Time Travel Tuesday: How a Business Starts

Once upon a time,  there was a business called EnMart.   Actually,  it originally wasn’t called EnMart,  and went through a series of names before we settled on that one.  Those who have named businesses or products or children or pets know that naming things can be difficult.  Eventually,  EnMart was christened EnMart and we were on our way to what we thought was a future selling embroidery supplies.   Now,  11 years after we started,  EnMart sells embroidery supplies and sublimation supplies and quilting thread and crafting items.   Where we thought we’d be when we started is not really at all where we’ve ended up.

The odds against a business starting up and succeeding can seem daunting.  20% of small business fail in their first year.   50% will fail in five years.  Flip those stats on their head though,  and they don’t seem quite so awful.   If 20% of businesses fail in their first year,  than 80% succeed, and don’t the odds suddenly look better.   Same for the five year stat,  half of the businesses that started five years earlier are gone,  but half are still in business.   Given how optimistic you have to be to even start a business,  isn’t it likely most business owners would choose to believe they’ll be in the half that’s still around in five years?

When EnMart started,  we had no idea if the business would survive.   We had tenuous connections to the embroidery industry,  and hoped that would be enough to let us get our foot in the door.   We worked at building connections,  getting the company name out there,  creating opportunities where we could interact with the community.   As time went on,  we added sublimation,  then quilting thread,  and then craft supplies.  Each addition meant a new market to which we needed to be introduced, and a new set of rules and customers to learn.  We evolved in an effort to stay current and to take advantage of the possibilities that lay before us.

You may wonder why I’m telling you all this,  and the reason is pretty simple,  often in the hustle and bustle of building a business we forget to stop and look at where we started and acknowledge how far we’ve come.   When you started your business,  however that was done,  you probably had a dream for what it would become.   Today,  after however many years in business,  does what you see before you look anything like what you dreamed?

Starting a business is a risk,  and there will always be people who will quote you the statistics of how many businesses will fail in their first year,  or second year,  or any year at all.   The idea that seems like a surefire win may result in a business that never gets off the ground.   The idea that seems so simple you’re sure everyone has already done it might just be so simple that everyone overlooked it,  until you.   Whether your business is thriving or barely surviving,  you took a chance, and gave it a shot.   That’s worth some congratulations and a moment of contemplation.

So,  from us to you,  congratulations on taking a leap many are too scared to make.  Spend at least a moment today thinking about where you began and celebrating that fact that you’ve come as far as you have.   Always know that we’re here to help you in any way we can.   If you add our parent company into the mix,  we’ve been in the 50% that survived for 44 years now,  and we’ve got some stories and wisdom to share, so stay tuned.


Time Travel Tuesday: Four Benefits of a General Store

Once upon a time,  when America was young and expansion was moving westward,  most newly created towns had a general store or a mercantile.   Most of the towns were small,  and the cost of getting goods to the town was usually high,  so the general store tried to carry all the merchandise a person might need.   From guns to nails to pans to dresses and boots,  the general store was often the one place in town to buy goods and it sold everything.

As time went on,  the general store became less relevant.  Goods were less costly to move and easier to get,  so stores started specializing.  People went one place to buy dress shoes and another place to buy athletic shoes and yet another place to buy boots.   Sure it was more trips, and wasn’t always convenient,  but the selection was better,  or the costs of an individual purchase were less, or so it seemed,  so people convinced themselves it was worth the extra time and effort.

It is true that,  in some cases,  it is worth to move from store to store.  A store that specializes in one particular kind of item might have more brands or styles available.   Stores that specialize will hopefully have employees that have a more in depth knowledge of the brands and products sold.  A single product  store may have better prices because they’re buying more of that product from fewer suppliers.  There are advantages to specialty stores but,  in our opinion,  a general store, like EnMart, still offers more benefits.   Here’s a few of the reasons why we hold that opinion.

Benefit 1:  Time is precious – A lot of people who decorate are people who are running their own businesses,  who are tasked with management, production and many other things in addition to ordering.  Shopping with a supplier that offers products for a variety of decoration disciplines means you can get everything you need in one place,  in one visit.  Time spent visiting multiple stores or sites may save you a few pennies,  but it will cost you in productive hours lost.

