For this year’s Shop Tune-Up contest, we decided to shake things up and focus on an embroidery shop. With the help of embroidery expert and Printwear columnist, Erich Campbell, we chose Regina Cassidy of It Takes a Stitch, located in Arlington, Va. In winning, she got to spend five days with Erich, who helped her finesse her home-based business and give her the tools to expand her offerings.
Regina has been sewing since the sixth grade. She graduated from college with a nursing degree, later a nurse practitioner certificate, and spent her nursing career in Student Health Service at Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf.
After taking some time off to raise a family, Regina purchased a sewing/embroidery machine and embroidery software in 2000. With those tools, she learned how to digitize and embroider, which helped her transition back into the workforce. After much research and planning, It Takes a Stitch was created, and Regina has worked to create a space for herself in her local community.
It Takes a Stitch serves a variety of customers from small businesses, an Irish dance school, and a large number of individuals for monograms and personalized products. With more than 10 years in operation, Regina has a new vision for It Takes a Stitch, but faced multiple challenges at the start of the Tune-Up. Her website was outdated, she wasn’t current with social media, and her wish to focus on high-end custom monograms seemed out of reach. That’s where Erich’s expertise would come in.
Following are the detailed accounts of Regina and Erich’s five days together spent reworking and finessing It Takes a Stitch.
Day 1: Erich
Following a harrowing late-night flight and a problem with my baggage, I was not in the best shape when I arrived at the hotel in Virginia. After hitting the showers and bunking down for a short few hours, I hopped out of bed and jumped in the car.
Regina’s shop is home-based, residing at the end of a hilly, wooded street. Her front door comes complete with a second doorbell dedicated to her business traffic. I was happy to see boundaries already in place since so many home-based creatives have a terrible habit of blending their home and work lives to the detriment of both.
Regina swung wide the door and greeted me with a beaming smile and a hug. She has great energy and a genuine smile that sets one at ease. Upon entering Regina’s home, the usual customer is likely only to pick up or drop off their orders in the entryway, but the few that require consultation are allowed to enter Regina’s working area in her finished basement. Just before the Shop Tune-Up, Regina created a showroom of sorts in the stairway leading to her office and embroidery studio. Visitors are met with framed and mounted samples of projects in various styles. The well-organized arrangement of pieces gives a quick overview of Regina’s many talents and services she offers.
The landing at the bottom of the stairs features large samples of rough-cut appliqué, a detailed Irish dance dress replete with embroidered designs on nearly every panel, and Regina’s command center: her desk with a digitizing laptop and important documents. Though somewhat cluttered, the desk is simply covered with the immense amount of work in which she is involved.
Regina showed me around her shop, walking me into the single production room packed with equipment including a large heat press, plotter-cutter, sewing machine, and two single-head embroidery machines, all with the gaggle of supplies and tools that each station requires.
We then sat down to start the real business of discovery, discussing It Takes a Stitch’s current business and goals for the future. I already knew from the input Regina had afforded in her contest entry that she was a natural problem-solver and curious creative with a desire for more creative work, namely in the monogramming area. She had several ideas on which she wanted to work, but hadn’t mustered up the time to pursue.
Regina is doing a fantastic job servicing her clients, but she finds herself unable to focus on the development of her business. As we discussed the way she operates and looked at samples, it became increasingly clear that Regina was doing so much of what she does very, very well. I found that the largest problems she faced stemmed from two issues. First, she suffered from a lack of boundaries. Second, Regina seemed somewhat reticent about sharing her work, and she had yet to establish It Takes a Stitch in any way on social media.
For the first day, these were the solutions we devised. Since Facebook is an easy introduction to creating business profiles, Regina’s homework would be to start an It Takes a Stitch a Facebook Business page, and to tell everyone that she would be sharing in a consistent way. She would also have social accountability to help her maintain the willpower to keep sharing.
We discussed the kinds of products and services her new expansion would include, and when Regina showed me her work creating monograms for bridal veils, everything started to click. Regina has fantastic products and samples, even though she had initially stated that she felt as if she had no portfolio, so it was clear that what she needed the most was to share and secure the attention of potential customers. The final idea came out of the time management discussion. Regina (who has been and continues to take classes that improve her creative skills) decided to pre-schedule creative product-development time into her agenda before the other standard work, so that she has solid uninterrupted time to do the development of products and business that she has not been able to do.
After a very long, nonstop day, I headed back to the hotel to prepare for day two.
Day 1: It Takes a Stitch
The day started with Erich’s arrival early in the morning. We were both excited to finally meet in person and get started on the consult. I had a few butterflies about being so exposed in the Shop Tune-Up; however, I did feel safe in Erich’s hands and caring manner. I had read enough of his blogs, articles, and advice to know that he would be wonderful to work with.
We both had questions and information to get started. We talked and looked at samples of my work and workspace throughout the day. We discussed my strengths (problem-solving, attention to detail, willing to work hard) and weaknesses (distractions, getting paralyzed from too many ideas/not enough time, not good at delegating tasks/subbing out, spending too much time with customers).
We identified several areas that I should work on improving and some that I should not pursue at this time. We also worked out a way to schedule creative time that includes a complete new stitch out, cutting, or decoration sample of some sort once a week.
I also committed to a Facebook Business page along with a minimum quota of regular weekly posts. On top of this, I committed to ask good customers for referrals, and for Google and Facebook ratings.
Another new task for me was to reach out to local media and press outlets to get some exposure. We discussed using samples and wearing embroidery more often to introduce myself. This makes the explanation much easier than talking without the show and tell.
It was so nice to show some of my embroidery samples and get a positive reaction from Erich. I think that I do a pretty decent job of embroidering and am a moderate digitizer, although slow.
We started to explore ways to market these things, as well as address time management for all aspects of the business.