By Paul Lonardo
“I had a passion for sewing my whole life,” says Pat Ryan of Ryco’s Trimming and Creative Sewing Center in Lincoln. “When I was young, I made doll clothes, then my own clothes. I did it because I fell in love with it, and I wanted that passion to be reflected in a store.”
In the early 1980’s, Pat was the Director of Marketing of Talon American , a yarn and thread manufacturing company in Stamford, CT, where her future husband, Don Ryan, was Director of Sales. After the company was bought out by larger corporation, Pat and Don were married. They soon learned that the new company had a policy that prohibited husbands and wives from working together in the same division, and Pat was summarily fired. What might seem like a setback to some, they saw as an opportunity. With one door closed, she opened up another that has remained that way ever since.
“We liked working together,” Pat said of her husband at the time of her unceremonious dismissal, “so we went out and started our own trimming manufacturing business.”
They called their company Ryco, Inc., and for five years through the1980’s they achieved success, starting out in an unheated barn in New Jersey for several months before establishing themselves in a rented facility in Stamford.
When it came time to make a move and continue to thrive in a challenging industry and in an increasingly difficult economic climate, the prevailing wisdom from colleagues and business associates was to pack up and take their business to the south. Pat and Don instead went up Route 95 north and settled Ryco in an old Lonsdale Mills building along the Blackstone River in Lincoln. They bought the all-but abandoned dye house in May 1989 and put a lot of time and effort into renovating and updating the century old mill to meet their requirements. With 25,000 square feet of workspace, it was a massive undertaking.
“It was a dump,” Pat said. “There were no windows, no walls, collapsed floors. It was disgusting. But I believed in what we were doing. We both did. It was blind determination, or maybe sheer stupidity, but we thought we could make a go of it. We had a lot of automated machinery. Don designed it so instead of one operator one machine, it was one operator five machines.”
Things were working out well for Pat and Ron Ryan until something came along that jeopardized the future of Ryco.
“What happened was the bankruptcy laws changed,” Pat says, “so when retailers started invoking the bankruptcy laws to reorganize their companies, what this essentially meant was that vendors, especially the small ones, would just not be paid. At this point, there was nothing we could do about collecting on overdue invoices. NAFTA also was an issue. It was easy to compete with China at that time, but not with Mexico. So the world had changed.”
When major retail stores like Zayres and Ames began struggling, eventually filing for bankruptcy and going out of business, the money they owed to Ryco was substantial enough to cripple and defeat the much smaller lace and trim fabric manufacturer. This adversity only seemed to galvanize Pat and Don’s determination. Instead of breaking, Ryco bent and adapted, allowing them to stave off their own ruination.
“To offset the loss,” Pat says, “because my background was retailing, we decided to start an outlet store. We just took some of our inventory, put it into boxes, and hung a sign on the door to sell directly to the public.”
The strategy worked, and as manufacturing went down, retail spiked way up. Ryco went on to achieve a whole new level of success, utilizing the front of the building for their retail and the back of the building was the factory.
Having weathered that economic storm in the mid to late 1990’s, Don retired from day to day operations at Ryco, while Pat pressed on. Then, in October 2005, Mother Nature, in the form of a flood, tested Pat’s resolve.
“It was a wall of water that came down,” Pat says when the nearby Blackstone River swelled and overflowed, inundated the mill complex and Ryco. “It happened very fast and just like that we had three feet of water in the building. It lasted only twenty-four hours. The water came down and left, but everything was destroyed.”
FEMA worked with Ryco but the insurance didn’t come close to covering all the losses. So once more, the world changed for Ryco. That’s when Pat rolled up her sleeves and reinvented her business once again.
“With the help of the people I worked with,” Pat says, “which I have to say, they were wonderful, I remembered how much I loved sewing. And that inspired me.”
Pat understood that sewing is a wonderful hobby that is enjoyed by many people, and that’s why she decided to alter the business model for Ryco.
“There are those who think that women shouldn’t learn to sew because they think it is something to do only if you’re going to make a living at it. But it’s not that way. Sewing is as much a hobby for a woman as is tinkering around in the garage and working on cars is for men.”
With so many places in New England selling seconds, leftovers from the mill production days and closeouts, but no place that looked at it as a first class hobby, Pat saw a new business opportunity.
“Everybody who works here shares the same passion,” Pat says. “It’s amazing how many people just glow with the thrill of making something. And it’s all different things. It could be a quilt, it could be curtains, it could be their individuality, puzzles, or art, whatever their passion. That’s what this is about.”
Since that transition, there have been other threats that Ryco has had to endure, including a smaller flood, which brought in about eight inches of water. Then, in 2013, a fire broke out in an empty building adjacent to Ryco, just a few yards across an alleyway. That building was completely destroyed, but Ryco was upwind and remained untouched, not by an ember or so much as a whiff of smoke.
“At some point,” Pat says, “I know this will sound crazy to some, but you have to really think about divine intervention because that building was 15 feet away.”
Talk about prevailing come hell or high water.
Through all this, the passion at Ryco has not been dampened. Pat is doing what she loves and is happy to come to work every day. And she is not alone.
“This business really is a function of all the people here,” she says. “They absolutely love what’s happening here. It’s not just me, it’s everyone.”
Featuring old-fashioned service and a friendly and knowledgeable staff that enjoys helping its customers learn from their love of sewing, Ryco offers a wide variety of classes for those with experience as well as beginners, taught by guest instructors and in-house staff.
“Lots of places will teach you a block or a step,” Pat says. “In our beginner classes, we start you with the basics of how to use your machine, teaches you about fabrics, how to sew various types of seams, how to press, how to use basic tools, and takes you through to a finished product. You don’t walk out of here with a half made project. You will leave feeling a sense of accomplishment, having completed what you started.”
Ryco has a strong and loyal customer base that is both young and old, expert and novice, men and women. For more information visit www.rycotrim.com.