There are many different types of small businesses built around longarm machine quilting. Some folks make t-shirt quilts from scratch and some folks machine quilt for others. Others have a small business based on renting out time on their longarm machine.
There are some considerations to think about when renting out time on your longarm. You’ll want to think about what days of the week and what times you’ll make your machine available to rent. If you are going to have renters coming to your home studio, you’ll want to speak to an insurance agent to be sure you are covered properly. Of course, If you have a large studio or a commercial space you may want to consider having more than one machine to rent out.
There are many different ways to structure a business of this kind. For this article we spoke to Angela Huffman who owns the APQS store in Louisville, Ky where she oversees a gaggle of happy renters. We wanted to pick her brain a bit about how she has structured her rental program.
Q: Thanks for talking to us, Angela! We have had so many folks ask for tips about starting a rental program. How long have you been renting out time on your longarm?
I started three years ago and I have seven APQS longarm machines available for rent. My customers must first take a rental certification class where they are taught how to use the machine. During this class they quilt their own quilt top. I typically keep this class to only two to three people at most so I can give them a very personalized experience.
They are shown how to load the machine and how to operate the controls but I always tell them that I don’t expect them to remember anything from the class! Whenever they come back to rent there is always someone two steps away that is ready to help. It is so much fun sharing my love of longarm quilting in this way. We have had hundreds of folks rent time and we always take a photo when they are done. Their faces are just LIT UP with happiness and pride over how easy it was and how good their quilts look!
Q: Are there certain features that you find are important to have on a longarm when renting them out?
I suppose the most important thing is the warranty on the machine. The APQS machines all come with a lifetime warranty. That generous warranty helps me feel better about the wear and tear my machines get from being used so heavily. I know that my machines are solidly built and can take the abuse that some of my renters inflict upon them. It is important to me to know that APQS stands behind their machines to that degree. My machines must perform reliably day after day for my business to thrive and with APQS, they do.
The most popular machine for my renters is the Millie and the Freddie. I have placed hydraulic lifts on their tables so I can adjust the height of the table with the touch of a button for the wide range of folks who come in to rent. Of course, having all of my machines on the Bliss table with the Motorized Fabric Advance also makes my renters love finishing their quilts. These features make everything simple and easy— especially for those who’ve never worked on a longarm before. They are so delighted at well their projects look at the end.
Q: Tell us about your pricing structure. How much do you charge to rent by the hour? What about George, the APQS sit down longarm?
Once my customers take the certification class they are able to rent by the hour and the price depends upon the machine they choose. The two top of the line machines, Mille and Freddie, are $30 an hour. Lucey, Lenni, and Larry are $25 an hour because I don’t have those machines on a hydraulic lift and they have fewer bells and whistles.
Most folks choose one of my Mille or Freddie machines because of all the wonderful features on those machines. If my customers rent for a full day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., then I give them 45 minutes free so they can take a break to eat and not feel pressure to keep working. I have a refrigerator and a microwave for them to use while they are at the studio.
I do rent out George for $12 an hour and I don’t require customers to take a class on how to use him. After all, George is exactly what they are doing on their home machines so if they know how to free motion quilt on their domestic sewing machines they’ll have George mastered in a heart beat.
Q: What tips would you give someone who is thinking of starting to rent out their longarm?
The biggest thing is to get out the word to your local quilting community about your rental program. I have folks who drive two to four hours to come rent so don’t think your customers are only located in your town! Give them one on one attention and help them feel successful so they will want to tell all of their friends about their experience.
I also have zippers mounted to the canvas leaders on all of my APQS tables so that my renters can load their backing fabrics to zippers at home and then just zip on their quilts when they arrive. Plus, that way if they don’t get finished with their quilt they can unzip their projects and come back another day to zip it back on for the finish.
Also, make it easy for folks to sign up for a rental time on the internet. I use a website called Acuity Scheduling which syncs with my Google Calendar and also takes a 50 percent deposit from my renters when they sign up for a time in order to cut down on the ‘no-shows.’ The service can be embedded on my website and it even sends out reminder emails automatically making things very easy on me.
I would say that it is important to have the heart of a teacher if you are considering renting out your machine. I get so much happiness out of my job and I love my customers! I can’t imagine doing anything else.