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The Story of Nordic Needle
By Roz Watnemo, February, 2010
Once upon a time, in 1975, three young ladies in their mid-twenties, working at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, thought there needed to be a little shop in Fargo that offered materials to do the Norwegian needlework called, Hardanger Embroidery. Taught by Marie Hanson on campus in a "women's group", Sue and Gayle learned from the pro and taught Roz as they learned. In the summer of 1975, Gayle and Sue opened a little shop downtown Fargo in the old "Bison Hotel". To pay for their rent, they cleaned the rooms and floors in the building. To increase the sales, they added handmade crafts on consignment from local artisans. At the end of the summer, Roz joined in with Sue and Gayle and started planning their new shop in the old deLendrecies building which would become Block 6. The men took their tools and built the first little shop on third floor and the "girls" began planning the layout. Time to move up - and so they did!
Harold and Jim constructing the first shop in Block 6 Sue Gayle Roz - Grand Opening
Block 6 was filled with many new little business including a lamp shade business called 'Shady Lady', a natural foods store (first one in town) called the 'Honey Pot', owned by a young groovy couple from California, an antique shop owned by Martha Hook, a needlepoint and rug shop owned by Ann Zavoral, a macrame shop called 'Knotters Knook', a coin shop called 'Treasure Island', a Mexican import shop named 'Quetzal Imports', a card shop, and a children's clothing store named 'Applesauce and Raisins', to name a few. The original name of Sue, Gayle and Roz's shop was 'Crafts, Cloth and Collectibles', but was re-named a couple years later to 'Nordic Needle'. Sue came up with "Scandinavian Needle" and Roz came up with "Nordic Stitching" so they combined the names to create Nordic Needle. Gayle sold out after the first year when she and her husband moved to Wisconsin, leaving Roz and Sue to continue and grow the business - and so they did!
Roz's Hanging Shelves Block 6 in Fargo
One of the best selling crafts in their store was Hanging Shelves, made by Roz and her husband, Harold. Hundreds of these shelves were made and sold on consignment and other crafters brought in such things as crocheted snowflakes (selling thousands), crocheted and knitted afghans and baby items, down comforters, quilts, pottery buttons, bibs, stuffed animals, finished Hardanger, little wooden carved shoes, and many other interesting items. It was quite the bookkeeping task to keep everyone's commissions straight and do the monthly books. Roz and Sue worked together very well from the start, learning many things as they went along, being supported always by their parents and by their husbands, Harold and Jim. When something needed to be done, they set out to learn how -and so they did!
To expand their customer base, they knew it was important to teach others how to do Hardanger embroidery. Roz and Sue held classes at the shop, at their homes, and at Concordia College in the dorms. They expanded from the basic white and ivory fabric and thread into other colors as the demand increased. A store in Willmar, MN, was going out of business so Roz and Sue bought out their Hardanger supplies. Dave Benson from Concordia went to Europe on a May Seminar and carried back with him a couple bolts of Hardanger fabric for them. DMC pearl cotton was THE thread to work with and they soon expanded from one thread cabinet to three or four. More supplies were needed to build their stock -and so they did.
Marie Hanson -teacher Sue and Roz First shop in Block 6
Because there were only a couple DMC Hardanger books available, Roz and Sue decided it was their responsibility to offer more written instructions and patterns to the new stitchers. They started talking to printing companies in town about the process of publishing a book. One company (name withheld), found it necessary to give his bid to Sue's husband, Jim, instead of calling Sue at her work or home number that she left for a call back. He wanted to make sure the man of the house got that information. Needless to say, that didn't sit too well with Roz and Sue and they crossed off his company from the list of printers. Kaye's Printing (now Forum Printing) in Fargo was the printing company they chose and have continued working with them over their past 35 years (lucky them). An out of town visitor who visited and saw their publications asked them what qualifications they had that enabled them to publish books. That puzzled them a bit. Sue and Roz had knowledge to share so it seemed natural to publish books for others to learn - and so they did!
