After being in business over 30 years (boy, do I feel old!) I thought it was time to write down the story of how we came to be. It all started when we found out we were having a baby - I wanted to stay at home with our daughter Jennifer, but still do something to contribute to the family income. My husband (and business partner) Tom had always wanted to have his own business, so we said "let's do it!"
Mother’s Day (1984
I sewed a little bit, and liked doing crafts, so when I saw a magazine ad for an embroidery business - it seemed like a good fit. Jennifer was born on Mother's Day in 1984, and that's the date I like to say that our business started. The embroidery machine arrived the day I came home from the hospital with the baby, and we put it in our spare room. It was slow-going - in the beginning we mostly did monogramming for dry cleaners & retail stores - sweater monograms and shirt cuffs were big at the time, but we soon realized there had to be a better way to do things.
Big Idea (1986)
A couple of years later I found an embroidered baby blanket ad in a mail-order catalog and thought - "I can do that better and faster"! We had the technology, so we started buying baby blankets from a manufacturer in the South, and offered them wholesale to children's stores. I would take Jennifer to the local library and copy Yellow Pages listings, type mailing labels and send out letters introducing our product. Slowly we built up a business - initially I'd drop off packages at UPS once a week, but within a short time our volume increased enough so that we needed a daily UPS pickup. Eventually we built a reputation for high quality and quick delivery - personalized items usually took several weeks, but we always filled our orders within a couple of days (and still do that today!)
Quality Control (1989)
By now we had 3 embroidery machines, converted our basement into a workshop and hired 3 employees. But as our business grew, we started having problems with quality from our blanket supplier. I was rejecting 40% of them and asking for refunds. The manufacturer finally told me that they couldn't provide the quality I expected, nor could they give me any more refunds, so we decided to have blankets made for us, to our exacting specifications. We found a local sewing shop that could put the binding on the blankets, and a new supplier that could provide better quality blanket fabric in rolls that we could cut to size.
J.C. Penney (1991)
In 1991 we were fortunate to have the J.C Penney catalog contact us to supply our personalized blankets in their catalog and for the next 8 years their steady flow of orders allowed us to expand and advertise in other areas - but we had yet another problem with keeping blankets in stock.
Summer Shutdown (1994)
Within 2 years the local sewing shop closed, and we found a new sewer in North Carolina to make our blankets. That lasted for a few years, but then we started having problems with delivery and quality again, so we looked for yet another sewer. Most textile manufacturing had gone overseas by this time, so it was harder than ever to find a new sewer, and at one point, we almost ran out of blankets. That was the start of our first summer shutdown - we had decided to bring the blanket manufacturing in-house, but needed time to train sewers and build up inventory, so we sent out postcards that we were having a “summer shutdown” for a week!
Night Shift (1994)
At that point, our basement was full with the embroidery machines, so we put 2 blanket binding machines in our living room, and started a night shift where two sewers would work from 5-9 p.m. making blankets. It was a little disruptive, but at least we had blankets to sell, could control the quality and keep our business going! Tom and I even learned how to sew blankets, to help out in a pinch! This went on for about a year, and the business kept growing.
Another Big Idea (1994)
In 1994, we started advertising our personalized blankets to Human Resource departments as gifts for employees, and that turned out to be the next big increase for the business - HR people loved the idea; this was an easy-to-order, cost-effective personalized gift, employees loved seeing their baby’s name on a blanket - and appreciated that the company was so thoughtful. Between referrals from happy customers, and expanded advertising, that part of our business grew quickly, and we knew it was time to take the big leap and move out of the house.
Expansion & Big Changes (1995)
We purchased a 3,000 sq. ft. building in the next town, and moved in the summer of 1995. It was nice to have our house back, and to have plenty of room for all our equipment and inventory in the new building. It was also time to make another major change; the business was thriving, we had 5 employees, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone any more. Tom had always been a “silent partner” - we’d talk business at night and on weekends, planning our next strategies, and we knew this was the right time for him to quit his “real job” and come into the business full-time. That was kind of scary because up until that time we had good health insurance through his job, plus his steady salary. But we had 10 years experience by now, a good customer base, and were confident (sort of...) that we could make it work.
New Employee (1996)
In 1996 we realized we needed additional office help in order to continue to provide quality customer service, and a smart, young woman who was in her Senior year at the local high school, responded to our ad for part-time help. That was Melissa, who is now our Manager. She quickly learned the basics of our business, took on more responsibilities over the years, and has become an invaluable member of our team.
Steady Growth and New Location (2000)
We continued to grow for next 5 years - we were now making all our blankets in-house, our advertising was working, and before we knew it we were at capacity in our “new” building, and started to look for another location that could accommodate our growth. We found an 8,000 sq. ft. building that had been previously used as a garage - it needed lots of work, but was the right size and in a great location. It took almost a year to renovate, but when we were done, we had the perfect layout of office and production areas, a big warehouse, and plenty of room to grow.
Setbacks & Recovery
We moved in on Labor Day weekend of 2001, and along with all the little issues with getting settled in a new building - 9/11 happened. Orders stopped coming in, we hadn’t sold our old building, (so we had 2 mortgages), and for a time, we weren’t sure if the business would survive. We didn’t lay off any of our employees, though, or cut their hours, and eventually orders picked up again. We resumed our advertising, sold the old building, and continued on our path of growth. We bought new, more efficient embroidery machines, hired more people, and all was running well for quite a few years.
The economic crisis of 2008-2009 brought a 20% decline in sales, but we again managed to keep all our employee’s hours the same (after all, they deserved some stability during that uncertain time), and even purchased another business in 2010 - Image Threads, that provided us with an influx of new customers - and once again, orders increased and we got back on track with advertising and growth.
Great Plans for the Future
Fast-forward to 2016: we have 9 new, state-of-the-art embroidery machines, a newer, faster machine to sew the binding, and lots of happy customers. We currently ship over 500 blankets a week, and have plans to increase that by 50% over the next 5 years.
Our quest for high quality hasn’t diminished either, and any less-than-perfect blankets are put aside and sent to charities. Over the years we’ve donated blankets to Feed the Children, Americares and the International Rescue Committee, as well as local homeless shelters, and even some animal welfare groups.
Jennifer (remember her - the reason we started the business!) got married in 2014 to a wonderful young man - and we’re looking forward to bigger and better things in the years to come!