BUFFALO, N.Y.—For any business, keeping your doors open for more than a century is a major accomplishment. Even then, most businesses that stand the test of time often change hands in terms of ownership, affiliation, and/or location. For the Buffalo, New York-based S.M. Cristall, a strong tradition of family heritage runs deep and dates all the way back to the 1800s. Today’s link is current owner Gary Kaufman.
Stocking everything from adhesive backings to specialized threads, Kaufman’s company is a complete embroidery supply house with a connection all the way back to 1893 with his great grandfather, Samuel Cristall, founder of the company. The elder Cristall began the company, Kaufman explains, by “peddling thread to local tellers” in the Northwestern New York city until he fell ill and his son, Kaufman’s grandfather, Sheridan Millard Cristall took over the company. With Sheridan, S.M. Cristall’s namesake formed, and a shift towards large-scale business began to take shape for the company.
“My grandfather started selling to some of the biggest mills in the country,” explains Kaufman, adding that at that point, S.M. Cristall operated more as a sales agent than a distributor.
Pictured: Sheridan Millard Cristall, Kaufman's grandfather and company namesake. (Image courtesy S.M. Cristall)
Part of the historic Rust Belt, Buffalo’s economy flourished into the mid-20th century thanks to a strong manufacturing base that produced a range of products including apparel. Cristall operated as a reseller of garment components like pocket linings for buyers, gradually growing the business. While S.M. Cristall helped get the ball rolling, Kaufman points out that his mother, Ginny Cristall eventually came into the picture as the driving force behind the business, beginning in the 1970s. As Ginny continued to manage the company and weathered the economic change of manufacturing labor shifting to the southeast, Kaufman says he found himself at a crossroads. Around the time the company reached its 96th year, his mother reached out to him.
“[My mother] called me up at college one day and said ‘we’ve got to make a decision,’” Kaufman explains. “And I decided if our family has had this business for 96 years, I’ve got to see if we can hit 100.”
At that point, the company was only selling a small amount of embroidery supplies and still focusing primarily on apparel supplies. Joining the company in 1989, Kaufman noticed another major global trend impacting how the company did business. The rise of offshore labor and rising costs to produce apparel at home presented him with a challenge.
“One of the things I considered was industrial embroidery,” he says. With the trend of workwear shifting away from the standard suit and more casual embroidered polos, Kaufman says he saw the opportunity to tap a rising market.
After some persistence, Kaufman says he landed a major distributorship deal one of the largest embroidery thread providers in the U.S. With that distributorship, S.M. Cristall shifted into high gear selling thread and supplies such as backing, hoops, and other embroidery incidentals to large accounts nationwide.
Balancing both big and small companies from their Buffalo headquarters, the company grew again in 1995 when Kaufman’s brother Jeff joined the ranks. From there, S.M. Cristall began to expand westward.
“10 years ago, I purchased a company in Chicago which was called Point Distributors,” explains Kaufman. “I changed the name to Cristall Thread and Supply.”
That arm of the company now covers a wide swath of the organization’s Midwest market. Combined with their headquarters in Buffalo, S.M. Cristall now covers a 12-state territory for a series of products and sells nationwide for a variety of other items.
Today, Kaufman says continuing to offer a deep inventory of embroidery products to both large-scale industrial clients and “mom and pop” shops is what helps keep the S.M. Cristall name alive and well, especially in an area of the country where many large-scale businesses have shuttered permanently over the past century. Staying in the embroidery market also boils down to a personal passion, he notes.
“I love helping customers,” says Kaufman. “The thing we offer is help. If a customer calls up and is having an issue, we’ll walk them through fixing it.”
Be it approaching a new type of garment embroidery, hooping techniques, or other technical issues, Kaufman explains that he and his knowledgeable team have the skills to assist each client.
That one-on-one approach and attention to every accounts’ needs, he explains, hopes to see the company through its second century in Buffalo.
For more information, visit http://www.smcristall.com/.