“[During this time] what I learned was that sewing machines can be fickle to tune consistently to get equal performance from one unit to the next,” Matt said. “It took me years to hone my skills to the point that I could tune and properly add Jim’s modifications with great consistency.”
Sailrite was buying their sewing machines directly from Brother International but they had no control over improvements and manufacturing.
It was also around this time that Matt was starting to recognize that the $1,999 price tag on the Sailmaker was too expensive for many boaters wanting to repair and make their own canvas items and sails. He wondered how many sailors would be interested in sewing if the price of the machine were lower.
“I wrote a college paper on the subject and convinced myself that I could come up with a less expensive model to supplement the Sailrite Sailmaker model,” Matt shared. “I had theorized that a price point of $499 would increase the market by 500 units annually.”
In spite of the trade-offs the Yachtsman was a huge hit and the company accomplished Matt’soriginal goal of selling 500 machines in a year.
Fully sold on the idea of a more affordable sewing machine, Matt set out to bring this vision to life. He decided to start with the same approach his dad had used successfully years earlier—to build up an existing sewing machine. He took the power improvements from the Sailmaker, and added them to a new machine. The result was the Yachtsman Sewing Machine, which was, in many ways, an improved and more affordable version of the Read’s Sewing Machine. It was based on the “Model T” of home sewing machine castings and although the price was lower, a few of the desirable Sailrite Sailmaker features were lost.
“The machine had a short, 4 mm stitch and it did not feed very well,” Matt explained. “But we did take the power modifications from the Sailmaker and utilized our tuning experience to optimize performance. It also had the required zigzag stitch.”
In spite of the trade-offs the Yachtsman was a huge hit and the company accomplished Matt’s original goal of selling 500 machines in a year.
But it wasn’t long before an old problem appeared again. In refitting other companies’ sewing machines, Matt still had little control over the original manufacturing process and he was tweaking every machine that came in to better suit customers’ needs.
“I had to create ad hoc solutions like a special feed dog made with sharp teeth instead of a knurled surface, and increasing the power by adding to the weight and diameter of our Monster Balance Wheel,” Matt said.
During this period, Sailrite also experimented with other, larger, industrial sewing machines like the Sailrite Long Arm and the SR200. While these sewing machines were more affordable than their Japanese competitors, like the Brother TZB652 and the Singer 20U, they were designed for tailoring and clothing manufacturing, not sailmaking and canvas work, Matt explained, and were too heavy to be easily portable. These machines offered better performance than the Yachtsman, but were significantly more expensive, with price tags over $1000.
“We reached the conclusion that we needed control of the manufacturing process to create machines to serve our niche,” he said.