Benefit 2: Merchandise that sells – Every store has space constraints,  whether it’s the physical constraints of a building,  or the monetary restraints of the cost of inventory.  When you shop at a general store, the items in every category are items that sell,  because they have to be.   Just like the general stores of days gone by,  the current one stop shops have to offer inventory that produces,  they don’t have space for items that are so-so.  The product offerings in a particular category may be narrower,  but they’ll be ones that sell because they get their particular jobs done.

Benefit 3: Easy Expansion – Say you’re an embroiderer and you want to add sublimation.  Or you’re a quilt shop owner that’s interested in adding craft kits.  If you’re working with a one stop shop,  like EnMart,  you can find what you need, get your questions answered and purchase your supplies easily.  As an extra, added bonus,  you’ll be dealing with a company you already know and trust.

Benefit 4:  Easy to Remember – It seems, nowadays,  that shopping is about remembering passwords, and where your credit card numbers are stored and where they aren’t,  and keeping straight which information matches with which store.  If you’re working with a general store,  you only have to remember one set of information.  There’s no stress about forgetting or confusing a password,  no worries about what thing gets purchased from what store.  It’s all in one place.

Obviously,  EnMart doesn’t yet carry the supplies for every decoration discipline,  we’ve always focused on decoration techniques like machine embroidery and sublimation in which we have an expertise.   Our goal is to give you the benefit of our knowledge, experience and connections,  so you can get quality products at reasonable prices while also receiving knowledgeable support and fast shipping.  We may not wear white aprons and sweep the front porch of the store in the morning,  but we follow in the footsteps of those men and women who once operated the general stores.  Our goal is to get you what you need, with a maximum of value and a minimum of stress.

Time Travel Tuesday: What’s Ahead for 2017

time-travel-2One of the fun things about time travel is the fact that it goes in both directions.   Today I thought we’d take a moment to look at some things that are coming up in 2017.   Here’s some of what the future holds for EnMart.

New Products – We are preparing to introduce a new line of products at the Creativation Show in Phoenix in January.   We’re in booth #619.   If you’re at the show,  stop by and see what EnMart and Iris Thread have to offer!

New Look for the Website – EnMart is working on a redesign of our website for 2017.  Some of the redesign will be appearance related,  some will be functionality related.   We’re excited about making our website easier to use and creating a look that reflects the EnMart experience.

We’ll be Traveling – Currently our list of scheduled trade shows for 2017 includes the VDTA Show and all three DAX Shows as well as the Creativation Show listed above.   At the DAX Shows,  as usual, we’ll have a wide variety of products for sale in our booth.   We look forward to seeing everyone at these shows.

Educational Efforts –  We’ve scouted a great location we think will be useful for some quilting videos.   There are plans in the works to do some series posts on this blog,  discussing things like backing or types of thread.  We have some other ideas as well,  so it should be an exciting and educational year.

Mostly,  we’re just excited about the plans we have for the upcoming year, and all the great things we’re going to do.   We’re also very grateful to those of you who have supported us in 2016.   Whether it was stopping by our booth at a trade show,  purchasing something from our website,  leaving us a review on our website or on Facebook,  or simply taking a moment to let us know that you appreciate what we do,  we’re glad you’ve spent a bit of your time with EnMart.   Thank you.



Time Travel Tuesday: Which Thread is Best

extra-35-picAmong the eternal questions that plague the machine embroidery community,  the question of which thread is best is probably the one heard most often.  Sometimes the question involves what type of thread works best,  and sometimes it centers more on which brand of thread is best,  but the answer required always centers around a comparison and a qualification,  something has to come out on top as “the best”.

A couple decades ago,  the answer to the which thread is best question,  at least when it came to type of thread,  would have been rayon.  Made from regenerated cellulose,  rayon was the thread of choice for a lot of embroiderers back in the day.   It had great shine and made embroidery pop,  but it wasn’t necessarily a strong thread,  or a washfast one.  Still, for a long time,  it was the only game in town.

