TOPSAIL
SPORTSWEAR

Owner: Bill Lanier
Year Established: 1987
Type of business: Contract & Retail Apparel Decorating

An Inside Look Into An Established Embroidery and Digitizing Business.

Hi Bill, thank you for getting together with us for this interview. First off, tell us how you started in this industry?

Started in the Fall of 1987 in Hampstead, NC just outside of Wilmington. We had one 6-head embroidery machine. The embroidery industry in North Carolina was just getting started and we sold our embroidery service mostly to local businesses, schools and restaurants. We provided small quantity embroidery orders to end users in North and South Carolina area. A year into the business we bought our one competitor and the business steadily grew through the 90’s adding more embroidery machines and staff. Currently we have 13 employees and a customer base located mostly on the east coast.

Interesting, now that we know a little about you, can you describe Topsail’s core business?

Topsail provides three core services – Embroidery products to local businesses, Embroidery Production service mainly to silk screen and specialty shops and Digitizing Service.

It seems like you are heavily vested in Embroidery and Digitizing Services, do you see your business diversifying in the future or are you sticking to your knitting?

Besides embroidery and digitizing we sell finished silk-screen shirt products and we are an ad specialty distributor (logos on pens, mugs, etc.). We also have a full service art department offering vector art for silk screening and direct to garment printing.

In terms of the embroidery side of your business, can you share with us how you gain new customers?

Our best approach to acquiring new customers is through word of mouth advertising; our customers recommend us. Networking is also important and we participate every year in the ISS tradeshow and Embroidery Extravaganza. From these shows we build a database of prospects and send out emails about our products and services.

In addition to new customers, how do you retain existing customers… is it price, quality customer service, how would you describe that?

Yes, all of the above. We must stay price competitive. We have an established formula for pricing our products. We’ll evaluate a competitor’s price and match it if we choose. We stand behind our quality and customer service. And it takes all three to keep the customer happy and returning.

What has been your biggest challenge in the Embroidery Business? How did you overcome?

The past 18 months has been our greatest challenge. We, as a team had to work harder at marketing our products and services. We had to increase our marketing efforts without increase expenses. Telemarketing calls to our existing clients and Email campaigns. It’s starting to pay off the past 6 to 8 weeks have seen an increase in business.

How about your biggest success? How did it happen?

The longevity of our company and our key leaders Mitch Lanier, Frank and Jackie Sipes long-term commitment is our greatest success. It’s through the dedication of employees throughout the years that has us where we are today.

I know that your shop started with Barudan Machines way back when and several years back you made the switch to ColDesi (Thank You) with two six head SWF’s, what prompted the brand change?

In the beginning I had Barudan and Tajima embroidery machines. Seven or eight years ago I saw SWF machines at a trade show. The SWF had all the features we were looking for. Technology wise all three brands were basically the same, the BIG difference was price. I purchased a SWF 15 needle 6 head for 60% the cost of a Barudan. The SWF quick-change cap frame works really well with the best stitch quality I’ve ever seen on caps. We were so pleased with the price and performance of the machine that all new machines will be SWF.

As a customer of ColDesi as we got to know you, we learned that you are also a supplier to the industry. I know I have heard great things from our customers that use your services can you take a moment to describe those services and how people go about getting started with you?

We provide Digitizing service. Simply email or fax us an image with size and type material it is going on and we will give you a quote for our service. We’ll digitize the design and email it back to you. We stand 100% behind our digitizing service and would gladly make any follow up adjustments if needed. We also provide vector art service for those who need images converted to vector or original vector art for screen-printing or digital garment printing. Our embroidery production schedule is flexible allowing our customers to have their embroidery goods shipped directly to them or drop shipped to their customers.

What can you say about the difference of embroidering with a design you have created and one that was done by a more “novice” digitizer? I guess what I’m asking is what is the benefit of going through a service like yours versus a new person doing all their own digitizing?

Our experience. A good digitized design runs smoother on the machine. Too many trim cuts and long jump stitches in the digitized design disrupts the embroidery machines and slows down production. We can take your digitized file and review it. If we find it needs adjustment we will edit it. For new embroidery shops this is one area you can easily contract out. There is a large learning curve in digitizing and we can help you get your business started right away without having to use your valuable time in digitizing.

OK, two more questions… what advice would you give to someone starting in the embroidery business to help them get launched?

Embroidery business requires a lot of effort, business skills, management, sales and customer service. As in any new business be prepared to work long and hard. The first order is to sell the product. Develop a business and marketing plan. Know the market you are going after. It will only take you 3-4 weeks to learn the technical side of the embroidery equipment. The rest of it is all business.

Secondly, what can you say about SWF, ColDesi and what your likes and dislikes are about either?

SWF embroidery machines are very reliable. I own two 6 heads that are running constantly and I am very satisfied with their performance. ColDesi, the company is first rate, an outstanding company to work with.

Bill, thank you very much for sharing all of this with us, in closing, is it O.K. for our customers or prospects to reach you directly? What is the best way?

Call us at 910-270-4903 or go to http://www.topsailsportswear.com/

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