Wearables

Advice For a Successful Embroidery Shop

Veteran business coach Joyce Jagger went to Wickenburg, AZ, to help cowgirl embroiderer Bobbi Brooks get organized and spur her shop to new heights.

When Joyce Jagger strides into Creations In Thread in Wickenburg, AZ, she doesn’t waste time with niceties. The six-foot septuagenarian in sensible shoes wants to make one thing clear from the get-go: “I have an issue with people who don’t take my suggestions and implement them,” she tells shop owner Bobbi Brooks. “When I walk into a place, I want to walk out feeling good, like I made a difference.”

Brooks – cowgirl casual with honey-brown hair pulled into a low ponytail, chunky turquoise earrings, cuffed jeans and a burnout baseball tee – welcomes The Embroidery Coach’s bluntness. She’s tired of the chaos and uncertainty of a shop without systems. Creations In Thread is always busy, but the books are a mess, and paperwork is piled so high that some of Brooks’ customers haven’t been billed in over two years. Rush jobs are the norm – though rush charges are not – and mistakes are too common among her harried staff. Orders are completed on the “squeaky wheel system.” Brooks adds: “We don’t know when stuff came in, so whoever complains first gets their stuff first. We play favorites.”

Creations in Thread in Wickenburg, AZ, caters to the Western equine market, selling embroidered caps and other gear to bull riders, barrel racers and other rodeo regulars.

Brooks purchased Creations In Thread 15 years ago because she wanted to be able to work and keep her then-10-month-old daughter nearby. “She basically grew up sitting next to an embroidery machine,” Brooks says. In the last decade and a half, the business has grown significantly with Brooks, herself an avid rodeo barrel racer, targeting the lucrative Western equine market. “My friends are customers, and my customers are friends,” she says. The cowboy crowd comes with quirks, including an unquenchable thirst for caps and the unfortunate tendency to bring in over-starched gear with “literal bovine feces” on it. But, Brooks says, they’re loyal. So far.

>>5 Tips for Better Hat Embroidery

To accommodate her growth over the years, Brooks purchased two six-head embroidery machines to supplement the one-head the business already had. And when Jagger arrived in early May, Creations In Thread was in the midst of another big change, relocating into a historic building in the downtown of tourist-friendly Wickenburg, a move that will nearly double the shop’s square footage, from 2,400 to roughly 4,000 square feet. Brooks is full of big ideas and isn’t afraid of big risks. “I make decisions based on my gut, not the numbers,” she says. Her two days with Jagger, however, will force this dreamer to get her head out of the clouds long enough to focus on the nitty-gritty details of running a business.

Slideshow


Jagger spends the morning of the first day poring over Creations In Thread’s books, and quizzing Brooks on shop procedures. Surveying Brooks’ cluttered desk, Jagger asks whether the shop’s screen-printing and embroidery orders are all filed in the same place. Brooks nods and asks, “Does that need to change?”

“Mmmhmm,” Jagger replies. “Every job needs its own folder. You should have folders upon folders. That’ll lead to a whole lot less mistakes.”

“We’re going to need a lot more filing cabinets,” Brooks observes.

Jagger recommends filing all relevant paperwork for a job, from packing slips to purchase orders, into a manila envelope with a picture of the design attached to the front. “An employee should be able to pick up that folder, no questions asked, and start the job,” she says.

In addition, orders should be logged in as soon as they come in and can be tracked using a simple spreadsheet. Brooks and her employees also need to time how long jobs take, in order to create an accurate schedule and a profitable pricelist. “Timing out how long each of your processes takes will give you a break-even point. Once you have that, you know how much a job is costing you, and you can put a price on it,” she says. “This is going to be a big shocker for you. It is for everyone.”

As the paperwork and pricing discussion continues, Jagger glances from Brooks’ desk to the shop floor. What she sees there causes her to jump from her seat. “I have to see what she’s doing,” she says, heading briskly to Creations In Thread employee Lisa Brow, who’s hunched over a ball cap, passing a disposable lighter in front of embroidery on the crown. Brow explains that she’s using the open flame “to get rid of the fuzzy ends” of thread.

“I’ve heard of that, but never seen it,” Jagger says, shaking her head slowly. “That’s one way to do it, I guess.”

Brooks, who followed Jagger to the shop floor, asks how Jagger would have cleaned up the stitching. “Use good scissors,” she replies tersely. “Just trim it.”

Jagger also learns that the Creations In Thread staff uses the trusty lighter to shrink the tiny foam pieces that sometimes protrude from puff embroidery designs – another no-no. Instead, she advises them to run the designs through a dryer. “Even a hair dryer will do,” Jagger adds.

