An employee teaches class Sept. 13, 2012, at MidSouth Sewing Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of the MidSouth Sewing Center)
Most people would agree that small businesses are the backbone of the American economy whether in a small town or a big city.
In fact, the majority of new jobs each year come from those small businesses.
Marion Bean, of Murfreesboro, is a prime example.
He began a fledgling company in 1967 selling and servicing sewing machines and grew it into MidSouth Sewing Center, which averages more than $1 million in sales a year.
“When I first began, I really had no money, only a prayer and a positive mental attitude," Bean said. "I have been blessed."
Now retired and enjoying the fruits of his labor, Bean recently recalled how he was reared in a modest sharecropping family.
“Back in those days, it was called ‘making a trade’ where my daddy, Foster Bean, would agree to tend a landowners’ farm for a percentage of the crop," he said. "We moved around a lot, from farm-to-farm when there was a better deal.”
Most of Bean’s young life was spent in Rutherford County, except for a few years when the family moved to Warren County.
One of those sharecropping experiences would later lead to a life-changing opportunity for him.
“We lived on Pluck Miller’s farm," he said. "I admired him because he was a good businessman. He liked me and would hire me to do extra things, such as mowing his yard or doing other odd jobs. He probably saw more potential in me than I did in myself.”
Although Bean has a limited formal education, less than eighth grade, he is a great student of life and human psychology.
“I always enjoyed being around people whom I saw as being successful,” he said. “As a young businessman, I belonged to several civic clubs in order to study what made folks good in business.”
Bean began making his mark in local business when he accepted a job in 1963 with Singer Sewing Machine Company, which had a store on the Square in downtown Murfreesboro.
“My first job with Singer was earning commissions by going door-to-door selling sewing machines,” he reminisced.
After working four years for Singer, he decided to launch his own company to sell and service New Home sewing machines in a storefront, which was owned by Jim Maney, just off the Square. The rent was $150 per month.
His role model, Miller, would later enter the picture again. Miller had some buildings on the Square. He offered to sell one to him and even agreed to “tote the note,” Bean said.
Not content to just own a store on the Square, Bean began calling on the home economics departments at high schools in Rutherford, DeKalb, Wilson, Warren and Bedford counties and built a good base for his business by offering free service on all the machines that were purchased.
Being a good salesman and having a flair for marketing, he had a plan.
His competition in Murfreesboro was Singer. When new machines were shipped to him, Bean displayed them prominently in his showroom. But, he kept the boxes.
Each day, he would carry the empty boxes from back of the store and stack them on the front sidewalk, giving the appearance that many sewing machines were being sold. People assumed the empty boxes were awaiting pickup by the garbage collectors.
Then each night, he took the same boxes to the rear of his store and repeated the practice the next business day.
The competition was paying attention and assumed that Bean was moving an unbelievable amount of merchandise. That marketing strategy gained him business, while at the same time caused the competition to grow weary, wondering what in the world was going on.
Finally, Bean was able to purchase the Singer franchise because the competition had literally given up.
His wife, Doris, is also a great entrepreneurial success story.
She began working at Aultman’s Jewelry on the Square after graduating from Rockvale High School and Nashville Business College. She spent 56 years with the small business, working her way up from being a bookkeeper and salesperson to later owning the company.
Now retired and enjoying the golden years, the couple spend their winters in Mission, Texas, near the Mexican border relaxing in an RV campground. Both agree that this is a great season in their lives.
“The word has gotten around in our Texas community that Marion is a master with sewing machines,” she said. “So, each year we always take a few extra parts and machine oil with us. I guess he will never totally retire from repairing sewing machines.”
The couple will soon celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary this year on Thanksgiving Day.