No lack of competition!

Just doing a little research and found the eastern US littered with embroidery shops (see screen shot below).

google maps on embroidery shops in the eastern US providing custom polo shirts
google maps on embroidery shops in the eastern US providing custom polo shirts

There’s obviously a lot of folks providing custom polo shirts and funny enough its the embroidery machine manufacturers that caused it.  They are also the ones who have lost the most by offering cheap 1-2 head machines.  Embroidery and screenprinting have always been cottage industries but a business owner could get ahead of the competition in the old days when a good 2-head machine cost $40K+ used and a new 12 head machine was $100K.  Great barrier to entry until they started building small 1 head machines for $15K.  Now any part-time stay-at-home mom could be in business competing with low fixed costs and variable time that meant they didn’t need a full time salary…..it was just a few extra dollars when the kids were at school.  I am in full support of this type of business as my mother did the same thing when starting our business in 1980……its just a hard group to compete against.  Ironically, the manufacturers also lost a lot of business in the end since each unit did not contribute as much to their fixed costs and there were only so many they could sell.  They also lost the ease of selling multiple machines to one shop and had to start advertising/marketing their product more.  So, Tajima, Barudan and many others are much smaller today then they were in 1997 as well.

We have luckily prospered on increasing our turnaround speed and running smaller orders more efficiently by using technology and our large capacity……but we’re always looking over our shoulder for those mom’s and now screenprinters providing custom polo shirts locally.

Persistence cuts both ways

I think my most valued and yet most flawed attribute is being persistent.  When i was a kid I played backyard sports long after anyone wanted to if i was losing.  I would often compete well past dark just so i could try to win and if not, at least the other person or team would quit.  I carried that attribute into work and did well persisting to win/beat the competition or fight until others would quit.  That worked well in our contract embroidery business in the 90’s, it worked well when i was selling online stores and it worked well starting and building our online direct business.

Unfortunately, my persistence has also crippled my ability to grow beyond a certain level because of past business success. As i have told our blank apparel distributors in the past few weeks, I still wanted to provide contract embroidery as it was my original business.  After years of trying to sell to promotional product distributors outside our area (we even ran tours for new owners at a well known franchise), i did finally give up at least selling and moved on to a technology solution for online stores.  I went after large non-profits and had a few large programs running orders just-in-time.  Problem was we still provided contract embroidery and protected these customers by not selling to their customers (except one because of family). This limited our ability to grow and have a staff big enough to sell and support big online store programs.  Next, we started selling direct online primarily focused on small business customers……but when we ran into any customer that may be a target of our contract customers, we backed off and didn’t sell to them.  I even referred a friend’s company to a contract customer as a more appropriate fit so we could eliminate any conflict of interest.  Then when contract orders became too complicated to manage manually and financially, we proposed and built a sophisticated online ordering system for Promotional Product Distributors and blank apparel distributors but we couldn’t get the PPDs to change and the suppliers were either technically challenged, were crippled by fear that change would hurt their business or too inept to even get that far.

So, this ‘not letting go’ attitude has clouded my judgment for years.  I don’t want to lose and figured I’d just keep playing the game long enough for someone to quit or give in.  I have learned my lesson and am finally (at age 43) ready to move on.  I was always a ‘late bloomer’ and hopefully this is finally my awakening.  We are giving up on our Embroidery Contract Manager application that was too smart for most people to understand.  We’ll leave it on the shelf for now….. cause you never know? (old habits die hard!) and focus on attacking a business where there’s no need for a partner…..