Polyester,  in the time when rayon was king,  was primarily a matte thread,  dull and not considered a show piece thread.  Over time, though, manufacturers,  like Hilos Iris,  started working on creating a polyester thread with shine.  They also worked on strength and durability,  using trilobal fibers to make the thread both stronger and shinier.  The result was a polyester thread that could beat rayon at its own game,  a thread that equaled rayon in shine,  but exceeded it in colorfastness,  washfastness and strength.   While there are still die hard rayon users in the embroidery world,  a lot of embroiderers have switched to polyester.

Once an embroiderer settled on what type of thread to use,  the next question to be answered was which brand was best.   As with the rayon/polyester debate,  the choices for a brand of thread started out narrower and expanded over the years.  Madeira and Robinson Anton are brands that have been around for a quite a while.  American and Efird has been around for over 100 years.  Coats and Clark, in one incarnation or another,  has been around for quite a while as well.

As time went on,  new brands entered the market place.   Iris thread,  a trilobal polyester was introduced to the American market in 2007.  Fil-Tec introduced their Glide thread.   Companies started bringing in and selling cheaper thread from the Pacific Rim.  Suddenly,  embroiderers were spoiled for choice.  The question about which thread was best was heard more and more often.

The simple answer to the question of what thread is best is this:  the best thread is the thread that works most efficiently for you.  Different threads will sew out differently depending on what machine is being used.   The fabric being sewn, and how the design is digitized can also have an impact on how well a thread works.  The durability, colorfastness and washfastness of the thread should also be considered.   Thread breaks that slow down productions,  or colors that run can lead to lost business and lost time.

The biggest mistake embroiderers make,  in my opinion,  when considering which thread is best for them is placing price at the top of the list of things to consider.  Many shops may operate on strict budgets and price will need to be factored into the purchasing decision,  but placing price before how the thread sews out,  or giving price more weight than the durability of the thread, or settling for a thread that isn’t colorfast because it’s a thread that’s cheap accomplishes exactly the opposite of what’s intended.  Not all cheap thread is bad thread,  and not all expensive thread is great thread,  but the likelihood that a thread that costs more will also have more time, effort and quality materials in its construction should not be ignored.

One way to gather data for your decision about which thread is best for you without breaking your budget is to ask the thread manufacturer for a sample you can test.   Most manufacturers or distributors will be happy to send out a sample.   If you’d like a sample of Iris thread,  please contact us and we’ll be happy to get one out to you.



Time Travel Tuesday: Not Just a Patch

ensign logo pictureMost of you probably know that EnMart sells blank patches. These squares and circles,  ovals and oblongs,  rectangles and rockers are a popular item,  but they’re not just for embroidering with a name or a logo.  Other markets for patches could include the souvenir market,  morale patches,  merit badges and more.  Over the years,  patches have taken on many different meanings.  In this Time Travel Tuesday post,  I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of them while,  perhaps,  pointing out some potential new markets for patches.

The use of emblems to signify allegiance with a particular group has existed pretty much as long as recorded history.  Heraldic emblems were common in this time period.   An heraldic emblem or crest was often used to represent a noble house or knight,  and would show up on flags and tapestries when that particular individual or family was represented.  Wearing a heraldic badge showed allegiance to a particular family or house.   The two sides in the English “War of the Roses” used white or red roses on, among other things, badges,  to symbolize which side they had taken in the war.   A badge was an easy way to identify who was friend and who was foe.

Badges as collectibles or a record of having been to a particular place, souvenirs we’d call them now,  also have their root in history.  Pilgrims in the Middle Ages used to get metal badges from the famous shrines they visited.  This was such a common practice it was even mentioned in the “Canterbury Tales” by Chaucer. In later years,  when automobiles and trains and planes made the process of traveling simpler,  many people started collecting badges from National Parks or other attractions they’d visited to help commemorate their stay.  There is even a market for national park collectibles, particularly vintage badges.

Merit badges are another type of badge that has been around for quite a while.  Anyone who has participated in the Girl or Boy Scouts is familiar with a merit badge,  which is awarded for completing a series of tasks or learning a new skill.  The Boy Scouts began using merit badges in 1911.  The Girl Scouts in 1912.  Merit badges are popular with many clubs and can be used to showcase achievements and new skills,  or to signify new ranks earned within the group.

