Equipment buying advice for a longarm quilting business
By Jess Zeigler
Longarm machine buying is personal
I get asked for machine buying advice often. I like to share the path that I took because all of these years later, I'm still thrilled with my purchases!
You should also know that I'm a person that will probably never buy a new car because I don't want to take the financial hit that comes with driving it off the lot. Is this me being stubborn or sensible? Yes to both! :)
I'd much rather buy a quality used car because it makes more financial sense to me.
Perhaps I'll get to the point someday that I'll buy a BRAND SPANKING NEW car, just to relish in the newness of it, financial sensibility be damned!
But for now, that just doesn't align with my goals or desires.
Why am I talking about car buying? I think that car buying is something a lot of people can relate to. And it's in the same neighborhood as far as size of monetary investment. It's a big purchase that you'll want to put some thought into.
When you think about makes of models of cars, you can apply the same idea to makes and models of longarm quilting machines. There will be brands that just feel better, sound better, look better, perform better for certain people and not others. It's just the way the world works.
Do your homework when considering your options
Are you within driving distance of a longarm quilting dealer? Pay them a visit!
Will you be attending a quilt show soon? Wander around the vendor booths and try a bunch of different machines.
See the quality of stitches up close. Feel how smoothly the machine carriage glides. Talk to other quilters who have the same brand of machines, is there anything they regret about their purchase? Do your research online. Does the brand of machine you like have a reputation for excellent customer service? How do they handle unexpected problems? Do they have online videos or tutorials to help you along? Do they have a Facebook group that you could join? What kind of education or training is available after the purchase?
The first longarm machine I used
When I FELL IN LOVE with longarm quilting, it was on an older, no-frills Gammill machine that belonged to someone else. It wasn't computerized, it didn't even have a stitch regulator.
The machine was fine. I loved the frame that enabled me to load a big quilt quickly and avoid pin-basting. And I loved that with a little practice learning how to negotiate the weight of the machine in my hands and knowing how to adjust my speed, I could learn how to quilt with it.
When I started to realize that I NEEDED to have a longarm quilting machine of my own in my life and in my house (I learned in a quilt shop), I decided to check out some other makes and models.
I identified my dream longarm quilting machine
Pretty quickly, I honed in on the APQS Millennium as my dream machine. I'm completely biased by the fact that their machines are built about an hour's drive from my house and I'm a big supporter of other Iowa-based businesses. Some quilters that I really looked up to also used APQS machines, so that influenced my decision as well.
I knew going into the purchase that I was going to use my longarm machine to make money. I didn't even think that people could buy a longarm just for their own use! Wasn't it a law or something that you had to go into business if you owned one? :)
I had signed up for APQS's marketing emails and every once in a while, they would list certified used machines for sale. I watched these emails closely.
My longarm buying strategy
I saw a 2001 Millennium come up for sale through one of those APQS emails and I jumped at the chance to own it sight unseen (I had test driven other similar models so I knew what to expect generally). This was in 2012, so the machine was already 11 years old by the time I owned it.
I saved a good $10k by buying that machine used. Like a certified used car, the machine had been through a thorough inspection at the factory and all worn parts had been replaced. There was a warranty to ensure that if any trouble came up, it would be covered. It was a comfort to me that I lived so close to the factory that I could load the machine in my car and drive it there if something went wrong. To me, it was the best of both worlds.
Knowing that APQS builds machines that are built to last, I would prioritize the must-have features over the age of the machine. I would guess other reputable brands are the same way. In my case, the large throat space and a stitch regulator were the features most important to me. I really didn't care how old it was. I knew that the price was right and I could recoup my investment much more quickly than buying it brand new.
Now, it's 2021, and my machine is 20 years old! Does that surprise you? I've put it through seven years of HEAVY use and it's still going strong. I keep it clean, but I've never had to take it anywhere for anything. I probably should schedule a professional maintenance/cleaning at some point just to keep it working perfectly. I love my machine more today than when I got it! :)
If you find a longarm through private sale
Just like buying a car from Craigslist, you might get a heck of a deal, you also might not. It's possible that the seller may not know a lot about the machine if it's inherited from a family member, for example. It's not that I wouldn't consider it, I would just want to take extra precautions. Would you be able to hire an independent technician to check it out with you? Does the reason for selling make sense? Would they let you try it out?
On the bright side, the bonus of a private sale is that you might be able to get a bunch of add-ons or accessories thrown in with the sale. It'll take more diligence and research but this route might result in a great deal, too!
Adding a computer and robotics to my longarm
When I decided enough was enough of hand-guided (mostly custom) quilting, I approached the purchase of my computer/robotics much like I did the purchase of my longarm. I first asked local quilters who I knew were running different systems on their APQS machines (so that I could compare apples to apples) if I could visit them, observe them using their machines and ask questions. One quilter used QuiltPath and the other used Intelliquilter. The Intelliquilter system for me was the standout winner and it wasn't even a close decision. Intelliquilter just felt so easy and intuitive to me.
I had such an amazing experience buying my longarm machine used (about 5 years prior) that I first tried finding a used Intelliquilter system. I looked for a few weeks and wasn't finding anything. I'd guess that it's pretty rare to sell an Intelliquilter used without it being bundled with the actual longarm machine. And I wasn't in the market for a new machine. That's when I decided it was worth it to buy new. I worked with Angela Huffman to place my order for a new Intelliquilter. I would highly recommend her services to others if you have an APQS. She's an APQS dealer and sells both Intelliquilter and QuiltPath.
My final thoughts about buying longarm equipment
There are so many ways to go about buying equipment. If you feel overwhelmed by choices and options online, I would suggest finding a way to watch these machines work in person. My guess is that you'll begin to get a sense of which option might be right for you!
Also, for the love of all things holy. You do not HAVE TO TAKE ON $45k in debt to start a business like this. I admit to being somewhat debt-averse in general, but when you are approaching this as a business decision, I want you to be able to get your return on investment as quickly as possible. Don't skimp on what matters most (quality & throat space) and be savvy when it comes to the rest.
If you are buying a machine with business use in mind, please read my blog post about a potential sales tax exemption. This tip could save you thousands or—if you've already paid—you may be entitled to a refund.