The first book was called, Hardanger Embroidery Favorites I (thinking there would be more). It included close-up photos of how to do the stitches as well as close up and over-all photos of the designs in the book. Some designs were from Marie Hanson, their mentor, but there weren't enough to fill a book so Roz and Sue started designing their own. This book has remained at the top of their top-sellers list and has been updated with charts for the stitches instead of just photos. Roz's sister-in-law, Dawn, hand-graphed the stitch instructions which are still used in their beginner book today. That was before computers were able to do such tasks. Once this first book was out, they were able to provide the needed instructions and patterns for their students. Designing was necessary and they found they had talent in this area of designing - and so they did!
This book included their store name and contact information so before too long they started getting calls from other parts of the area asking for the materials. Thus began their mail-order business. Other stores called to see if they could sell their book; thus began their wholesale division. One book was not enough so continually Sue and Roz were publishing more books with designs from their own creations as well as designs from others. Anna Bolger was the first designer who had her pieces published by Roz and Sue. Anna was 75 when she learned to do Hardanger and her pieces were amazing. It was apparent to them that others would come along and ask them to publish their designs over the years - and so they did!
In 1978, the idea came to them that a Hardanger Design Contest would be fun to do. The word got out and that first year they had 95 entries into the design contest. Twenty-two winners were included in that first Award Winning Design 1979 book. To date, they are in their 32nd year of annual contests, publishing a book every July with the winning entries. Every year entries are received from all over the USA, Canada, and countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and others. The annual book of winning designs seemed to be a popular publication for them to continue - and so they did!
During their time on third floor of Block 6 in a tiny little space, Sue and Roz began to expand their families, each giving birth to their first daughters from May of 1977 (Sue and Jim had Heather) and May of 1978 (Roz and Harold had Jessica). This is when it became necessary to hire their first employee, Dorothy Dale. Dorothy was an experienced Hardanger stitcher so she could help the customers that came to shop.
Dorothy worked as a clerk in the store and then in shipping. Her stable, cheerful, calm demeanor helped Sue and Roz expand their business further. Dorothy worked for them for many years before retiring.
Sue and Roz returned to work as quickly as they could after the birth of their first daughters and soon Roz had daughter number two, Alyssa, on the way, and Sue had Laura 3 months after that. So within three years, they had 4 little girls! Eight years later, little Taylor, the only boy, entered Roz and Harold's lives.
Sue and Heather Roz and Jessica Jessica, Roz and baby Alyssa
Heather, Laura, and Sue Alyssa and Laura Jessica and Heather baby Taylor
Motherhood didn't stop them from continuing the growth of Nordic Needle. In Block 6 they moved to a larger shop on second floor and then not long after that, a larger space on first floor opened up. Besides that area, they rented several storage rooms on 6or 7floor and did their shipping from those small, stuffy and hot rooms. Cutting fabric, stripped down to the bare necessities during the summer, Sue almost got caught by a fireman doing an inspection one day but quickly dressed in time. The little elevator was unpredictable and sometimes got stuck........not good for claustrophobic Roz. By the early 1980's, it was time to think about buying land, building their own building and expanding further - and so they did!
Second shop on 2floor Third shop on 1floor New Building at 1314 Gateway Drive Fargo, ND 58103
Their product was unique and their niche was very specialized but they went very deep into their specialty. Besides Hardanger, other fine embroideries were added to their line. Lu Vitalis showed them Danish Cross Stitch and soon this counted cross stitch became as popular as Hardanger. Their catalogs grew from mimeographed sheets listing fabrics, threads and books, to their current 112 page full color retail catalogs selling to over 40,000 customers worldwide in the retail division and selling to about 900 shops in their wholesale division. Sue and Roz and several of their staff have attended National Needlework Markets in many U.S. cities including Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, Columbus, OH, Minneapolis, MN, San Diego, California, Nashville, TN, and other locations.