Emblems have a long history of providing identity and cohesion for a group,  of commemorating an event or occasion that people want to remember,  or memorializing the learning of a new skill or the achievement of a new rank.   Part of the reason the trade in vintage emblems is so brisk is the fact that these emblems symbolize and event or memory of which people want to be a part.   Who wouldn’t have wanted to be one of the people entitled to wear the mission patch for Apollo 11?  What memories would a person have if they collected a badge during a visit to every National Park?  Emblems are part of our history and also a little piece of history themselves.


Time Travel Tuesday: “That’s Your Price?”

piggy bank.jpg

I’ve been mulling over writing a post about pricing creative work for a while,  but it seemed especially appropriate to write it on “Time Travel Tuesday” since the problem with prices,  for most people anyway,  probably started back when their business started.   When you’re first starting out as a business owner, it can be tough to sit down and compose a price list.   First,  you may not have any idea of how long a job will take.   Second,  you may not be conversant with the prices your competitors are charging,  or the costs of purchasing supplies.  Most likely,  you haven’t yet heard the tired tropes of “do this small order for cheap and I’ll bring you a huge order”,  or “if you do this cheaply for me,  my husband, club president,  soccer league etc. will give you tons of work”.  Finally,  when you’re just starting,  you may be so unsure of your work’s value,  and so eager to bring in business,  that you’ll do work at almost any price,  simply to be doing the work.

Doing the work is important,  but even more important is doing the work at a price that makes you a profit.   If your shop is constantly busy,  but you’re struggling to keep the lights on and the bills paid,  then your pricing structure is not doing you any favors.   There are always going to be people who will tell you your prices are too high,  who will ask for a favor,  who will trot out the tired “do this for me and I’ll bring you orders bigger than you ever dreamed”,  who will expect a friends and family discount,  something they would never ask for at the grocery or the hardware store.  There will always be people who say decoration is a hobby,  not a business,  who will think that the time and effort you put in to making their shirt or bag or quilt shouldn’t cost them anything.   There will always be people,  and that’s the important thing.   The trick is to find the people who understand what you do and are willing to pay for the investment of skill and effort and time you make to do it.

So,  if you’re new to the business,  or even if you’ve been in the business a while,  but have realized your pricing structure isn’t where it should be,  here are some things to consider when setting new pricing.

  1. Calculate what you need to bring in not only to keep the business open,  but to pay yourself a decent salary.   Make sure you calculate all your costs,  business expenses like machine leases and maintenance,  electric,  supplies,  education,  as well as personal expenses like mortgages,  food, clothing,  car payments, entertainment etc.  Don’t forget to set a value on your time as well. Get a clear picture of what you need to make to have the sort of lifestyle and business you want.
  2. Do some research on what your competition charges.   Some of that can be done on social media,  following your competition can be a marvelous source of intel.  Don’t rely on what your customers say your competitors charge,  try to get info from as close to the original source as possible.   Customers may sometimes embellish the truth to try and gain an advantage.
  3. Next, spend some time figuring out what makes your shop special.  What skills do you have that your competitors can’t match?  Do you offer superior customer service or exceedingly fast turn around times?  What makes it worth doing business with you and why will customers be willing to pay the prices you’re going to set?  Make sure you preserve this list in writing,  because you will,  at some point,  most likely use it to explain why you charge what you charge.
  4. Finally,  set your prices.   Keep in mind you want to find a balance between fairly compensating yourself and pricing yourself out of the market.   Make sure you’re clear on why your setting your prices at the levels you’re choosing,  and make sure you also set a rock bottom price beyond which you won’t go.   Once you have your prices set,  sit down with a friend or family member and explain why your prices are what they are.   Do a little role play, and have the other participant in the discussion throw some common pricing objections at you.  The idea is to be able to concisely,  clearly and smoothly explain what your price structure is and why,  without hesitation.

Setting pricing is as much a matter of belief,  in yourself and in the work that you do,  as much as it is a function of supply and demand,  or the marketplace.   If you take the time to figure out what you need and want,  and take the time to understand why your work has worth and what that worth is,  you’ll be prepared the next time a customer asks incredulously “That’s your price”?

You’ll know why your price is your price,  and that there’s really only one answer to that question.


