WHEN Franklins opened in 1956 it had seven second-hand sewing machines and a £100 till float.

It was operating from a loft in Essex Street, Colchester.

What was then AJ Franklins & Sons – grandfather Anthony Franklin being the “A” – is now Europe’s largest specialist needlecraft store and one of the largest sewing machine dealers in the country, representing three generations of creativity.

The store, now based in St Botolph’s Street, Colchester, celebrates its 60th anniversary on March 29.

Laurence Franklin, 57, joined the family business aged 16. His father, a former bicycle mechanic, worked for the Singer sewing machine brand and would cycle around Colchester delivering machines on a trades bike.

He made his entry into the business in response to a job advert for a sewing engineer.

Laurence’s mother, Janet, worked for a competitor in Chelmsford, selling machines, and this is how they met.

He said: “My dad never forced my brother or I to come into the business, but we’ve enjoyed it and we want to carry on this enthusiasm with the next generation.”

His brother, Trevor Franklin, 58, has been in the business for 42 years.

Trevor’s son, Nathan, 30, takes a lead in the refurbishment of Franklins’ five branches in Colchester, Ipswich, Dovercourt, Chelmsford and Salisbury.

Alongside them is Laurence’s eldest son, Jason, 24, who moves between the sales floor, back office and everything in between – as they all do.

He said: “Some weeks the team might go to China for a show and other days I’ll be doing manual labour clearing out a million buttons from a warehouse.”

It is a running joke there has been an absence of girls in the Franklin bloodline, but Laurence’s wife, Heidi, and sister-in-law, Deanna, are both important to the business.

Jason said: “We’re all invested in the company and have the same aims – it’s great.”

The Franklins’ attribute their success to knowledgable customer service, a loyal customer base who rely on their advice, and being at the forefront of product innovation.

A turning point came in 1997 when the firm made an alliance with an American company and led the way in embroidery software for the European market.

It introduced a home embroidery system allowing sewers to embroider on any machines, and resize and rebrand their patterns, something they were previously unable to do.

Laurence said: “It was the early days of computers, so we brought out our own hardware and were the first to do it.”

What followed were knitting machines, and Franklins became one of the biggest dealers in the country, but Lauren said the introduction of fleece “finished the machines overnight”.

However, adapting quickly to changes in the industry and looking ahead is what has given Franklins its staying power.

Jason said: “A lot of people don’t respond and suffer because of it.

“We were quite lucky with the credit crunch, as it encouraged an attitude of ‘make do and mend’ and people began taking up their craft hobbies as jobs.

“We’ve seen people go from absolute novices to teaching classes.”

Entering the store’s landmark 60th year, Franklins can celebrate its successes. Its 50th birthday was marred by Colchester Council’s plans for the Vineyard Gate Development – a 150,000 sq ft shopping centre which forced it to halt its refurbishment plans, and put a dampener on the occasion.

Jason said: “One of the highs so far for me has been opening and modernising the new shops and we want the same refreshed look here, but the council’s threat of a compulsory purchase order the length of the street has been a pain.”

But Franklins will do what it has always done – adapt.