“You should try the lighter though,” Brooks laughs, unperturbed by Jagger’s stony gaze. “We may have invented something.”

Video: Joyce Jagger's Assessment

Creations In Thread was disorganized and chaotic when Jagger visited in May, but The Embroidery Coach says she has high hopes for the shop’s future. Watch this video to hear more of her impressions of the Arizona shop:

An inventive spirit is one of the things that has driven Brooks’ growth thus far (disposable lighter notwithstanding). On the second day of Jagger’s visit, Brooks talks about the athletic apparel line she created on a whim last year for barrel-racing cowgirls to wear around the barn and elsewhere.

“A lot of cowgirls don’t dress the part every day,” she explains, but Brooks’ Hustle apparel allows them to show pride in their hobby without getting decked out in stereotypically Western fashion. She brought a load of Hustle caps, T-shirts and outerwear – “My favorite one says, ‘Hustle till your haters ask if you’re hiring,’” she says – to a rodeo to test the waters and sold out in a weekend, raking in more than $3,000 in two days. Brooks promotes the line heavily on Instagram and has had carloads of millennials drive two and a half hours from Tucson just to stock up on Hustle clothing.

Jagger is impressed with Brooks’ initiative. “You should copyright those designs before someone steals them,” she advises.

Later on during day two, Jagger checks in with Creations In Thread’s Embroidery Manager Amber Morris, watching her work on an order for 60 hats with embroidery on the front and back. She approves of the way Morris hoops her caps, but tells her she should always use the clips to ensure designs stay in registration on the machine. Peering at one of the completed hats, Jagger notes: “If you move the letters a smidge closer, you won’t have all these trims, and production time will go down.”

Jagger also introduces Morris to her trusty tension gauge. As she adjusts the bobbin on one of the machines, she asks Morris for tweezers, then cringes at what she receives: “Oh, these are horrible, absolutely horrible.”

“We always just get them from the drugstore,” Morris explains.

Instead, Jagger recommends stocking each workstation with higher-end bent tweezers, which will help shave time from the embroidery trimming process. “You’ve got to have the right tools,” she adds.

Jagger leaves Arizona with a little trepidation, but also a healthy dose of hope. She plans to work closely with Brooks and her bookkeeper in the months that follow, helping to clean up the books and develop a complete order-tracking system and price structure for the shop. She also took the dimensions of Creations In Thread’s new space and plans to put together a suggested floor plan for the impending move. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the future for Brooks is bright, Jagger says.

VIDEO: Creating Cowgirl-Friendly Clothing

Bobbi Brooks, owner of Creations In Thread, has had great success with her line of athletic apparel with a Western flair. Watch this video to learn why she started Hustle to appeal to the barrel racing crowd:

Roughly five months after the initial visit, Creations In Thread is settling into its new home. At Jagger’s suggestion, Brooks has raised her prices sharply, in some cases by as much as 50%. For example, the shop used to charge about $7.50 for an item with about 6,500 stitches. The new price is closer to $11.25 per piece. They’ve also added an extra typeset fee for “onesie-twosie” personalization orders.

Even more importantly, the shop has tackled its huge pile of back-billing. One customer, who hadn’t been billed in nearly three years, paid all $4,500 he owed in cash, after receiving his overdue invoice, Brooks says. “It’s such a great feeling,” she adds. “It helps me sleep at night. I didn’t realize how much anxiety I had over the chaos.”

Brooks has also put together a plan and sets attainable short- and long-term goals to continue the forward momentum. “I know we’re still a work in progress, but I feel like we’ve come a long way. I’m really excited to see what the next year holds.”

Jagger agrees, and says she’ll continue to work with Brooks, as she integrates her pricing structure into her accounting software and updates the shop’s website. “We’ve done a heck of a lot,” Jagger says. “But there’s definitely going to be more.”

HOW THE WINNING SHOP WAS SELECTED

Wearables asked readers with struggling embroidery shops to fill out a questionnaire and submit a video summarizing their obstacles and challenges for a chance to spend two days with industry expert Joyce Jagger, The Embroidery Coach. Jagger reviewed the submissions, choosing a shop she felt had the most potential for improvement. Creations In Thread in Wickenburg, AZ, won a prize package worth approximately $10,000, which included personalized on-site training with Jagger, a customized pricing sheet and order system, and several months of follow-ups. Details about Jagger’s consulting services are available on her website: www.theembroiderycoach.com.

THERESA HEGEL is senior editor for Wearables. Contact: thegel@asicentral.com; follow her on Twitter at @TheresaHegel.