Time Travel Tuesday: Catalogs

JCPenney CatalogWhen I was a kid,  I loved catalogs.   I’d look at all the different outfits I could buy,  furnish my imaginary house with the different furniture and housewares that were shown and covet all the cool toys and games in the Christmas Book.  I know this will make me seem old,  but I was a kid before there was the Internet.  If you wanted to see what people had for sale,  you had to go to their shop,  or you had to order from a catalog.   Those were pretty much the options.

When EnMart first started,   we decided,  in addition to the website,  that we needed a paper catalog.   For the first five or so years,  we printed catalogs a few times a year,  and they kept getting bigger and bigger with the pictures and print getting smaller and smaller as we tried to cram more products into the space.    After a while,  printing the catalogs became a losing battle,  we were adding new products so often that catalogs were obsolete practically as soon as we got them back from the printer.   We talked about doing a catalog in a binder,  where people could replace outdated pages with new ones,  but we wondered if people would bother,  and we also felt we’d end up in a perpetual cycle of printing and sending out new pages.  The more we talked,  the less it seemed like any form of printed matter could do what we needed it to do.

Finally,  we realized that we had the perfect catalog in our website.  Categories are clearly delineated. Color pictures are available for almost every product.   The mechanisms for obtaining more information or contacting us are clearly marked and easy to use.   The website is also ever expanding – new products can be added whenever necessary,  and the process of adding new products creates no waste or redundancies.  A website isn’t printed,  so there are no pages to throw out and replace.   A website offers an easy ordering mechanism as the ordering platform and the product showcase are right there together.   A website also gives much more space for information,  anyone who wants to know more about something can easily follow a link for a more in depth explanation.

I understand the lure of catalogs,  it’s fun to look at the pictures of all the stuff you could buy,  and daydream about what might become yours.  The problem is that catalogs aren’t really cost effective these days,  not when there’s a much better solution available online. We discontinued catalogs a few years ago and haven’t missed them.   We’ve saved printing costs, and been able to pass those savings on to our customers.   We’ve also been able to expand our product offerings and to make those new products available to our customers in a timely fashion. For us and,  we hope,  for our customers,  moving away from print and going totally digital was the right decision.

Time Travel Tuesday: Hand vs. Machine

Hand_vs_Machine_AssemblyIn the history of quilting and embroidery,  there has probably been no bigger debate than that between those who chose to embroider or quilt by hand, and those who use machines to embroider or quilt.   When the disciplines of embroidery and quilting began,  there really wasn’t a choice,  in order to create an embroidered garment or a quilt to warm the bed on a cold winter’s night,  the piece in question had to be created by hand.

Those who continue this tradition maintain that something made by hand is more special,  more personal,  and should therefore be more treasured.   The process of hand embroidering or piecing and quilting a quilt by hand will most likely be a longer process than doing the same things with a machine, which proponents of the slow stitching movement say is to be desired.   Quilting or embroidering by hand also brings the satisfaction of creating something with your hands,  handling fabrics and threads,  and the ability to pay close attention to every facet of the process.

As time moved on and technology developed,  new machines were invented to do some of the tasks that were formerly done by hand.   Huge, often two story high Schiffli machines created laces and embroidery.  In later decades,  the Schiffli machines were joined by multi-head and single head embroidery machines,  giving the option of machine embroidery to anyone who could afford to purchase a machine.

In the quilting world,   sewing machines offered the ability to piece quilts using a machine.   Instead of hand sewing pieces together,  they could be stitched on a machine,  allowing the creation of a quilt top in less time.  The advent of long arm quilting machines provided the ability to quilt a top by machine,  sometimes finishing in a single day or week what had previously taken weeks if not months to complete.   Machines made the process of embroidery and quilting faster and easier but,  some argued,  the machines also took away the skill and the personal nature of the disciplines.

Today,  while the debate is still ongoing,  both sides seemed to have reached a detente.   Some people hand embroider or quilt,  others use machines to accomplish the same goals,  and yet others switch between one method and the other,  doing whatever best suits the needs and time requirements of the project.   In the end,  what matters most is not how a thing was created,  but that it was created at all.  Whatever method is used quilts and embroidery that bring beauty to the world are being made and that’s the thing we all must remember.