Their business success was noticed by the business community in Fargo as well as the state of North Dakota. Their hard work and dedication have earned them several awards mostly during the 1990's. In 1990, the Fargo Chamber of Commerce awarded Sue and Roz the Small Business of the Year award. In 1991 the state of North Dakota honored them with the North Dakota Small Business Exporter of the Year Award. That same year the Zweigart fabric manufacturing company in Germany presented them with a large plaque and the Award in Appreciation of Outstanding Contributions and Support to Zweigart Fabrics. This award was presented to them in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1994, 1995, and 1998, Sue and Roz received awards for North Dakota Outstanding Women Own Business. In May of 1998, the U.S. Small Business Administration awarded them a Small Business Lifetime Achievement Award. The JP Coats Thread company awarded them the Golden Needle Award for outstanding designing for Hardanger Embroidery. Two years they received awards for being in the "Fargo 50" - 50 fastest growing businesses.
A unique idea developed over the years; hosting a Stitcher's Retreat. Beginning in 2003, these Retreats continue to bring close to 70 ladies to Fargo every spring for 4 days of stitching classes, bonding with other stitchers, shopping at Nordic Needle, having meals together and creating lasting friendships. Vendors send generous gifts to use for door prizes and goodie bags, supporting the Retreat all the way. As long as their teachers have something to teach, and stitchers continue to come, the Retreats will continue and grow. Looking at the future of needlework, Retreats seemed to be worth a try - and so they did!
The newest hot idea is Clubs! The 2010 Club is the Hardanger Card Club where Roz has designed a new small design for every month of the year. These designs fit into an opening of a decorative greeting card. Every month each member in the club receives a new pattern and a new thread to stitch the design. With the number in the Club closing in on 800 members, the Club seems to be a huge success. Future clubs are being planned for next year. New and innovative ideas are what keep a business going. The Club idea seemed like a good one to pursue - and so they did!
Another good idea was to send out weekly email newsletters. They began writing and sending them out in January of 2000. Sue and Roz took turns every other week publishing a newsletter. Roz would feature NEW items and Sue would feature SALE items. These newsletters have grown in content to include stories of stitchers and designers, sharing recipes, featuring different needlework techniques, and really connecting with their customers. When Sue semi-retired, Debi and Ryan took over her email newsletters. The email newsletter is now sent all over the world to a total of 44,"500" readers!
As years passed, employees have come and gone; some remain longer than others. Chris, Mary Ann, Diane, Carol and Ruth have been there the longest; Chris in her 28th year and the others not far behind. Such stability in their staff provides customers with the best customer service, the most knowledge of needlework and genuine sincerity and service to their customers. Having such a staff enables Roz and Sue to dwell on aspects of the business they feel they are best suited for and now enables Sue to enter retirement. Thirty five years is a long time to be in business and for a partnership to survive. Through it all, Roz and Sue have remained committed to the business, committed to their partnership and committed to their families. They have been through ups and downs together and have come out strong. Their faith in God has been important to them and many times have attributed their success to 'divine intervention'. God has been gracious and kind, blessing their business with success. Asking God for leading and guiding through the years was vital to them - and so they did!
Now Sue is retired and enjoying life outside of Nordic Needle which includes spending more time with her mom, her daughters and husbands, and her grandkids! Sue's presence on a daily basis will be missed by everyone but none more than by Roz. They have always made decisions together, talked things over, enjoyed weekly lunches, and bounced ideas off each other with great success for the business. Where one had strengths, the other had weaknesses and where one had weaknesses, the other had strengths. It made for a long-lasting, quality partnership and friendship.
Carol Wold, Roz Watnemo, Sue Meier, Alice Olsen Sue, Heather, Jess, Roz Mothers and Daughters
Young Roz and Sue during the first Hardanger Award Display Harold, Roz, Sue, and Jim - in the 70's
This photo was taken of Sue and Roz at the 2009 Christmas party. They have come a long ways together as they built Nordic Needle to what it is today with the help of their dedicated, helpful, knowledgeable, skilled, and incredible staff.
Without you, our faithful customers, we would not have lasted very long. We hope to be here many more years for you, supplying you with the best products available for your needlework needs. Thank you!" Roz