by Rita Vainius
feature this month takes you behind the scenes at "Sudberry House",
conceived by two individualists with passions so consuming that together
they built their business around them. Meet Tom and Judy Beers who managed
to merge their creative talents and business skills to forge an enterprise,
combining the best of both worlds, into a business that has been a driving
force in the needlework industry. Many a designer have Tom and Judy to
thank for launching their careers, providing them with support and for
discovering them as new talent. And as two of the kindest and most generous
folks in the business, many people would not be where they are today, had
it not been for Tom and Judy.
For Tom, being a marketing executive for the plastics division of corporate
giant, Allied Chemical, was not exactly the stuff dreams are made of. Judy
knew that Tom did not relish the politics that corporate work entailed,
but had reservations about "rocking the boat", being content
with her lot as mother to Lynne and David, housewife and community volunteer.
emerged was something quite different and rather more compelling. The seed
that was to grow into "Sudberry House" began with their hobbies:
woodworking for Tom and in Judy's case, stitching in the form of needlepoint
and crewel embroidery. These pastimes provided outlets which satisfied
their joint need for creative expression.
After 18 years at Allied, Tom's yearning to be in business for himself
became impossible to ignore. The obvious stumbling block was what could
he make that would sell? Putting their heads together, they came up with
a winner! Judy had been making Bermuda Bags, which were then in vogue.
She bought the wooden handles in Cape Cod. That business had closed and
Judy suggested that Tom make the bag handles. She approached the owner
of "Golden Eagle Fabrics", where she was a customer, with a prototype
and he committed to buying some. Tom had a product and his first sale!
The wood shop was set up in their garage and they named the fledgling business
after the street they lived on: Sudberry. In 1968, they placed a small
ad showing a Bermuda Bag made of linen, sporting a monogram and finished
with cherry handles, in McCall's Needlework and Craft Magazine and were
literally deluged with orders. For 4 years this was Sudberry's sole product,
but the demand was so great, they could hardly keep up with supply. This
presented a dilemma. Tom had kept his job, limiting the time he could devote
to the business; Judy put in what hours she could. There was too much business
to continue part time, but not enough for full time. They decided to either
give up the business altogether or commit to it exclusively. Their entrepreneurial
spirit won out and the die was cast.
One of the responses to their McCall's ad came from a shop called Sign
of the Bee, which gave them the idea to incorporate needlepoint with the
bag. This combination was an immediate hit with other needleworkers. Tom
canvased shopkeepers for suggestions for other wood products to pair with
needlework. They soon proceeded to add footstools, tables, trays and boxes
to their line, which were specifically designed to accommodate needlework
as the complementary finishing touch. -------
Space, as in operating the business from their
garage and basement, became an issue: time to jump the next hurdle. They
rented a 4000 square foot building. By 1975 the years of blood, sweat and
tears had paid off. With a little help from the Connecticut Development
Authority, Judy and Tom were able to begin construction on a 23,000 sq.ft.
building in the Colton Road Business Park.
The year 1976 proved them prescient but ahead
of the times when they added the first item to be paired with a cross stitch
pattern. This was a cheeseboard designed by Ginny Thompson, now revered
as the "Mother of Cross Stitch." Although cross stitch is a much
more accessible form of needlework, it wasn't until 1980 that it caught
on. Over the years Tom and Judy collaborated with many accomplished needlework
designers in combining charted designs with each product. They initiated
a series of books spotlighting individual designer's works. The very first
of these, Sudberry Series # 1, published in 1981, featured Lois Caron's
original painted canvas designs converted into charts.
of Judy and Tom's instincts in growing their business have been right on
target because of a close interaction with their market. This, coupled
with a strong work ethic, positive attitude, quality workmanship, attention
to detail and emphasis on customer satisfaction have all been essential
to their well deserved success. From one single item in 1967, Sudberry
House has mushroomed into a business selling to over 2500 shops, offering
over 250 products and charted designs to a needlework market throughout
the world. Judy is insistent on pointing out that, of all the various trades
they have worked with, their most rewarding and satisfying relationships
have been with members of the needlework industry.
Judy's and Tom's son, David, joined the family enterprise in 1993, bringing
to it his own expertise in computer technology. David is responsible for
setting up their website at http://www.sudberry.com and keeping them on
the cutting edge of the technological trend. His involvement made it possible
for Tom to retire in 1996. Judy is as much as ever involved on a day-to-day
pondering the pros and cons of working with a spouse, Judy feels the dynamics
of being in business together and sharing the same goals have added a valuable
dimension to their marriage and made it more cohesive. As an aside, she
adds, that the thick cement wall which was built to completely separate
the office from the workshop, as required by fire codes, has played no
small part in their enduring success as business partners, as Judy took
charge of sales, marketing and other office functions while Tom oversaw
shop production on the other side!
a benefit of Tom's retirement, he and Judy have finally been able to use
all the accumulated free air miles, earned traveling to trade shows, to
finally explore the world for pleasure. Their most recent adventure, as
intrepid tourists, took them to Peru.
When asked if she had any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, Judy lamented
that "many people are too timid and sometimes you just have to forge
ahead. If you have an idea you believe in, you have to take a chance."
She admits that they were lucky to have a product which was geared to an
emerging market and she stresses that timing is essential in any business
venture. To achieve one's goals requires striking a fine balance between
pragmatism and impetuousness.
Sudberry House products are sold to the trade and are available at leading
needlework and craft shops. They can be contacted by writing to Box 895,
Old Lyme, CT 06371. They are located at the intersection of Four Mile and
Colton Roads at Exit 71 off I-95
Phone: (800) 243-2607
Fax: (860) 739-9267
E Mail: email@example.com
Hours: Shop 7am to 4:30pm
Store 9 am to 4:30 pm
web site: http://www.sudberry.com
Sudberry operates a factory seconds and needlework
outlet store for the public, where one can grab up tremendous bargains.
Their blowout garage sale takes place once a year, each Saturday throughout
August. As the summer of 1999 will be their 25th Anniversary of this event,
it's sure to be even more spectacular than usual.