Sixty-four percent of embroidery businesses in the U.S.A. operate out of a home. Not surprisingly, most are small, with one or two full-time employees. Founded in 2000, Oak Tree Embroidery of Oakley, Calif., is a storybook garage shop to Main Street success story.
Owner Jan Calahan's grandmother inspired her love for embroidery. So it was a natural leap for Calahan to turn her childhood passion into a successful business as an adult. Like many embroiderers, she opted for a home-based business in order ease into a new career, and better balance work and family.
Calahan named her company after a downtown, Oakley, California landmark and mastered embroidery in the digital age. Trading in her wooden hoops for an embroidery machine, she learned to sketch designs on a computer and used her knowledge of fabrics to stitch the creations on finished goods.
Before long, Calahan built a loyal clientele, but also discovered the "pitfalls of a home-based business" She knew it would be easier to grow her company with a retail storefront. The only problem was the additional expense.
Calahan examined and streamlined production where she could. She modified a full-front embroidered booster club sweatshirt—a time-intensive design—to replace half the
"I am experiencing great success with with my Ioline cutter and having a record-breaking month.
I've sold so many sweatshirts, cheer uniforms, jackets-it's crazy.
Tackle twill just sells itself.
They're buying these sweats in the middle of the worst heat wave we have had in years!
THANK GOD I have a few weeks
till I have to deliver."
- Jan Calahan, Oak Tree Embroidery (July 2006)
stitches with tackle twill appliqué. She sourced the sew disk and material from a service bureau.
"I knew from the start that it was not an effective way to do twill."
One problem was the service bureau's lead time, an issue for some of her teenage customers. "You know kids … they want something done right away." For small orders, she also had to charge for a minimum number of pieces, in order to cover her costs and still make a profit.
In 2005, she brought appliqué production in-house, adding an Ioline 300 System to her workflow. Now, Calahan says, tackle twill costs about 2 cents per square inch—roughly $2.00 per piece on the booster sweatshirt design
"At a dollar per thousand stitch average, savings are about half. With my Ioline, I've been free to offer tackle twill like never before with NO minimum and NO time restraints. Output is about 10-fold what it used to be."
Word about her new design capabilities quickly spread. By the next summer, she recorded a record-breaking month of sales. "I've sold so many sweatshirts, cheer uniforms, jackets—it's crazy. Tackle twill just sells itself."
Soon after, an opportunity for expansion arose when the city of Oakley revitalized its downtown and affordable, shared retail space opened up in a refurbished, historic building. Calahan knew it was time to "step out of her comfort zone".
The move from her 600-square-foot garage to a 2,600-square-foot Main Street retail location enabled Oak Tree to expand its clientele and product offerings. Calahan now offers items ranging from high school letterman jackets to decorative linens and baby items.
The experience of reaching Main Street was also a confidence-booster for Calahan.
"It allowed me to sit back and become a business owner."