dealers." Panici is looking forward to helping those dealers to be even better.
Janome America is the largest subsidiary of Janome Sewing Machine Company of Japan, which produces nearly two million sewing machines annually as well as a line of related sewing products and embroidery software. It is a category leader in innovation, and Janome sewing machines are recognized throughout the industry for their ease-of-use and unsurpassed stitch quality.