Sewing machine magnate visits Gloversville Sewing Center

Hanspeter Ueltschi Ñ the fourth generation owner of sewing machine manufacturer BERNINA International Ñ signs Mary Steenburgh’s sewing machine held by Gloversville Sewing Center’s owner Diana Marshall during his visit to the shop Monday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — History and the carrying on of traditions were the running themes during the visit of fourth-generation BERNINA International owner Hanspeter Ueltschi to the Gloversville Sewing Center on April 16.

Ueltschi, visited the sewing center to celebrate the sewing machine company’s 125th anniversary while discussing BERNINA’s history and innovations, meeting guests, posing for photos and autographing machines.

While the European company’s products are sold in the U.S. through a network of over 400 dealerships, the sewing center has been the largest BERNINA dealer from Virginia to Maine for the last three to four years and was the Swiss man’s first stop on his trip to the states.

Visitors to the shop seemed just as excited to meet the man behind the machine as they were to support the Gloversville Sewing Center and owners Diana and John Marshall.

“I always give Diana support and of course to meet the big man from Switzerland, it’s not everyday that you meet the owner of a big company like that,” Mary Steenburgh of Johnstown said. “Diana and John’s dealership is the highest-selling dealer on the whole East Coast, I think it’s great that he came to acknowledge that.”

Steenburgh said she came to purchase a limited-edition golden reverse pattern anniversary foot put out by BERNINA this year as a memento and decided to have her sewing machine signed by Ueltschi too.

“It sews the same, but it means something a little extra when the owner of the company signs it for you,” Steenburgh said.

Having her BERNINA sewing machine signed was an after thought she decided to have done because it was already in the shop for service. Steenburgh credited the sewing center’s success to the level of service provide, saying she would be surprised to hear another business in the city was the number one seller in it’s field.

“They’ve got something here,” Steenburgh said. “I think it says something for the service, a lot of places sell the machines, but don’t provide that excellent service afterwards.”

Carole Martin of Amsterdam and Stacey DeLaney of Tribes Hill shared those sentiments.

“Diana and John and their staff are outstanding and go out of their way to help their customers,” DeLaney said.

Martin agreed, adding that John Marshall would travel about 40 minutes to Schoharie Junior-Senior High School to service the sewing machines for the family and consumer science classes when she was principal there before her retirement.

The sewing enthusiasts said that aside from the shop’s wide selection of sewing machines and materials, customers are drawn there for the wide array of classes offered.

“Classes that go along with the machine that you buy, but also so many other creative sewing classes. Quilting, embroidery, I mean all different and it’s a beautiful classroom,” DeLaney said.

“Their support and their knowledge base helped so many of us further our skills,” Martin added.

According to Diana Marshall, her customer base comes from within a four hour radius, with some travellers spending the night locally to attend two day sewing classes or making appointments with John Marshall to have their machines fixed while they wait so they don’t have to make the trek out to the shop twice.

Martin said the shop’s advertising slogan “It’s worth the trip,” is tried and true.

Again, Martin and DeLaney seemed equally excited to meet Ueltschi as they were to spend time in the sewing center talking shop.

“We’re so passionate about sewing,” DeLaney said. “And the love of the BERNINA machines and all of the things that the machine can do. I just bought a new machine a few months ago that embroiders and sews and it is an amazing machine.”

“It’s the man behind the ingenuity of it all and to get to meet the person that is behind all of that is exciting,” Martin said.

The women had their picture taken with Ueltschi and had their sewing machines signed. Martin also purchased the commemorative gold foot that she plans to make into a lapel pin.

These creative projects are what draws people to sewing and Ueltschi said that BERNINA’s focus on crafting machines that allow people to create all sorts of projects is one of the reasons for the company’s success.

The company was founded in 1893 by Ueltschi’s great-grandfather, Karl Friedrich Gegauf, who produced only industrial sewing machines for forty years under the name Gegauf. It wasn’t until 1932, when Ueltschi’s grandfather helmed the company and moved into the household machine market that the name was changed to BERNINA after the Swiss mountain.

“He was looking for a new brandname and he went with my grandmother to San Moritz, which is a famous ski resort in Switzerland, saw this beautiful mountain and said OK that’s it, Bernina,” Ueltschi explained. “We call it BERNINA, because it looks solid like a rock and is easily pronounced in most languages.”

Over the years the company added new types of machines, like the zigzag and the semi-automatic sewing machine, before being taken over by Ueltschi’s mother, Odette Ueltschi, in 1959. The company focused on quality and continued to innovate, introducing the first computerized sewing machine in 1986.

Two years later, in 1988 Ueltschi took over the company. Developing technology to help hobbyists and professionals complete their projects has been a company priority, as well as educating them to ensure they can reach the end result their looking for.

“BERNINA is sometimes called the education company because we have about 10 full time and 15 freelance educators who go around the country and teach the dealers, teach consumers at events. We believe when you buy a BERNINA, which is not cheap, you should have good training, so our dealers are required to teach many lessons, because we want you to be happy when you buy a BERNINA and use it,” Ueltschi said.

“Here we have Mrs. Education,” Ueltschi added pointing. “It’s good that Diana Marshall is running this place, because she is an old pro, nearly 40 years.”

Ueltschi recognized the Marshalls and the Gloversville Sewing Center, noting their success in the small city.

“The dealer in the end is the key. We have many areas like [Gloversville] where we have a dealer who sells maybe 10 percent what you do and they say well there’s nobody here. I was driving through today and said where do these sales come from,” Ueltschi said.

Diana Marshall said the shop’s customers are very loyal and the staff does their best to accommodate their customer’s needs whether they’re locals or from out of state. Both the sewing center founded in 1981 and BERNINA are looking towards the future.

“It looks like we have a fifth generation,” Ueltschi said pointing to a poster on one wall of the shop showing his son and daughter who both work for BERNINA.

“Where’s you’re next generation,” Ueltschi asked Diana Marshall.

“Trust me I tried,” Diana Marshall said, noting that of her children, one is a doctor, one owns a preschool and the third is in film school.

“You know what, you’ve got to love this business. I’ve seen so many dealers force their kids into their business and the kid hated it or really just didn’t have the heart for it and really just ran the business into the ground and that’s not my idea,” Diana Marshall said.

“You’ll find a good successor,” Ueltschi said.

“Exactly,” she said.

Ueltschi added that sewers need to find their successors to the craft that is often handed down generationally.

“One point I’d like to mention is we all are not the youngest anymore, we need the next generation of people, so this is the job for all of you, your children, grandchildren,” Ueltschi said. “This is for all of us to motivate the next generation to sew, because it is a great creative hobby.”

Those in attendance agreed, some noting their first machines had been handed down to them by family members or they had given an old machine to their own children when they were ready to upgrade.

“I have three kids who are already waiting for me to get under the ground so they can get my machine,” one woman joked.

“Diana your daughter should teach sewing in her school,” Ueltschi suggested.

“She does, they’re four years old,” Diana Marshall said. “They’re sewing.”

By Kerry Minor

Leave a Reply