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Build Your Business: Shop Talk
Embroidery and Monogramming in a Built-In NicheA prime location in a college town means Creeds & Crests can focus on serving a narrowly defined market — and doing it well.
Creeds & Crests features 1,700 square feet of space offering in-house services such as embroidery, monogramming and vinyl decorating, in addition to retail.
When Nanette Finch opened Creeds & Crests Inc. 26 years ago, it was an experience that required her to, as she says, “fly by the seat of my pants.” Little did she know that she was perfectly equipped to handle such a scenario.
Finch’s decorated-apparel story starts in coastal Texas city of Port Aransas, where she worked as a sportswear and resort-apparel buyer for a retail chain. After that, her path led her to a surf company, where she worked for a year as a buyer. Then, she embarked on a path that would lead to Creeds & Crests — but not before enduring some harrowing on-the-job training.
“My learning curve was steep,” Finch says. “I was thrown into the job as buyer for the college bookstore and I knew I had to learn quick to be successful. This is where I gained my sorority experience.”
Truth be told, Finch already had firsthand Greek-life experience as a member of Delta Zeta sorority, so she was in tune with the Greek-organization culture. So in 1992, when she took the plunge and opened Creeds & Crests in San Marcos, Texas, it wasn’t exactly foreign territory. Cue the “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” description of her entry into business ownership.
“After leaving the bookstore, I set up my own business,” Finch says. “Because there are not very many sorority stores across the country, I had to fly by the seat of my pants for a while until I had a few years under my belt.”
Readily Available Retail
Make no mistake: Creeds & Crests is a bona fide, 1,700-square-foot retail establishment serving the local Texas State University and surrounding sorority and fraternity communities. Finch says that niche comes with a built-in customer base of about 38,000 students, a more-than-ample audience to whom she can offer products and services. But part of her learning-on-the-fly story in this business included a lesson about the absence of a retail space.
“I tried not having a retail space for four years and what I found was that there is always another business with a retail presence ready to pounce on your captive audience when you are not readily accessible,” Finch says. “I will never leave the retail space again.”
In addition to retail, Creeds & Crests offers appliqué, embroidery and vinyl decorating. Finch says offering these services in-house boiled down to controlling delivery times.
“When I was at the bookstore, we would often miss deadlines because the seamstress did not get products back on time,” she recalls. “I hire college girls and teach them to sew. They like getting the store discount and can make their own gifts.”
The shop also provides camp uniforms to a pronounced cheer market, which mandates on-time delivery, Finch says.
Improving Quality & Consistency
The company’s embroidery and appliqué work is done on three Melco singlehead embroidery machines and a Highland singlehead. Screen printing is outsourced due to space constraints, and Creeds & Crests’ in-house embroidery digitizer even sets up the screen-printed art.
“We outsource our screen printing because we only have 1,700 square feet,” Finch says. “I had [offered] it in-house at one time, but it is easier to outsource and not have to pay for the square footage you need at a high-dollar amount. I wanted to be in the prime location for retail.”
Finch says customer demand dictated diversification instead of offering only appliqué, which was wildly popular. “Appliqué used to be the only thing the sororities and fraternities would wear,” she says. “Now, with screen printing being so readily available online and around town, appliqué is more for gifts than everyday wear. Vinyl just happened by accident. We wanted to create new shirts but didn’t want to do a lot, so we found out that we could do some really cool stuff with vinyl and got it going.”
When it comes to marketing its products and services, Creeds & Crests takes advantage of social media, spreading the word via its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram platforms. It also sponsors the Creeds & Crests Classic volleyball tournament at Texas State, where it offers gifts in kind to coaches who, in turn, send them to program donors.
Philanthropy and the Future
In her career, Finch has checked a lot of boxes when it comes to accomplishments: successful business owner; positive influence for community members and fellow Greek organizations; and jobs provider (in addition to employing five college students and the in-house digitizer, her mom, aunt and uncle help with sewing and paperwork when the company is in peak season).
One of her prouder endeavors has been working with underprivileged citizens in Haiti to make items that she can purchase and resell at Creeds & Crests. Finch says she recently taught a woman how to sew, and when she travels back to the country this month, she will take pillow tops that the woman will embroider and make into pillows. Finch then will buy them so the woman can make a living. She also will take leather tools and items to teach young men how to work with them, with the goal of buying what they produce so they can be sustained.
“I feel like I have been so blessed as a business and as a person born in America that I need to give back to those who do not have any safety net,” Finch says. “We are so lucky that we have so many programs here to help us. They do not.”
Finch says expansion isn’t on the horizon at the moment. But if there’s one thing her years of experience have taught her, it’s that things can change at any moment.
“I never say ‘never,’” she says.
Creeds & Crests At A Glance
Company Name: Creeds & Crests Inc.
Address: 202 University Dr., Suite 105, San Marcos, TX 78666
No. Of Employees: 9
Decorating Methods Offered: Appliqué, embroidery, vinyl, monogramming and outsourced screen printing
Company Website: creedsandcrestsgreek.com
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