The store has also become 'the premier training facility for machine embroidery, digitizing, beginning sewing, tailoring, garment construction, quilting, and more.'
Maye Bolton set a high standard in the sewing market with her store, Sew Vac Sales and Service - one that her son Bob Bolton has maintained and built upon. The family-run business owes its longevity as a Kingsport “fixture” to the level of customer service supplied by the Boltons since Maye first opened the shop with a single sewing machine of her own in September 1974.
“That's why we're still here” Bob says. “I learned from my mother, customer service is first.”
Although Bob attended East Tennessee State University with the purpose of being a teacher, he worked for his mother on weekends repairing sewing machines. After graduation, he began a career in education, but soon returned to the family business.
“I have too much sewing machine oil in my blood,” he said.
Bob became district manager (DM) for Riccar Sewing Machine Company for a period of three and a half years. He then moved home to open a second family store in Greeneville. Unfortunately, with clothes being so cheap to buy in the 80s, the U.S. “lost three fourths of [its] sewing machine dealers,” he said. “Those that survived diversified into other products like microwave ovens or vacuum cleaners.”
That's where the name “Sew Vac” came from.
When Singer and Janome re-energized the sewing market with the introduction of home embroidery machines in the late 80s, Bob became a DM for Janome and later Pfaff sewing machine companies. He “traveled to 45 out of the 50 states and to Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Europe in the sewing machine business.”
In 1999, Maye retired and Bob purchased Sew Vac, refocusing the store more on embroidery. Since then, in addition to selling high-quality Janome machines and repairing all makes and models of sewing machines, the store has become “the premier training facility for machine embroidery, digitizing, beginning sewing, tailoring, garment construction, quilting, and more.”
“We will never sell you a machine that we will not teach you how to use to the fullest,” promises Bob. “All our machines come with classes included in the price.”
Additional specialty classes are offered frequently. Duration and price for those vary.
Bob is supported by a dedicated staff. Longtime manager, Nancy; designer and instructor, Mike; service technician, James; part-time instructors, Kathleen and Debbie; instructor assistant, Betty; Embroidery Club leader, Lois Ann; and website designer, promoter and blogger, Jamie, all work together to make Sew Vac a success.
“We're one big family and have been for 39 years.”
In addition to training and sales, Sew Vac offers in-store or in-home service on all makes and models of sewing machines with free estimates. Service is offered on both household and commercial machines and a one-to-two-day turnaround time is normally expected.
Now, a single father of 11-year-old son, Jamey, Bob hopes to leave his son the same legacy left to him.
“I'm teaching it to him,” Bob said.
The sewing and embroidery market is a niche market and Bob and his team hope to fill that need.
“We're still offering both Mom's customers and ours the same level of service they always expected.”
He continued, “We're just starting. Look at us a year from now and see where we are. We are growing.”
Sew Vac Sales and Service is located at 739 N. Eastman Road in Kingsport. For more information and class information, visit them on Facebook or at http://www.sewvackpt.com. Call 423-246-4520.