Shep Kilby’s wife, Arvene, convinced him to enter the decorated-apparel business three years ago. The couple has a successful wholesale linen rental business, and Arvene knew there was a market for custom-embroidered napkins and tablecloths for weddings and special events. Fat K Designs in Bridgeton, NJ, was born after Kilby purchased a used single-head embroidery machine. “We rapidly realized that our apparel decorating business needed to be more than just that,” he says. “It wasn’t going to be a single-head home-based operation.”
Kilby upsized the embroidery capacity, for a total of six heads, and expanded into screen printing, buying three automatic presses and three manuals. Fat K also offers bling, transfers and direct-to-garment printing. The shop now employs 19, many of whom are “old dogs” of the decorated-apparel world, and brings in more than $1 million in revenue a year.
With his keen business sense, Kilby has been able to populate his shop with an array of high-grade used equipment, often purchased on the cheap from motivated sellers. “You buy the shop at the right price, keep what you need and sell the rest,” Kilby says. “The eighth shop I bought is in a trailer right now. … This shop was only three months old, and the people just couldn’t get screen printing, so they gave up on it right away.”
One particularly lucrative purchase was a four-color screen-printing press Kilby nabbed for next to nothing. He sold off a few parts to pay the manufacturer to convert it into an eight-color press. “At the end of that buy, I had a free $8,500 press sitting on the floor,” he says.