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Threading the needle.

Fighting smart and hard has allowed this family to stay in rural Manitoba

There are no thoughts about retirement for Karen and Richard Wiebe. The Wiebes live on a farm near Manitou, Manitoba, about 160 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. Turn left on No. 244 and follow the gravel road that snakes down into the Pembina Valley to the Wiebe's place. It's here that the Wiebe's sewing business is growing, despite recessionary times -- Karen's Sewing Centre has generated gross sales of about $50,000 annually.

Wiebe began her business in the mid-'70s making custom clothing and selling sewing machines from her home. Those years, with two toddlers overseeing her work, she stitched up sales of $3,000 to $5,000 while Richard worked their farm of cereal crops and cattle.

In 1985, the Wiebes realized that significant changes were required to maintain their country lifestyle. "We found ourselves forced to re-evaluate our sources of income," says Karen. They sold the cattle and grain operation, rented out the pasture land, and embarked on a new venture in offering year-round farm vacations.

A brisk business is done between June and October, generating an overall income of $10,000 - $15,000 per year. Guests are lodged in a three-bedroom cottage where they can cook for themselves or join the Wiebe family at meal-time.

In 1988, Karen developed the "Kids Can Sew" program -- a one-hour after school class for children ages seven to 12. "It really appeals to both the moms and kids," says Wiebe. "There's no homework, as they do all their sewing here, and everything the children make they can wear." The cost of the class is $8 per week. It runs from October through April, with students returning three to four years in succession.

The success of the "Kids" class, combined with increasing numbers of adults taking sewing lessons, brought about the barn renovation in 1989 to accommodate the growth spurt. The $15,000 renovation paid off considering the sales figures of today.

Sales are split in thirds between dressmaking, teaching and sewing machine sales. "We teach people to get their money's worth out of their machines," says Wiebe, noting that Elna machines range in price from $500 - $2,500. "A sewing machine is not a luxury -- it's a necessity."

Outside of sewing classes, Karen also gives presentations to groups such as the Manitoba Women's Institute and Industry, Trade & Tourism. During the fall/winter session, she instructs a course through the St. James Continuing Education Division entitled, "A Home-Based Business -- the $10,000 Solution."

Meanwhile, Richard is continually developing the farm vacation operation. "Kid's Country" summer camp has proven popular, as have the organized hayrides, weiner roasts and family reunions. Pre-arranged bus tours can stop in for lunch. Expanding the catering potential of his facilities, to fully utilize the kitchen equipment and dining room in the barn, is next on Richard's list of upgrades.

Aside from their two teen-aged sons who shoulder a share of the chores, one part-time employee is the only outside help Karen and Richard hire.

She doesn't feel isolated, although the home telephone bill totals well over $200 per month. Wiebe recalls that it cost nearly $1,000 to install a private telephone line -- her biggest expense.

Even though business is prospering, Karen says the challenge of finding the time required to make it successful remains a struggle.
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Title Annotation:sewing keeps business alive
Author:Taylor, Barbara
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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