Build Your Business:

Meet Michelle: Chronicling a Start-Up Decorator — Part 6

November 12, 2012

What a difference a year makes!

When we first met Michelle Capps at the 2011 Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS) event in Atlanta, she was a lady on a mission. It was her first ISS event and she came armed with information and research — looking to purchase equipment to start her own decorated apparel business in her hometown of Dade City, Fla.

She soon purchased an embroidery machine from Pantograms Manufacturing Co., as well as a VersaCAMM VS300 from Imprintables Warehouse, and she was off and running.

After participating in training courses designed to show her how to operate the equipment, she opened The ‘T’ Zone in January 2011. The shop offers custom hats, T-shirts, bags and pretty much anything that can be screen printed or embroidered. With the motto “Keeping it Affordable for Everybody,” Capps developed a strong customer base with her pricing structure and the ability for people to place an order with no minimums. She got a lot of repeat business and several referrals.

She joined the Dade City Chamber of Commerce, and became involved with community events to network and get more business contacts. This past March, she opened a bricks-and-mortar store to reach more customers and showcase what she could offer. Also named The ‘T’ Zone, the store displays shirts with transfers, custom-embroidered bags, hats, belts and purses, with all of the production work still being done at her home shop.

“The store has been doing really well,” she says. “The customers are learning just what products and services that we have to offer. It is showing continual growth. With the customers learning all of our various products, they see the options for embroidery on the bags and caps, as well as the custom shirts that are being ordered.”

The most popular items are specialty T-shirts and shirts for charity or sports events. “Customers really like having the personal touch added to their event,” Capps says.

Opening Location No. 2
At this year’s ISS Atlanta event, held in September, a beaming Capps revealed that she was opening a second location for her decorated apparel business. The new location will offer many of the same products, as well as some new ones.

“The opportunity arose for the second location,” she says. “I will be entering into a new partnership on this venture.”

To that end, Capps says she has again done her research. “I have learned enough to scrutinize buying used equipment vs. buying only new [equipment],” she says. Capps purchased a new AnaJet SPRINT digital direct-to-garment printer and a used equipment package from Brown Manufacturing Co. She also purchased a gently used embroidery machine.

“I did find out that buying used [equipment] tests your knowledge in making repairs, but works out to save you money in the long run,” she says.

Some of the newer products The ‘T’ Zone will offer include items decorated via the direct-to-garment printing process. Capps is taking that learning curve in stride. “The biggest issue with business is taking the chance and buying new equipment that you must learn a new process with.,” she says. “I have a new direct-to-garment machine that has shown me a new way to decorate and embellish clothing. This has taken a lot of time and requires patience to learn the process and see just how other things are done.”

The ‘T’ Zone also has launched a full-service website, where customers can pick out garments, bags and accessories, and upload their own logos or images for customization.

Business & Personal Growth
With the successful growth of her business, Capps says she has been able to relax a bit while recognizing the need for a supportive staff. She added three more employees and has partnered with four other people in the new shop. “You have to learn that you can only do so much,” she says. “You must learn to trust those around you and let them help you.”

The ‘T’ Zone is not the only thing that has grown during the past year. Capps says she has been transformed from the woman at a crossroads after her husband’s death, into a confident businesswoman.

“I have grown exponentially as a businesswoman and as a person, in general,” she says. “I have learned to accept that everything is not going to be perfect. I have learned that I can only control so many things in life and just accept that there will be many things that are not worth getting upset over. I guess that patience and perseverance are key elements in personal and business life.”

Capps also recognizes that she could not have started her own business without the help and support of the knowledgeable people she first met at ISS Atlanta last year, including the Impressions staff, Dane Clement of Great Dane Graphics, Steven Jackson of Imprintables Warehouse, Joe Smalley of Pantograms, and “the guys from Fil-Tec, HoopMaster and everyone else that has helped me.”

“The whole group has been such a source of information, industry secrets and guidance throughout all of my purchases,” she adds. “They genuinely cared enough to take the time for me. This year, when I went back, they were there again, and took the time to help me with my new purchases, as well as replenishing my stock of needed inventory.”

What advice would Capps offer to any aspiring or novice business owner?

“The first thing that anyone needs to do is to research what they are wanting to do.” Before starting her business, Capps enjoyed decorating her children’s clothing by hand, so she already had an enjoyment for decorating apparel. She took that hobby to the next level with her research.

“The Internet is your best friend,” she says. “YouTube has so many videos that will teach you just what this industry can do. Learn about all of the different techniques. Take that time before jumping out there.”

She encourages not only asking questions, but also taking the time to ensure that they all get answered. “If one source does not have an answer, then go to another,” she says. “The more you learn, the better off you will be and the more successful.”